Startups aiming to reduce food waste are suddenly hot.
After a summer which saw startups in the US and Europe pull in funding for new takes on reducing food waste, it was Japan’s turn to get into the act. Tokyo startup CoCooking recently raised a seed round that it characterized as “several dozen million yen”. According to the company’s website, the total capital invested in the startup is now roughly $380 thousand.
Investors participating in CoCooking’s seed round include Social Entrepreneur2 Investment Limited Partnership, ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corporation, General Foundation SFC Fund, NOW Inc., Optima Ventures and 222 Partnership.
The idea behind CoCooking’s food sharing service TABETE is a marketplace that lets restaurants and other food retail establishments sell excess food they would otherwise throw away. Customers pay for the reduced-price food through TABETE and show up at an agreed upon time to pick it up. The store gets 65% of the proceeds, CoCooking gets 30%, and the rest is donated to charities that support feeding in-need Japanese children.
I had a chance to meet company cofounder Taichi Isaku last month in Japan while I was there for Smart Kitchen Summit Japan, and Isaku told me that the reason he and his cofounder Kazuma Kawagoe started TABETE was that they saw food waste as an important issue that resonated with them as a result of experience.
“Food waste was always an important issue for us, ” said Isaku. “We’ve seen so much perfectly good food thrown into the trash can, especially for Kazuma who worked in the industrial kitchen for several years before starting the space.”
The space Isaku is referring to was the first project the two worked on together after college. The two had met in college while playing in a wind orchestra (“we were both trumpeters”), and after school, they spent lots of time making food together with their fellow musicians. Because of this experience, they came up with the idea of starting a small restaurant at the base of Mt. Fuji in the small town of Fujiyosida.
“The place eventually became the center of the local community where various people, both from in and out of Fujiyoshida, met and enjoyed food together,” said Isaku.
Eventually, the two decided to move onto bigger ideas, and the idea of reducing food waste seemed a natural fit.
“We knew that diversity, creativity, communities were the three core values of our company that we weren’t going to change, and we found the issue of food waste to go surprisingly well with those themes.”
They settled on the idea of reducing restaurant, and retail food waste and TABETE was born.
One reason the company cofounders thought a food sharing service focused on reducing food waste made sense for Japan is the country sees roughly 6.2 million tons of edible food thrown out every year. While that isn’t nearly as wasteful as the US, it’s still a lot of food thrown out for a country with only a 40% calorie self-sufficiency rate (meaning the country produces only 40% of the calories it consumes).
For Isaku and his cofounder, the idea of importing food just to throw it out just didn’t make sense.
“We found out about food-sharing services that were on the rise in European countries, and decided to localize the business model for our country,” said Isaku. “From there grew our team with members who were all equally concerned with food waste to do business as a startup.
After launching in April of this year, today Tabete is available in about 200 food retail establishments in Tokyo, and the company plans to expand to other cities in Japan. CoCooking employs seven other employees in addition to the two company cofounders.
As for himself, Isaku still finds time to cook with friends despite living the busy life of a startup founder. In fact, he even found time to write a book about the topic published in May called Creative CoCooking Patterns: 40 Ideas to Make the Kitchen Into a Creative and Collaborative Workshop this year.