How technology is tackling food waste from farm to fork

How technology is tackling food waste from farm to fork

A third of the food is wasted in the world

calendar icon December 3, 2022

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5 minute read

Ever since Susan Teaford started shopping for cheap food — in search of discounts as deadlines approached — the American retiree has been cutting her grocery bills and making bargain hunting a virtue.

Now, when Teaford needs groceries, she simply checks the Flashfood app, which lists all sorts of products close to their best before dates at her local store in Washington, D.C., in the suburb of Arlington, reported the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Greens, fruit, bread, smoked fish, chunks of meat and more – all on sale at half to two-thirds off the usual price at chains such as Giant and Meijer as the clock ticks down over their shelf life.

The result: lower bills for Teaford even as prices soared after the pandemic — plus a deep sense of satisfaction.

“I hate food waste and I love a bargain,” Teaford, 66, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as she prepared a half-price rack of ribs via the Flashfood app.

Teaford said she saved about $450 on her grocery bills this year — savings that also prompted several of her neighbors to sign up.

“It makes sense,” she said. “We’re just used to saving.”

Food waste management apps not only save money, but they can also play a role in reducing emissions related to climate change. Agriculture, food processing and delivery all consume fossil fuels, while increased food production is a major driver of deforestation.

The world produces enough food for everyone, but around a third of it is lost or wasted along the supply chain, according to the United Nations, which says the average person wastes 74 kg of food every year.


Food waste management apps have been around for years, but keen observers say the economic chaos of recent times — from COVID-19 to the war in Ukraine — has raised their profile and boosted their adoption.

Flashfood, now present in nearly 1,500 stores in North America, has been downloaded around 2.5 million times and says its user base has jumped more than 40% in the last year alone, the crisis the cost of living having taken a toll on people’s budgets.

Inflation has risen this year at its fastest rate since the 1970s in the United States to reach 8%, while Russia’s war in Ukraine and supply chain problems have pushed up food prices food and energy.

About 10% of U.S. households — or 13.5 million households — are food insecure, according to government data.

Food bank network Feeding America says hunger has worsened with the pandemic due to job losses and poverty, especially among families with children and communities of color.

“The frequency with which people look at the app has increased as the price of groceries has gone up,” said chief executive Josh Domingues, who founded Flashfood in 2016.

Since then, the company says it has diverted more than 50 million pounds (22.7 million kg) of food from landfills and saved shoppers more than $130 million.

“We’re seeing incredible adoption of the Flashfood program,” said Sepideh Burkett, vice president of in-store experience at grocery chain Meijer, which has 240 stores.

Meijer was able to reduce in-store food waste by 10% with Flashfood in early testing, she said, as the grocery chain strives to achieve a 50% reduction by the end of the decade.


The pandemic has fueled interest in food waste and how best to combat it, said Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED, a nonprofit that advocates for systemic change and hopes to halve food waste and waste. food losses in the United States by 2030.

“Over the past few years, we’ve not only seen an explosion of innovation around food waste reduction solutions, but we’ve seen some of them succeed,” she said.

This created a “flywheel effect”, with investments of $500 million in 2019 rising to $2 billion last year, she said.

Trash remains a challenge because it’s so unpredictable and varied, Gunders said, ranging from unharvested fields, leftovers from homes, bumper fruit or soggy canapes.

But “technology has come in with a new ability to deliver real-time information to a whole bunch of people and make (some of) that food available,” Gunders said.

An app called Too Good to Go, for example, seeks to reduce the range of potential waste by allowing users to place a $5 “order” from a restaurant, bakery or other outlet. local sale, who buys them a surprise bag containing everything that needs to go. per closing time.

“Retailers didn’t really have a solution” to food waste, said Lucie Basch, co-founder of the Copenhagen-based app that launched in 2016.

Big charities do a lot but can’t visit every city bakery near closing time, she said, which means a lot gets thrown away.

Typically, users get food worth three times what they pay for.

“As COVID has arrived and inflation has become a huge thing, just paying one-third is great,” she said. “It’s a way to align your economic and ecological interests.”

The approach has proven itself: Too Good to Go has nearly 70 million users in 17 countries, saving some 300,000 meals every day.

The apps have also helped the hungry, as the pandemic has raised awareness among Americans about deprivation close to home, said Melissa Spiesman, chief operating officer of Food Rescue US.

The nonprofit runs an app that connects farms, restaurants and others with thousands of volunteers in 21 states who collect excess food and deliver it to soup kitchens, shelters and hunger relief organizations. .

“At the start of COVID-19, businesses started closing or reducing their hours, and we got phone calls from everyone,” she said. “We were inundated with tons of food.”

Later, as supply chains got tough, farms also called because they were running out of workers or orders were drying up.

“There was something that woke up in a lot of people,” she said. “More people are aware that there are services to help them, and more communities want to do good.”

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