How FoodCloud is using technology to reduce food waste

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
James Clifford, product manager at FoodCloud

FoodCloud is a not for profit organisation which creates innovative solutions for the food industry to donate surplus food to the charitable sector.

We spoke to product manager James Clifford to find out how the company is making positive change.

Where did the idea come from?

Our two founders, Iseult and Aoibheann, met while studying in Trinity College Dublin. At an entrepreneurship event, they found common interest in a love for food and a distaste for waste.

After setting up some donations from a local farmers’ market to a charity by hand, just before their end of year exams, they realised that technology would be needed to create a sustainable solution for food waste.

How did you get businesses to sign up?

In the early days, we approached store managers and asked them to use our app to let charities know when food was available.

As we grew, we approached the head offices of the retail and food industry with a proven solution for redistribution of their surplus good food across all stores to their local charities.

Now, we are partnering with existing networks of food banks and food industry across the world to provide a full-service package for our surplus food redistribution solution.

This includes the technology, know-how and support to enable communities to solve the problem for themselves.

How do the logistics of the operation work?

We have a technology platform to manage and support the food donations to the charity sector. In the majority of cases, we partner charities with their local food store to collect their surplus food when it’s available. This means that the food is put to good use in the donor’s local community and we save on logistics and transport costs.

FoodCloud uses tech firm Twilio’s cloud-based APIs- can you explain what these are?

In order to support our operations with the food industry and the charity sector, we use SMS messages and phone calls to communicate with the individuals carrying out the donations in the store and charity. We useTwilio’s APIs to send those SMS and make those phone calls in an automated way.

Is relying on cloud-based applications a risk?

Relying on a cloud-based system for this type of communication is easier, more stable and more effective than other solutions. Twilio provides APIs to interface with the phone networks so we don’t have to install our own gateway technology.

Thanks to Twilio’s international coverage, it means that we can provide our service to new countries quickly also.

How does FoodCloud make its revenue?

FoodCloud charges retailers a fee per store to cover our operating expenses. As a social enterprise, this fee enables us to ensure our solution is sustainable and can continue to benefit the communities that we serve.

What is your latest figure in surplus food redistribution?

In July, we reached 35 million meals redistributed to charities from the retail and food industries. This is equivalent to over 50,000 tonnes of CO2 saved. Each month, we are donating over 1.5 million meals.

Have you seen a trend growing in businesses trying to reduce their food waste?

We have observed a very positive attitude and a hunger to adopt new practices to reduce food waste. We have seen many large retailers commit together to reduce their waste and this has had a huge impact on our efforts to redistribute this food to the charity sector.

Is matching supplier with charity difficult when there’s a limit on how long the food will last? If so, how do you overcome this?

Our redistribution solution is based around building a strong relationship and understanding between the store and the local charities. When surplus food becomes available in the store, we are notified and we communicate this to the charities in order to arrange a collection.

In the event that there is no food available, we relay that to the charities also. Our approach allows for charities to plan collections by their volunteers and we ensure no one makes a journey they don’t have to.

Does FoodCloud manage to distribute all of the food it receives? What happens to the produce that can’t be passed on?

FoodCloud’s technology platform is built to maximise the food redistributed to charities. We have created innovative solutions to ensure our success rate is kept high and our solution is sustainable.

In the event that no charities are available to collect from a retail store, they usually have their own routines that manages surplus. This may include staff discounted food, animal feed, composting and industrial use.

How can we get food waste up the political agenda?

At the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, countries across the world committed to cutting food waste in half by 2030. In order to carry out this ambitious goal, we need to support the food industry across the food supply chain, invest in solutions to reduce this food waste, make the supply chain more efficient and redistribute any edible surplus to humans in a sustainable way.

What more can businesses and consumers do to reduce food waste?

Awareness is the key element to any campaign. Businesses and consumers will have to become aware of the issues surrounding food waste and educate themselves, and their colleagues or friends, to the opportunities for reducing the production, managing the food in a better way and reusing the surplus available.

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