7 start-ups building technology to tackle food waste

8 Oct 2020716 Views

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We take a look at seven start-ups that have set out to reduce, repurpose and eliminate food waste.

Around the world, food waste is a massive problem. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 1.3bn tonnes of food ends up wasted each year.

In Ireland alone, we are thought to be generating 1.27m tonnes of food waste each year. This exacerbates the climate crisis, as it contributes to food and water shortages, biodiversity loss and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

This week, we take a look at seven start-ups developing technologies that aim to drastically reduce food waste, repurpose it into something more useful, or eliminate it completely.

Our list includes a biotech business turning coffee grounds into fuel; a start-up using AI to offer dynamic pricing for supermarkets and businesses that are helping supermarkets redistribute food that isn’t sold to consumers.

Bio-Bean

Bio-Bean is a UK-based biotech start-up that has industrialised the process of recycling used coffee grounds into advanced biofuels. The company was formed in 2013 by Arthur Kay, who began researching whether coffee could be used to create biomass pellets after he noticed a film of oil forming on top of a cold cup of coffee.

Kay eventually went on to build the UK’s first industrial-scale coffee recycling plant. Bio-Bean works with existing supply chains to collect and aggregate tonnes of coffee ground wastes generated by coffee factories, cafés, transport hubs and offices. This waste is then recycled into biomass pellets, which can be used to heat buildings.

In 2016, the start-up launched its first consumer retail product, Coffee Logs. These logs are made from recycled waste coffee grounds and can be used in domestic wood burners and multi-fuel stoves. The firm plans to expand its offerings to include biodiesel in the future.

FoodCloud

FoodCloud is an Irish company that provides businesses with a convenient way to manage food surpluses and manage their impact on the environment. The platform provides supermarkets with an in-store scanner or mobile application that can be used to upload details on food that cannot be sold, so that local charities and community group partners can collect it and redistribute it.

FoodCloud was founded in Dublin by Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien in 2012, after they met at an Enactus event. They developed the idea for FoodCloud into a business at Trinity College Dublin’s LaunchBox programme, before beginning a partnership with Tesco, which expanded nationally to the supermarket’s 146 stores in Ireland.

In addition to Tesco, the company now works with Aldi and Lidl in Ireland and Waitrose in the UK. According to FoodCloud, the start-up has helped donate more than 2,528 tonnes of food to more than 1,100 charities in Ireland and the UK.

Gander

Founded in 2019, Gander is an early stage start-up based in the Isle of Man. The company has developed a mobile platform that connects customers with reduced food from shops in their areas.

The app, which has reportedly been downloaded more than 41,000 times, is updated in real time with yellow label reductions, and users can filter results on the platform by type of food or dietary requirements. Gander’s app also sends users notifications to ensure that they are notified of reductions of items on their watchlist or activity in their favourite stores.

The company first launched its app in Northern Ireland, but it plans to expand to the Republic of Ireland and the UK in the future. Gander’s pilot run in Northern Ireland is in partnership with Spar, Eurospar, Londis and Vivo.

Phenix

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Phenix was co-founded in Paris in 2014 by Baptiste Corval and Jean Moreau. The start-up has set out to ensure that unsold goods never become waste, using a number of different approaches. These approaches include selling food through a mobile app, donating it to charities, reusing items where possible and converting excess food into animal feed.

Phenix partners with a variety of businesses including large food retailers, local businesses, producers, manufacturers, wholesalers and event organisers to offer different solutions to each party, depending on whether they need more food or less.

Phenix also collaborates with partners to guide them towards operating at zero-waste, by providing training, support, field visits and awareness campaigns. Earlier this year, the company received funding from Danone’s venture capital arm, Danone Manifesto Ventures. Other investors include ETF Partners, Sofiouest and INCO.

Shelf Engine

Seattle-based Shelf Engine has developed an automated prediction engine that helps grocery stores and delicatessens work out how much food they need to order. Co-founded by Bede Jordan and Stefan Kalb, Shelf Engine aims to accurately predict orders for hundreds of stock-keeping units (SKUs) on a daily basis.

Kalb first encountered the problem of food waste while running a grab-and-go food company called Molly’s, which he set up in 2009. The store grew to have 400 regional retail locations, but Kalb was acutely aware of the fact that Molly’s food waste was at 28pc and eating into the company’s bottom line. Jordan, who was working at Microsoft as a software engineering lead, joined Kalb to help solve the problem and build a model to improve food forecasting.

Shelf Engine’s technology uses point of sale (POS) data along with real-world considerations such as school schedules, local events, holidays and weather to help businesses minimise waste. The start-up is so confident in its technology that it promises to buy back what retailers cannot sell. Shelf Engine’s platform has been used in major chains such as Target, Kroger and Harmons.

Spoiler Alert

Boston-headquartered Spoiler Alert is a B2B sales management platform that connects food manufacturers and grocery distributors with a network of discount channels.

Spoiler Alert works with discount retailers, hunger-relief organisations and large food brands such as Campbell’s and Bimbo. The start-up’s software platform helps manage discount sales and donation processes for slow-moving, excess, discontinued and damaged food inventory.

Spoiler Alert’s technology combines workflow automation, augmented intelligence, wholesale e-commerce, traceability and supply chain management. The company’s management and analytics platform is designed to be shelf-life aware and provide insights to drive action across discounts, donations and dump channels.

Wasteless

Wasteless is a Tel Aviv-based start-up that has developed an AI-powered dynamic pricing technology that aims to help supermarkets and online grocery stores to recapture the value of their perishable products and reduce food waste.

Wasteless has designed its pricing engine to learn and adapt to customers’ buying habits to increase revenue by matching product offerings with real-time demand and increase margins with minimal shrinkage levels.

The start-up uses a branch of machine learning called reinforcement learning, which enables the engine to learn how consumers respond to dynamic pricing. Consumers will be offered different prices for products, depending on what the product’s expiry date is. In stores, prices are displayed on electronic shelf labels, where consumers can see the product’s regular price as well as the discounted price for a specific expiration date.

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Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com