Can apps help reduce food waste?

Discussion
Photo: Flashfood
Nov 05, 2021

Giant Food has become the latest grocer to partner with Flashfood, an app that lets customers save money and reduce food waste by purchasing items near their “best by” or “sell by” dates.

Customers browse deals on the app for up to half off on fresh items like meat, produce boxes, dairy and bakery items, as well as on center store foods and snacks, nearing their best-by dates. Shoppers can pick up  items purchased through the app from “Flashzone” sections inside participating Giant stores.

Toronto-based Flashfood, which has been slowly rolling out since 2017, works with about 1,000 stores in North America, including Meijer, Tops Friendly Markets and SpartanNash. Flashfood receives a cut on Flashzone sales while grocers get additional revenue from items otherwise discarded, thereby supporting their sustainability goals.

The app addresses food waste but also the climate change risk from the methane released as food breaks down in landfills. Repurposing about-to-be-tossed foods can bring more affordable fresh food options to shoppers as “best by” and “sell by” dates are often underestimated by grocers by 24 to 72 hours, according to Flashfood.

Can apps help reduce food waste?
Photo: Flashfood

A number of other food waste apps have gained traction in recent years, with many motivated by climate change concerns. The apps include:

  • Too Good To Go, founded in Copenhagen in 2016 and recently reaching major U.S. cities, enables consumers to purchase discounted pastries and other items left at the end of the day from grocers to bakeries, restaurants and farmers markets. App users generally pay $4.99 for a “surprise bag” of fresh, prepared and perishable foods that would have otherwise been discarded. The app takes a $1.29 commission.
  • Kitche: The London-based app allows users to scan receipts from food items and then categorize their refrigerator and pantry inventories, track expiry dates and discover recipes using ingredients found at home.
  • Olio, which recently announced a $43 million funding round, lets people post pictures of unwanted food to give away for free to neighbors with a goal of battling in-home waste. Revenues streams so far are gained by handling the disposal of food near expiration dates for Tesco and other grocers.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of the potential of Flashfood, Too Good To Go and other apps designed to reduce food waste? Does such crowdsourcing and food expiration-tracking technology offer a fresh way for grocers to tackle food waste?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I wish these apps all the luck in the world, but the best way to reduce food waste is to better align supply with consumer demand and that means more accurate forecasting"
"The amount of thrown away perishables is truly staggering and solutions like this can definitely help move things in the right direction."
"I like how dynamic pricing is incorporated into this model."

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13 Comments on "Can apps help reduce food waste?"


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Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Without getting distracted by the idea of an edible smartphone, here are a couple ideas on this topic:

First, I believe there should be a pro-bono aspect to this where they let food banks know as well. Why let food go to waste if it can be used to better society? Better way to give back: pay it forward.

Second, some people realize that the “best by” dates are legitimate for ground chuck, but not so much for canned goods and rice. Still, inspiring shoppers to grab items right before they go out of code is brilliant. It cuts shrink and increases sales at the same time. The PR folks can add angles like methane reduction to their hearts’ content. For retailers, it’s all about gaining efficiencies and adding profits.

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

I certainly wish these apps all the luck in the world, but the best way to reduce food waste is to better align supply with consumer demand and that means more accurate forecasting. This needs to occur at every stage of a much more agile supply chain that enables quick actions to divert shipments as soon as a demand trigger is determined. The industry diverted promoted goods for years to make an extra buck so the know-how is there. Now that there is even better technology to more quickly and accurately detect supply and demand discrepancies, it just needs to be applied to the waste issue.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

I agree. Anything that requires consumers to do something is likely to have less impact than something that is done by the retailer.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

This problem has been more or less ignored for years. I’m glad to see that there is some innovation and effort in this space to address the problem. I like the idea that this gives socially conscious consumers a way to do their part and be rewarded for doing so with savings. Does this solve the problem? I don’t think so, it’s a really big problem that will require a number of strategies. But it’s a great start and it gives consumers a way to participate in the solution.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

