If you’re even vaguely interested in the issue of food waste, you’ve probably got the vital stats memorized by now: Forty percent of U.S. food goes to waste. Food waste costs the world $1 trillion annually. And my personal (least) favorite: in the U.S., we waste enough food to fill a college football stadium. Meanwhile, there are 793 million people on earth (PDF) who are starving, and 42.2 Americans living in food deserts (areas without easy access to fresh and healthy food). Not to get all didactic, but something’s definitely rotten in the state of modern food.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. In fact, we’re now in an era where people and organizations aren’t just talking (or writing) about these issues; they’re actually working to fix them.
One such project is the recently announced partnership between Flashfood and Tyson (hat-tip to Fooddive). Together, the two are offering U.S. customers boxes of surplus foods through a direct-to-consumer e-commerce program called flashfoodbox. The 90-day pilot program just kicked off in Detroit, on Earth Day (April 22).
Flashfood successfully runs a similar program (Tyson is not involved) in its native Canada. Tyson, meanwhile, has been donating surplus food to various organizations for years.
Flashfood works directly with the farmers to select produce for the boxes, while Tyson’s role is to donate surplus meats that are perfectly safe to eat but can’t be sold in U.S. grocery stores (e.g., improperly cut chicken breasts). Produce comes from greenhouse growers and farmers across the U.S. “This is all Farm Fresh product, equally as fresh as what you’d see in the store, just rejected from retailers for aesthetic reasons,” says Flashfood CEO and founder, Josh Domingues. After selecting and receiving the food, Flashfood packages and ships the boxes.
To get a box, interested folks can head to the Flashfood website or app, where they have the option to make either a one-time purchase for $44.99 or buy a subscription for 10 percent less. Each box is temperature controlled and contains 15 pounds of surplus food: a combination of produce and protein. Customers can also purchase a box as a donation to Detroit-based food rescue program Forgotten Harvest. The site offers recipes to use when cooking the surplus food.
The catalyst for Flashfood was a phone call Domingues had with his sister, a chef, who had just wrapped a catering event by throwing out $4,000 worth of unused food. After much more reading and research on the topic, Domingues, who worked in finance at the time, found himself pondering the idea of an app specifically designed to help people find unwanted food from restaurants, grocers, and farmers, then sell that food at heavily discounted prices. “I thought about how many other people could benefit,” he says. Young families, students, recent grads with $50,000 worth of debt . . . the list goes on. And, of course, at the top of that list are those living in food deserts — that is, areas where access to fresh, quality food is uncertain and inconsistent.
“Food deserts are a result of city builds based on wealth distribution,” says Domingues. “And when people live outside certain boundaries, they don’t have access to fresh food.”
Why Detroit? “[We want] a city that we think could really benefit people and provide them with fresh produce and protein,” Domingues explains. “Detroit is going through a really fascinating resurgence and we want to be there for it. It’s a city that’s right across the border from Canada. It’s a city that not a lot of tech companies would target.”
The fact that Flashfood is targeting cities that aren’t, in Domingues’ words, “sexy” for tech companies to set up shop is an important part of their overall mission. While the company isn’t actively avoiding the San Franciscos and Austins of the world, getting in on the action, so to speak, in the startup world is not a priority. For Flashfood, the action lies elsewhere: “Sure there’s technology involved in what we’re building, but this is much more technology,” he says. “We’re building a marketplace to fix the failure of modern day food.”