Earlier this year, I wrote that the U.S. wastes enough food each year to fill a college football stadium. Meanwhile, on a global level, about one third of the food produced for human consumption gets thrown away. And sometimes it’s for seemingly pointless reasons, like grocery stores throwing out pineapples with crooked tops.
Grocery stores aren’t alone; restaurants, catering companies, and schools, not to mention consumers, all contribute to this stadium-sized food waste problem.
Which is where mobile apps could help. While they’re not the only food waste technology out there, apps have a relatively simple — but effective — mission: cut food waste by connecting the ones with too much food (restaurants, grocers) with those who either need food or want to pay less for it. And a number of these apps now play specific roles, from supplying food-insecure areas with produce to connecting buyers with local food or simply giving city dwellers a cheaper option for dinner.
Below are just a few of the companies and apps worth noting and, should they serve your area, using to source your dinner. Note this isn’t a comprehensive list, and I’ve doubtless left off some big ones. Feel free to share ‘em in the comments below.
As its name suggests, BuffetGo works with lots of markets and buffet-style restaurants, offering consumers insanely discounted prices on leftover breakfast, lunch, and dinner items.
To get food just search within your area on the app, choose a restaurant, and purchase a voucher. (The average price is $5.) The app then designates specific time windows for you to pick food up (usually after the lunch rush or at closing time in the evening/night). You don’t have to purchase a specific meal. Instead, you show up, grab a to-go container, and fill it up as much or as little as you like.
This Canadian company keeps edibles out of landfills by offering them for pickup or delivery.
Participating grocery stores can sell items nearing their expiration date (which would normally be thrown out) through the Flashfood app at discounted prices. Consumers choose the food they want from selections posted to the app, where they also pay for it. They pick the food up directly from the store. At the moment, it looks like the service is only available in Canadian stores.
Flashfood’s other food waste reduction method is compiling boxes of “not-good-enough” food (ahem, pineapples) and shipping them direct to consumers. The contents of the box vary depending on what’s available/not wanted in any given week. Flashfood delivers in Canada as well as Detroit at the moment, and plans to expand to other U.S. cities soon. (In the meantime, U.S. consumers have Imperfect Produce to supply their needs.)
Food For All
If you’re in Boston or NYC, Food For All will sell you discounted meals from local joints. You just have to pick the food up at a designated time.
The company started in collaboration with the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health in 2016. It partners with a pretty wide range of places, from tapas, Indian and Latin American restaurants to bakeries to a marshmallow shop. I’ve tried the app and found that it’s especially handy in finding things I wouldn’t normally pay full price for, like a bottle of cold-pressed juice.
Participating restaurants can also use the app to donate a set number of meals to homeless shelters and other charity organizations.
Food Rescue US
Food Rescue has a proprietary mobile system it uses to match food donors (grocery stores, restaurants, etc.) with receiving agencies in food-insecure areas. So, for example, the algorithm might match a participating deli with a nearby homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
Food Rescue delivers the items directly to the receiving agency via volunteer drivers. These drivers — called “food rescuers” — operate much like Lyft drivers, using a map to see available pickups and selecting the ones that are closest or make the most sense for them to pick up. Anyone can become a volunteer driver, regardless of what sort of vehicle they drive or how often they’re available.
Food Rescue operates in multiple states right now, including Connecticut, Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina.
This company is basically a food marketplace in app form: cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and delis can use it as a platform on which to post unsold inventory. Users browse what’s on offer or get notified when food becomes available in their area. As with other apps, users pay within the app and can then pick the food up for a heavily discounted price.
According to a recent interview, goMkt will soon launch a B2B version of its app geared towards wholesalers, manufacturers, and large supermarket groups.
A bigger waste problem
One thing that will definitely need to be addressed in the future: packaging. While that’s a post for another day, it’s worth noting that a lot of these restaurants still use to-go cartons made from Styrofoam or other harmful materials. Yes, we need to tackle the actual food part of food waste first. At some point, though, we’ll need to broaden the definition of “waste” in order to address the market as a whole.