I like how dynamic pricing is incorporated into this model. The real-time fluctuations in prices and promotions will help motivate shoppers to adopt the technology, and it’s also a great way to collect useful shopper data. There’s a lot more opportunity for consumer-facing apps in the sustainability space now that shoppers are significantly more interested in retailer apps.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Brilliant and do-good. These apps are a legitimate way to reduce the percentage of spoilage that grocers have to deal with, which is always a bigger number than one may think! At the same time, I’d like to see a carve out for shelters, food banks, churches feeding the less fortunate, etc. This is the do-good part that rings loudly. The model may have to be tweaked a bit to accommodate this, but brilliance can figure out the do-good part of this equation.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Why do we need an app? There are simpler ways to solve the problem.

In France large grocery stores have been banned from throwing away unsold food that could be donated to charities.

My real question however is how many shoppers will use this app? It seems like a sliver of the grocery shopping population. The idea is great, but how can we make it valuable to all shoppers?

The store should make a policy that any item is within X days of the sell-by day gets an automatic discount. That accomplishes three things. First it gets more shoppers to actually pay attention to the use-by or sell-by dates. (How many of us pay attention now?) Second, it gives every shopper the opportunity to reduce their grocery tab without the machinations of an app. Third, the grocer will clear out soon-to-be bad inventory much sooner.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Giant Food has been addressing this for years in a different way — by putting marked-down center store food items on a rack. It’s an efficient way of selling these items and it feeds the curiosity of shoppers who enjoy a treasure hunt. Kudos to any effort that reduces food waste.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Yes, the Giant solution far outweighs solving this problem with an app.

Matthew Pavich
BrainTrust

The amount of thrown away perishables is truly staggering and solutions like this can definitely help move things in the right direction. Adoption may be a challenge though and will vary greatly by retailer (and their median shopper) and category. Clearance/markdown and promotional data can probably provide some insights into how successful this might be — very few people want to buy meat on clearance, but I’m willing to bet that the adoption will be higher for other categories. As others have pointed out, an app only helps at the very end when the problem is greatest, the best retailers should adopt better practices throughout a product’s lifecycle and leverage pricing more effectively to balance supply and demand so there is less waste to begin with. It’s hard to win a football game in the fourth quarter alone.

Jack Pansegrau
Guest

I love the app that scans receipts and provides expiration dates. I’d also like to see one that counts calories. My eyes are always bigger than my overall daily allowance. So if I bought less food because I could see that I just put 50,000 calories in my basket — I think that would prevent food waste too.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

Anything that can reduce food waste has to be a good thing. If an app is what people want to use then great. They could just as easily visit the store, which they have to do anyway to pick up the food ordered on the app, and look at the items that are presumably reduced in a display location. It seems we need an app for everything now, so the more the merrier.

What would be much more useful for retailers is to reduce the amount of food that requires this sort of reduction in the first place by getting their inventory management right in the first place. That would also reduce the food miles spent sending unwanted merchandise to the stores. With modern inventory optimization solutions retailers can reduce their food waste massively and maximize their profit at the same time.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I wish them well, but this strikes me as needing an inordinate amount of in store/behind-the-scenes work to have any meaning at all. And on the consumer’s end, how useful would it be to get info on … oh, say … 500 SKU’s? Presumably the app can tailor to specific products, but I sense people getting overwhelmed quickly (and of course the more tailored, the smaller the audience and the less likely buyers will be found). And last — but by no means least — how well will this fit into other goals like sustainability, reducing emissions, etc. How do you plan your shopping around a series of random messages … without it being akin to someone who drives ten mile to recycle a plastic bag?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I wish these apps all the luck in the world, but the best way to reduce food waste is to better align supply with consumer demand and that means more accurate forecasting"
"The amount of thrown away perishables is truly staggering and solutions like this can definitely help move things in the right direction."
"I like how dynamic pricing is incorporated into this model."

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