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Are apps the answer to tackling food waste in the hospitality industry?

Food waste accounts for more than 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but can a surplus food app targeted at restaurants serve as a solution?

‘Magic bags’ from the surplus food app ‘Too Good To Go’ have become something of a viral sensation across social media channels such as TikTok over the past couple of months. The 30 second videos of savvy consumers bragging about the dozens of baked goods they scored from Greggs or Costa Coffee for as little as £3 have gained thousands of views. 

And it’s not just those looking for five minutes of online fame using this app, currently 12,800 food businesses across the UK are tapping into this service in a bid to dispose of their excess goods in an ethical manner. 

How does it work?

The company, which was founded just five years ago, works by allowing stores and restaurants to sell leftover food after a day of trading via its smartphone app. Customers choose a restaurant or store, they order a “magic bag” of extra food at a reduced price and then collect it from the store during a pre-set collection window. 

“It is a very simple, very flexible concept,” says Paschalis Loucaides, managing director of the group. With the fall out from Covid-19 already weighing heavy on the sector’s pocket, Loucaides shares that restaurateurs who are curious about joining the app can access the service for free. “Signing up is free of charge, the way that the commercials work is that we have a fee for the transactions, but you don’t pay anything if you don’t save waste,” Loucaides explains. 

“So when you save waste, the income that comes in, we take a small fee, and then the rest of the bulk of it is given back to the operator.”

The app has managed to attract clients from popular high street eateries such as Pret a Manger and Yo! Sushi, however a large number of independent businesses are also using the service. “At the moment, we have about the same number of independent stores as chain stores on our app,” Loucaides says. “It works for both and the reason it works for both is because you don’t need to have any tech integration, you just need to have access to the internet.”

‘Profit is not on the agenda’ 

Too Good To Go first launched in the UK and four other European countries in 2016. Currently it operates as a B Corporation, with the group still in the “growth phase” of its expansion. Loucaides describes the platform as a “safety net” for restaurants with extra stock, but is keen to highlight that the company’s roots are grounded in helping the environment, not earning a profit. 

“Our essence is that our profit is created for purpose,” he says. “So the UK does not make profits. As is the case for the total business, we reinvest everything, and we have some very understanding investors who are helping us grow at pace,” he adds. “Growth is what we’re targeting and profit isn’t on our agenda at the moment.”

Does this add to the workload of workers? 

With the sector slowly beginning to reopen, should business owners interested in using this service be concerned about it disrupting day to day operations? “We work with a lot of The Restaurant Group (TRG) and their implementation was done in a way that you could see that the team members were loving it, and it didn’t add a lot to the day,” Loucaides says. 

It takes most sites 14 seconds to prepare a magic bag and the platform has a “strong retention rate” from customers who decide to adopt this in their businesses. “We know that younger staff members are really concerned about the environment – so giving them the ability to actually act and do something about it is really a positive thing. And it’s certainly seen as a real positive thing for the brands to be doing this also,” he explains. 

While the company may be enjoying success in the UK market, Loucaides admits that it did take longer for the UK to reach the same levels of usership as other countries where the app is already available such as Denmark or France. However, he believes that laws implemented in France since 2016, which prohibit grocery stores or businesses from throwing away good quality food approaching its best-before date played a part in its growth in this region. “We were a great solution for that, and in the UK we haven’t seen that level of pressure on retailers or restaurants.”

‘We welcome competition’ 

Too Good To Go currently holds the spot as the ‘number one app’ fighting food waste in the UK, but as more awareness around the topic grows, is Loucaides concerned about competitors? “I have no worries about competitors and the reason for that is that there’s so much food waste to be saved that I welcome competition.

“We have a good relationship with some of the other competitors out there. We talk openly and in essence our view is there is so much waste to be saved, that we need to look at where our app is set in the supply chain of waste, and we sit in a certain position and some of the other apps sit elsewhere. But the more the merrier, because we want to save as much waste as possible.”

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