This article was originally posted on the Tech City UK website.
As the food waste management industry grows, we caught up with the Co-Founders of OLIO – a company which is fast becoming a shining star in the sector – Tessa Cook and Saasha Celestial-One, on how the startup sees the area evolving in the coming years
Name an industry. More likely than not it’s being disrupted by technology. Rarely does a tech blog these days pass without some reference to seismic shifts in the taxi and accommodation markets. (Oops, we’ve done it too).
Well what about food?
The thought of ‘food and technology’ might not roll off the tongue in the same way, but it’s a combination with a history that far precedes the smartphone. The oven, kettle and toaster were household revolutions in their time, while various scientific breakthroughs have extended the life of staple foods, or – controversially – sought to modify genetics in search of the perfect produce.
A more recent example might be the internet giving rise to a booming restaurant delivery sector. The likes of Just Eat, Hungry House and Deliveroo offer thousands of businesses a new route to market while busy consumers get the spontaneity and convenience they crave.
Yet while technology can be a food enabler in this way, there’s also an opportunity to make it a disabler for food waste.
In a world where almost a billion go hungry, it cannot be right that a third of all food produced goes uneaten. Nor is the problem far from home – British households bin 20% of the food they buy and are responsible for half of all the food we waste in this country.
So can technology help provide an answer? Absolutely – and last month’s Food Tech Week gave a glimpse how.
Take Winnow. Their smart meter is designed to cut waste in the hospitality sector by making it quick and easy for chefs to record exactly what food is being discarded unused.
Other featured solutions included bio-bean, who recycle waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels, FoodCloud, a platform matching people with too much food with those who have too little, and Farmdrop, essentially an online shop window for fresh farm goods.
Google, meanwhile, are setting the standard for what can be done within a business to save on waste. Their food services team in the EMEA region, for instance, analyses large quantities of data to plan and predict food production and distribution to staff throughout their offices.
Yet it’s not just about preventing the quantity of food that goes in the bin. Quality standards are an issue too, so we welcome Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s #wastenot campaign pressuring supermarkets to ease the cosmetic requirements of the groceries they deem fit to sell.
This initiative, then, is less about technology serving as the direct means with which to cut waste but rather TV and online are being utilised as mainstream channels to spread his important message at scale.
These innovative examples serve as further inspiration for OLIO as we embark on our own journey. Yet our niche is not coffee grounds, not the hospitality sector, nor even supermarkets, but a far larger target: households. If the average family knew they threw out £700 of uneaten food every year, would they do it? We don’t think so. Our mission is to raise awareness of the problem and help people do something about it using just a smartphone.
OLIO is a free app connecting neighbours with each other and with local independent shops to share their edible surplus food. Users simply snap a picture of their items and post them on OLIO for their neighbour to collect.
We are thrilled with progress to date. OLIO began as a tiny WhatsApp trial in N8 and soon evolved into a product trending at the top of the UK App Store. Having recently rolled out across London, it’s been so energising to see local communities and stores build OLIO into their daily lives.
Whether it’s about accessing good food, cutting waste, increasing footfall, or just connecting with the neighbourhood, we’d love to think there’s something for everyone. If we’re right, perhaps one day those bloggers will cite technology’s successful disruption of food waste.
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