Creating sustainability in foodservice, one download at a time

By Sylvia Tomczak

It’s ugly, it’s been sitting in the fridge for too long, it’s one of too many purchased. These are just some of the factors that contribute to the ever-rising amount of food waste happening both nationally and globally. But what if apps were the solution to the ever-growing issue of sustainability?

Roughly 58 per cent of food produced in Canada is wasted, with 30 per cent occurring in the foodservice industry. All of this national waste of edible food translates into 56.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, costing Canada’s economy $49 billion annually.

Although the Canadian government has taken action to reduce food loss and waste through collaborations that promote the sale of second-tier produce, along with offering tax credits and grants, this is simply a start.

While there are systematic changes that need to happen to our food system, that doesn’t mean that we as consumers and business owners can’t start a revolution.

Recently, sustainability has become a buzzword, behind which consumers are the driving force. For the F&B industry, sustainability means minimizing the impact on the planet not just by advertising eco-efforts on social media with blatant greenwashing, but actually taking action to shorten the supply chain, reduce food waste and packaging, support sustainable farming, and decrease energy consumption. 

From a business perspective, implementing sustainable practices can have many benefits, like brand loyalty based on aligned consumer values; it can also increase profits and recover costs. Solutions made in-house, like swapping single-use plastic for reusable or biodegradable replacements, offering plant-based dishes, supporting local producers, and investing in environmentally-friendly equipment, are a start.

But the increased digitization of the pandemic has also influenced solutions that minimize not just the spread of contagion, but also waste. By trading physical menus for QR codes, consumers are using their smartphones at the dinner table now more than ever; why not take it a step further and make smartphones a tool for sustainability?

Beyond the realm of food sharing and delivery, there are actually a multitude of smartphone applications that offer greener approaches to dining. Tailored to fight food waste, extend product shelf-life, boost sales of unaesthetic produce, and track down sustainable superstars in the restaurant industry, being a sustainable business owner or consumer could be as simple as downloading an app!

However, while there are B2B apps with an overwhelming presence in Europe, unfortunately, there are virtually none that exist in Canada. ShelfNow, ImpactVision, or Winnow connect small-scale producers with independent buyers, use imaging technology that assesses food quality for wholesalers, and track waste via smart meters attached to garbage bins, respectively. With more awareness and enthusiasm from business owners, it could be only a matter of time before such apps are embraced by a North American audience.

In the meantime, there are many B2C apps available in Canada. For instance, Too Good To Go connects customers to restaurants, cafés, and bakeries that have a surplus of unsold food for a reduced price (up to 50 per cent off), which means less waste for businesses and great deals for customers. Karma functions similarly, working also with supermarkets to sell about-to-expire foodstuffs. 

Other solutions are out there.

Montreal’s Sauvegarde is an online marketplace where food retailers can offer their surplus products at a reduced price, in contrast to Flashfood, which re-sells foods in grocery stores like Loblaw that are approaching their best-before date at a discount while also giving producers the possibility to sell goods directly to environmentally-conscious consumers.

Diversely, Local Food Loop takes the 0 km approach by connecting local producers and artisans directly with retailers and consumers. Not only does this support local businesses and promote local flavours, but it also helps conserve energy and resources to reduce our carbon footprint.

Other apps like Goodr App instead focus not on profit but rather on charity. Picking up excess food from businesses and delivering it to nonprofits, this app solves the logistic issues involved with surplus foods and the time required to make deliveries to shelters, soup kitchens, and poverty-stricken communities.

So why aren’t more people using these apps?

Admittedly, it takes time for new things to become the norm. Staff may be apprehensive and consumers may not know about these apps well enough for a real impact to be made. Likewise, businesses that partner with apps like Too Good To Go are subject to cuts of up to 25 per cent of the sold item’s price. But, while there is little profit, the aim is really about reducing waste in creative ways.

As it stands, Canadians lack awareness of how tech can reduce our impact on the food chain. But, as more businesses partner with sustainable food apps, this will only inspire fellow restaurateurs, producers, and, consequently, consumers to do the same. By promoting unique solutions like apps to reduce food waste, we can collectively contribute to a more circular economy of mindful consumption.

With the ease of an app, sustainability no longer has to seem scary or impossible — we can start leading the change today, one sustainable food app download at a time!

Sylvia Tomczak holds a master’s degree in food culture, communication, and marketing at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. With a love of words and all things enogastronomy, she is passionate about learning new things through a foodie-focused lens and sharing them both on paper and online.