At the end of the day, the majority of restaurants end up having to toss whatever pre-prepared meals are left unsold. When foodservice establishments have razor-thin margins to begin with, any level of waste can seriously hurt their bottom line.
YourLocal is trying to help restaurants cut waste and pocket more money with an app that lets consumers purchase extremely discounted surplus food from local eateries. Users download the app, put in their location, and can browse a list of discounted meals from nearby restaurants. All selections are marked down by at least 50 percent. Users can select and pay for their food online, but have to go to the actual restaurant to pick up their selection within a given time frame.
Sounds like a smart idea, right? Restaurants get to make more money off of food that would be headed for the trash, and people get to eat their favorite foods for less. That’s probably why YourLocal isn’t the first to offer this kind of service.
In Europe, there are already several startups peddling reduced-price surplus food. The largest one, TooGoodToGo, is based in Copenhagen and serves nine countries in Europe. Karma, which started in Sweden but has spread into the U.K., is another service selling marked-down food from restaurants and grocery stores.
YourLocal was actually founded three years ago in Copenhagen, right around the corner from TooGoodToGo. However, while TooGoodToGo is expanding across Europe, YourLocal recently opened up a New York office to attend the Food-X accelerator program and launch in the U.S. — where they’re planning to grow next.
The main reason is that, in America, the market is far less saturated. The closest competitor, FoodForAll, started in Boston and just launched in the New York market last year. However, YourLocal hopes that it can leverage its experience in Europe to grow faster and cement itself as a market leader. But the bigger question is are U.S. consumers ready to embrace the concept of buying extra food from restaurants?
“In Europe, the idea of surplus food isn’t hard to grasp,” YourLocal’s Head of Growth, Daniel Ratner, told me during a visit to the Food-X headquarters last week. Here in the U.S., however, people might envision sad soggy sandwiches or questionable sushi when they think about leftover restaurant offerings. Ratner and his team are trying to shift the idea of what “surplus” means by selling only high-quality foods, showing consumers that extra doesn’t necessarily mean second-rate.
YourLocal’s other emphasis is simplicity. Ratner said they want to make the purchasing experience as frictionless as possible, so consumers genuinely consider YourLocal an easy alternative to ordering takeout or swinging by a local restaurant for takeaway food. “People want to be socially responsible and thrifty, but it has to be simple,” he told me.
YourLocal currently has a team of 6 and has raised an undisclosed amount of funds from Danish investors. As of now it works with hundreds of restaurants in Denmark and around 100 shops in New York City, where it’s focusing its expansion efforts, and is about to cross the 10,000 meal mark there. The app is free to use for consumers, and the company takes a cut from its retail partners for each transaction.
Some have argued that resale services like YourLocal take food away from services that feed the truly hungry, like soup kitchens or shelters. However, Ratner told me that smaller local restaurants often don’t have enough surplus to actually donate to relief organizations. He gave the example of City Harvest, a NYC-based food rescue organization which can only accept food donations weighing over 100 pounds. Smaller restaurants also likely can’t pay an employee to go drop off leftovers at a local shelter, which means that their extras just end up in a landfill. For these smaller restaurants, additional sales channels like YourLocal could be a way to cut down on waste while making a few extra bucks.
We at The Spoon are big fans of simple strategies to cut down on food waste. While YourLocal’s concept isn’t original, it would be the first to really bring the surplus restaurant food resale business to the U.S. in a meaningful way. If successful, it’ll be a win for restaurants — and hungry folks who love a good deal.