Food Waste and the Supply Chain

Food Waste and the Supply Chain

May 19, 2020
Food Security 

Food waste is, at its core, a bottleneck in the global food supply chain. When a farmer invests time and resources into their harvest, they contribute to a larger supply chain that ultimately delivers high-quality seeds and crop protection. Wasting all of that by throwing it away at the consumer level has catastrophic effects on a multitude of supply chains at a global scale. Innovative solutions to food waste are one way to make the supply chain work better, especially during a global crisis.

Philippe Schuler is the Global Movement Coordinator at Too Good To Go, a social impact company that is the world’s largest marketplace for surplus food. This month, he speaks to us from Copenhagen, Denmark, about how they are fighting food waste at its core by building a Movement Against Food Waste. The Too Good To Go app is active in 14 countries and allows consumers to save surplus food from supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, and bakeries at different times of the day.

What exactly do you do as the Global Movement Coordinator?

As a Global Movement Coordinator, I facilitate and build campaigns and initiatives that help people fight food waste at home. We want to re-instill respect for food, and really make people aware of what a massive supply chain issue food waste is. I also work closely with our partners to help them reduce food waste in their operations beyond just saving meals through the app, which of course already has a huge impact. I’m looking into how we can work with schools to impact the generations of tomorrow and am working closely with other organizations to influence regulation and policy-making – giving a voice to the impact food waste has on our planet and supply chain and getting it onto the global agenda.

Can you give me an example of one of the campaigns?

One of the campaigns that has been extremely successful is our Date Labelling Campaign. This was kick-started here in Denmark, then was launched in Germany and in Switzerland last year. Here, we work very closely with different producers and retailers to amend their date labels on certain products to make them more understandable to consumers. Even though there’s a difference between the use-by date and the best-before date, consumers often do not know the difference. It’s just not something we’re taught growing up and it leads to a massive amount of unnecessary food waste in the home – an estimated 10% of all food thrown away is because of this!

‘Use by’ means that the food is no longer safe to eat after the date, while ‘best before’ only suggests that the food may no longer have the desired quality, but that it can still be edible. This could be talking about color or crunch, which pose no health risks at all. We kickstarted the “often good after” initiative to make people understand that food can still be edible after the best before date when using your senses to judge the product. This involved working closely with food authorities as well as the producers and retailers. We like this campaign because it loops in the whole supply chain – consumers, retailers and producers – in a common goal, and I think that’s what makes it so successful.

You mentioned the generation of tomorrow and going through the schools. Do they tend to be more receptive to trying to eliminate food waste?

100%. I think when you make kids feel the sense of value towards food, where food is coming from, and how beautiful and essential it is, they quickly understand the enormity of it. Kids understand the fact that waste has an impact on our planet. They are really touched by it; they get emotionally attached and even make a game out of reducing their waste. Then they go back home and impact their parents, and because they want to lead by example, those parents will then also try to reduce food waste. It is really the kind of win-win scenario where we can maximize our impact on the generation of tomorrow.

How has your day-to-day changed since the retail outlets started closing due to the lockdown?

One initiative that we launched because of the coronavirus is the WeCare initiative. Here, we want to make sure that our app, our marketplace, is available to any restaurant that is really suffering. These establishments are only able to offer takeaway and often struggle to reach people, so we allow them to join for free and to use our platform as a marketplace.

The initiative was extremely popular in the countries where we are active and I’m sure the speed and reach of the rollout allowed some restaurants to continue operating even under the COVID-19 circumstances.

Can you describe the process that is used with the restaurants on the app?

A restaurant will find out about Too Good To Go in many different ways, and a lot of the time, they will actively contact us to take part. Food waste is a challenge for them and so we give them an alternative marketplace to redistribute their surplus food before closing time.

Our ratio of what’s put on the app and what’s being sold, known as “saved ratio” is extremely high. The app really does work for restaurants because it also gives them visibility in front of new customers – creating their own micro supply chain in a way. As you can imagine, a small restaurant may only be known to a smaller community and joining the app puts them in front of a whole new audience.

How do the actions enabled by the app affect the supply chain as a whole?

If you look at where food is being wasted around Europe, 53% of it is wasted at home and all the rest is across the larger supply chain. The app targets the end of the supply chain – food services and retail. But we also work to impact households through the 22 million people who use our app. That’s a massive amount of people looking at our content, social media, and blogs, and so we have a responsibility to reach and influence people.

Do you think it could ever work with farmers directly?

I would say so, yes. The only hindrance may be that they are outside of the city and our app is mainly used in big cities where supply is higher. We have been approached by farmers and we’re working very closely with farmers associations in different countries, such as with Oesterzwammenkwekerij van Lieshout in the Netherlands where they’re raising awareness of the issue. We’re trying to do as many things with farmers as possible, as throughout the crisis, the fragility of their part of the supply chain has been very visible.

From your experience, are the people using the app aware of how food waste affects farmers and suppliers through the whole chain?

We are in a moment where people are finally aware of how much food they’re wasting themselves and that they can take action to fix it.

One great example is ugly produce. In America, marketplaces have already been created to help sell misshapen fruits and vegetables that supermarkets won’t accept, creating a workaround to a common supply chain bottleneck. Many of us still believe that certain fruits or vegetables have to be perfect in color or shape. By offering something different, these marketplaces help us quickly realize that food is still of perfect quality even if not perfect in appearance. Us as consumers demanding perfect-looking produce means a massive amount is thrown away at the farm, never even making it to the store.

At Too Good To Go, we know that we need to help people change their habits and behaviors. At the same time, we can make them aware of the myriad of issues surrounding food waste inside and outside of the supply chain – otherwise we all just end up feeling a bit powerless, and we’re certainly not! There are many easy ways to reduce food waste at home that will have a real impact.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?

One thing I would say to everyone is that reducing waste is the most immediate and impactful action we can take on a daily basis. In this day and age, I believe we all want to make a difference, but it sometimes gets confusing on how to make our actions count.

Whether it’s fighting climate change or degradation of our natural world, there is something so fulfilling and important about reducing food waste, making a difference in the supply chain, and doing something good. Just changing our daily behaviors and habits can lead to bigger changes.