In the first part of the article we featured startups that are leading the food surplus revolution and categorised them into two groups – Food Surplus Heroes and Sharing Economy Champions. The second part outlines the third category and describes some alternative approaches taken by startups to reduce waste.
3. The Circular Economy Leaders
The circular economy leaders redesign the industry and how companies interact with their suppliers and customers to reduce food surplus. A notable example is Cultivando Futuro, based in Bogota, Columbia, which has developed a platform connecting farmers, buyers, and other actors in the industry to generate a collaborative environment that promotes fair trade. The platform complies information about industry sales, allowing farmers to make informed decisions about production levels and thus minimising food surplus.
On the other hand, Good Bank, the first “vertical-farm-to-table-restaurant” in the word, aims to promote sustainability by producing their vegetables and salads in vertical farms located within the restaurants themselves. By adopting a just-in-time, the restaurant can pick only the ingredients it requires, virtually eliminating the issue of food surplus.
Another company that aims to reshape the efforts to reduce food surplus is Food Loop – a retail platform that ties grocers’ inventory systems with consumer apps and provides real-time deals and personalised offers based on consumers’ purchase history, interests, and location. Instead of using “reduced price” tags, grocery stores can target customers directly through the app, encouraging them to purchase products with an impending “best before date”. As a result they can reduce waste, cut costs, and support sustainable business practices.
In addition to reusing or redistributing food surplus, there are many innovative and creative solutions developed by companies targeting reducing food surplus by challenging industry standards and common practices. A notable example is Mimica Lab, which aims to reduce food surplus by changing how customers understand expiration dates of their products. They are currently developing a product called Mimica Touch, a bio-responsive label which reacts to the environment allowing customers to find out when their food has actually “expired”, instead of relying on the date on the packaging. According to the founder Solveiga Pakstaite, this smart label allows to extend shelf life for 5 days in average, which could have a huge impact on how much food is currently thrown away in supermarkets.
Another approach adapted by companies is to challenge the current packaging norms with the aim of creating sustainable packaging as a solution to waste. One example is Skipping Rocks Lab, an innovative sustainable packaging start-up based in London. Their goal is to create waste-free alternatives to plastic bottles with a low environmental impact. Branded as the “water you can eat”, Ooho is an edible water container made entirely out of plants and seaweed and is fully biodegradable. Similarly, Tipa Corp was founded to create viable plastic packaging solutions, with the same end-of-life as organic waste as well as the durability and shelf-life or ordinary plastics.
Following in the spirit of the “no waste” agenda, the use of black soldier fly larvae for composting has become an interesting alternative for reducing waste. Their large appetites, high reproduction rates, and short life cycles make them ideal for handling large amount of all kinds of food waste, such as meat, fat, dairy, and other food and beverage wastes. A poster-child for the use of black soldier flies, Entomics is a Cambridge-based startup that aims to commercialise large-scale composting solutions. Their solution leverages the metabolism of the flies, which converts food waste into proteins and fats within their bodies. The flies can then be transformed into animal feed, thus ensuring that the food surplus does not go to waste.
There is no doubt about the importance of reducing food surplus; leading research organisations across the world make it clear that overproduction of food contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases, and thus global warming, as well as the wastage of fresh water. In order to resolve this pressing issue, a serious effort has to be made by all parties involved. One possibility is to encourage corporate-startup collaboration, which could be beneficial for both sides. For startups, a corporate partner could help ensure products of consistent quality and scaling up of the manufacturing process, allowing them to leverage economies of scale. By tapping into the resources of corporates, food surplus startups could therefore increase their production volume and substantially reduce their distribution costs. For corporates, in addition to improving their image, they could decrease their costs which are incurred due to the production of surplus. A notable example of corporate-startup collaboration is between Entomics and Sainsbury’s – the corporate provides them with the surplus needed for their production process – as well as between Winnow and the Compass Group.
Combatting food surplus does come however, with certain challenges, the most important of which is encouraging widespread adoption by the industry. One of the ways to tackle this issue is by ensuring that the major stakeholders, such as food and drink retailers and manufacturers, are aware of all the benefits of implementing surplus-reducing solutions. These solutions should then be adopted as the industry standards, ensuring a perpetuating effect and a permanent change in how food surplus is managed.