Up to now, Flashfood’s surplus grocery/food waste-fighting service has enjoyed a noteworthy but fairly small presence among American consumers. New developments are set to change that. The Canada-based company recently announced an expansion with The Giant Company that will make the Flashfood app and service available in many more grocery stores across the U.S.
Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based Giant (part of Ahold Delhaize USA), operates grocery stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. The company trialed Flashfood’s service at four stores beginning in 2020. Flashfood CEO Josh Domingues said that after some initial hesitation (Giant originally said no to the partnership), the store saw a measurable reduction in food waste, net new customers at the store, and customers spending more money while in the store. Domingues did not provide exact numbers for that deal, but said that overall his company’s service has diverted 25 million pounds of food from the landfill and saved shoppers over $70 million.
The Giant partnership will eventually reach all Giant stores as well as Giant subsidiary Martin’s stores. For now, the Flashfood service is available in more than 30 stores, with a plan to be in 170 stores by fall 2021.
Flashfood’s service lets consumers buy meat, dairy, produce, and other items that are nearing their sell-by dates at 50 percent of the retail cost. Historically, grocery retailers have thrown out food that’s about to expire, and most still do. However, efforts to reduce food waste at the retail level have increased over the last decade. From that change has come a pack of companies that will “rescue” surplus, ugly, or expiring food and sell it directly to consumers. Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market both started out rescuing produce. Both companies are now full-blown e-commerce grocery stores. Another notable company is Too Good to Go, which resells surplus food from restaurants, is expanding across the U.S.
Flashfood sticks mainly to the grocery store at this point. Users download the Flashfood app and can browse available food at participating grocery stores in their area. The most commonly sold items, says Domingues, are dairy and produce. Meat is another good seller, and “mystery boxes” — shoebox-sized packages of mixed items — are also hugely popular.
Once the customer has placed an order, a store shopper gathers the items, scans them, and places them in the “Flashfood zone” which is just a temperature-controlled case for food that’s usually located at the front of the store. Customers pick their items up the same day they place the order.
Outside of the Flashfood app itself, the operation is intentionally simple. There are no QR codes or smartphones needed to automatically unlock the fridge door, nor is there automated self-service check-in of any kind. Once a user arrives at the store, they simply head to customer service, where a human being helps them retrieve their order.
“It’s very difficult to be simple with technology,” Domingues says, suggesting that the complexity and “potential frustration” more tech could mean for the store employees is not worth it at the moment. “The mission is to reduce food waste and to feed families more affordable. The vessel that we’re doing that through is with an app and a partnership with our grocery stores.”
Instead, for now, Flashfood will continue its focus on grocery stores. The Giant rollout follows an expanded deal with Meijer Flashfood struck earlier this year. Flashfood is also in Hy-Vee stores in Wisconsin, and is, of course, available across Canada. The company plans to make its service available at more U.S. stores in the near future.