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The Surprising Truth About Food Waste

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Karolina Lagercrantz from the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation
|   August 3, 2021

This article is part of our “Circular Products and Services” content series in which we want to showcase the entrepreneurial and innovative potential of a circular economy transition.

The idea is to provide a realistic picture of both the upside potential and the challenges faced by these types of entrepreneurs. By showcasing, we hope that other, like-minded partners would join us in assisting circular entrepreneurs in their growth and development.

The Surprising Truth About Food Waste

“8 of the top 20 solutions to Climate Change relate to your food systems”

In 2018, a leading climate “solutionist” Chad Frischmann gave a Ted talk called 100 solutions to reverse global warming. This hypothetical scenario, known as “Project Drawdown,” refers to the point in time when the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases begins to decline on a year-to-year basis. Interestingly, according to Frischmann’s research, 8 of the top 20 solutions to climate change are related to our food systems. And, the most significant among these 8 refers to the reduction of food waste

Each year, 1/3 of food produced in the world goes to waste, and it is responsible for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. If we were to redesign our food systems into a closed-loop, circular one, more than 70 gigatons of CO2 emissions would be removed or avoided from entering the atmosphere. 

Changing how we produce and consume food to reduce waste is vital in order to reach our global climate goals. The question is: How can we do it? 

Fighting food waste through an entrepreneurial mindset – Too Good To Go 

To answer this question, we interviewed Alix Trébaol, business developer at Too Good To Go, a certified B social impact company on a mission to fight food waste worldwide by tapping into the innovative and entrepreneurial opportunities found in food waste itself.

Devised in Copenhagen in 2016, Too Good To Go is an app that offers users across Europe, the United States, and Canada access to unsold, safe-to-eat food from participating suppliers. The food is heavily discounted at a third of the regular price. Users can see which restaurants,  food markets, or cafés in their neighborhood have surplus food available that day, which they can then pick up right before closing time. 

The app seems like a simple idea, but it has had a tangible impact on the number of meals that food providers throw away. For instance, since it launched its app in the United States last September it has ​​saved 572,460 meals. Globally the app has helped save 85.2 million meals since its creation.

Alix notes that at its core, the Too Good To Go’s mindset is to find a balance between the company’s Environmental, Social and Economic priorities. “Of course, there is a huge untapped market value for what we call “surplus food” as around US$1.2 trillion worth of food gets thrown away, which is equivalent to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway’s GDP combined. But, we want to do more than just earn a profit”, Trébaol says. 

Too Good To Go wants to start a movement at home, at the workplace, and at the governmental level, so that food as a resource is used effectively and distributed equally. “Yes, we are for-profit, but primarily because it gives us the resources to make a difference. For example, the $31 million fundraised last November helped us grow our movement to North America, the region with the most food waste on Earth”.  

Creating a sustainable business model that works and makes a difference

The key success of Too Good To Go’s business model is that it makes sense financially for both the consumers and the food providers, while at the same time leveraging the environmental benefit that comes with avoiding food waste. It is a win-win-win situation, as food providers can access a new customer base and customers can buy high-quality food for a lower price. Too Good To Go only charges a small fee for each meal they “save” in order to pay for their own operations.

Yet, in order to create a business model that is sustainable and scalable, Too Good To Go has had to spend a significant amount of resources to truly understand the market for each country in which they operate. “Too Good To Go quickly realized that even though food waste is a global problem, how and where the food is wasted really depends on the country”.

For instance, in most low-income countries food waste primarily occurs due to packaging and transportation deficiencies. In high-income countries, on the other hand, most food is wasted at the market and consumption level, meaning that it is often a customer’s choice. “It will be interesting to see how we can adapt our business model to achieve change globally in those countries where food waste isn’t a customer’s choice”, Trébaol notes.

Making the food system circular

How, then, does Too Good To Go combine their for-profit business with their social and environmental ambitions? And is it really a circular concept? 

One of the main reasons why I joined Too Good To Go is because the company recognizes that real change has to be systemic and has to occur at all stages of the supply chain”, Alix says. In addition to their app, the company works in several ways to “close the loop on food waste” together with their partners. 

For example, Too Good To Go works with local food banks and food providers in order to also donate surplus food at a local level in most of the countries where they operate. In countries like Germany and France, Too Good To Go works together with governments and policymakers to change regulations that currently cause food waste, such as changing expiration labels. The company also wants to create a general awareness about food waste and does so through an online knowledge hub as well as partnerships with schools

ICM is inspired by this success story and we believe, just as Too Good To Go has shown, that an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset can allow for sustainable change. However, Too Good To Go primarily works in a high-income country where food waste can be targeted through behavioral change. In a low-income country context, such as most of the ASEAN region, food waste is a technological problem. Farmers are often unable to insulate or refrigerate fresh produce after it is harvested – and on the journey between the farm and the consumer, the food is spoiled. 

The start-up potential for addressing this area of food waste is significant, as the existing start-ups worldwide are exclusively focused on a high-income context. We will dig deeper into food waste in low-income countries in an upcoming blog post.

How would you go about addressing food waste in your home, at work, or in your country? Do you have a circular idea about how to redesign our food systems that you would like to launch? ICM might be the one to fund, foster or facilitate your solution.

Follow us on LinkedIn for ongoing updates on our journey towards waste Innovation and Circularity, and to learn about inspiring local and global innovations. You can always reach us at contact@icmfalkfoundation.org or send us a message on LinkedIn.

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About Too Good To Go and Alix Trébaol

The purpose of Too Good To Go is to reduce food waste worldwide. It supports a free mobile application that connects restaurants and stores that have unsold, surplus food, with customers who can then buy whatever food the outlet considers surplus to requirements—without being able to choose—at a much lower price than normal. 

Alix Trébaol is in charge of Too Good To Go’s expansion in the American Northeast. Passionate about sustainability topics, she was part of the team launching the app in the US, while simultaneously finishing her studies at Columbia University in New York.

About the ICM Falk Foundation

The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation is a private, 501c3 family foundation that seeks to support innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership that drives positive, equitable, and sustained impact for the world’s communities and ecosystems. Building on the global commitment for the New Plastics Economy and a Circular Economy, the Foundation is now actively focused on innovative solutions that contribute to the reduction of plastics production, waste, and pollution within ASEAN.