Food Waste Innovation in Europe
Europe tackles the problem of food waste
A third of the food that we produce worldwide is wasted. This shocking reality has sparked global action: people are dumpster diving, cities are implementing preventative waste policies, families are consuming imperfect produce, and startups like Replate are working to redistribute surplus food.
I spent the past two years living in Europe. As is true in the US, every initiative in Europe has its own unique approach to tackling the dire issue of food waste, though some methods are more popular than others. It seems that while the US has a plethora of consumer products made from food waste, Europe may have more headway with enforced legislation targeting large institutions like nation-wide grocery stores. The difference in the popular approach is arguably comparable to the difference in health care in the US and most European countries - the US focuses on products and consumer choice while Europe’s focus is more on large institutional oversight crafted by the government. Some of Europe’s stand-out, food-waste-fighting-efforts are highlighted below.
Startups are getting involved
A number of startups in Europe are working to reduce food waste by redistributing surplus food. The Danish startup Too Good To Go is a great example. The company has an app that enables users to purchase a mystery bag of surplus food from participating restaurants and bakeries at a discounted price. Users download the app, scroll through a list of participating restaurants, make their selection and payment, and pick up their food from the place from which they’ve ordered. By using Too Good To Go, one is participating in an elevated and hassle-free dumpster dive of prepared foods at a small cost. Although users of the service never know what they will receive, the app has been a hit. The company was founded only four years ago and now operates in 12 European countries (Denmark, Austria, France, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Poland, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and the UK), and continues to expand.
Olio, a successful British startup similar to Too Good To Go, also works to redistribute surplus food through an app. The food shared by users of the app is free, and the company allows not only businesses to share their surplus food, but also individuals. Using Olio, Joe next door can, for example, share the excess vegetables that he grew in his backyard, or even items that he purchased at the supermarket, but won’t be consuming. Olio certainly requires a high level of trust from its users, as sometimes a pickup location is a stranger’s front door, but this isn’t holding people back. The app has over one million downloads, and as of today, over 1,800,000 portions of food have been rescued. Olio is working to reduce food waste by building a community of environmentally conscious consumers, and it seems to be working.
Supermarkets are tackling the problem of food waste
Startups aren’t the only businesses that have been working to reduce food waste. Dutch supermarkets have also been doing their part. Jumbo, one of the country’s popular supermarket chains, encourages its customers to purchase imperfect produce. It sells crooked cucumbers at the same price that it sells straight ones, driving home the point that whether bent or straight, the two cucumbers are of equal nutritional value.
Jumbo is not alone in its effort to address the food waste problem. Albert Heijn, another Dutch supermarket chain, is also working to reduce the amount of food that it wastes. As products are approaching their date of expiration, the company reduces their price by 35%, thereby nudging customers to purchase these goods. Food waste reducing efforts made by supermarkets, which involve the public, do seem to be unique to Europe. It seems some grocery stores in the United States are following suit. Kroger recently announced that they reduced food waste by 9% across all retail stores in 2018.
Making products with surplus waste and imperfect produce
As in the United States, a handful of companies in Europe develop and sell products that are made with surplus food and imperfect produce. Rubies in the Rubble, a company based in London, is one example. The company creates “condiments with a conscience” or condiments that have been made with food that, due to the way it looks, would otherwise be tossed. This is definitely one of the more popular trends in the US, with companies like Regrained making flour and granola bars from spent grain from the beer brewing process, Pulp Pantry using leftover pulp from juicing to make their snacks, or Good Use sourcing otherwise unmarketable produce to make their juices.
Kromkommer is another European company worth mentioning. The Dutch company sells a variety of prepared soups made with imperfect produce. Each soup centers around a single vegetable - tomatoes, carrots, or beets, to name a few. While Kromkommer’s product is tasty and innovative, I hope in the future they will work on phasing out plastic packaging. This is yet another struggle in the choices we have as consumers when fighting waste or buying products that treat the environment well - so often the packaging does not live up to the same standards.
Governments are taking action
France has made great progress with regards to diverting food waste. In 2016, the country made it illegal for supermarkets to throw away edible food, and made the act punishable with a $4,500 fine. As a result, many supermarkets now donate the food they would typically toss, to the country’s food banks, thereby diverting a huge amount of food from landfill.
Addressing the issue of food waste is a daunting undertaking that challenges us to approach the problem creatively in as many ways as we can. Internationally, many groups have already taken action. Taking a look around the globe to see what other countries are doing to address food waste problem is a great way to gain ideas about what can be done at home, even if the cultural lens is not always quite the same, the issue of food waste is crucial; diverse approaches are needed to solve this problem.