Belgium is the second-largest producer of food waste in the European Union. It wastes 10,400 tons every day. And that doesn’t just have an economic impact, it has an environmental one.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste is responsible for 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the US and China in terms of impact on global warming.
Zero waste is a target for the Benelux region, so finding solutions for food waste was front of mind for Unilever’s Manager for Knorr Soups and Snacking, Axel Driegelinck, when he attended Belgium’s largest food and catering conference Horeca Expo, late last year. At the event he met Katelijne Berx, Key Account Manager of the increasingly popular food app, Too Good To Go.
“The app’s concept is simple,” explains Axel. “If a restaurant or retailer knows they aren’t going to sell all of their stock they log their surplus on the app. This stock then appears on a map. Consumers can see what is available near them and buy it at a discount. After they’ve made a purchase, they have a few hours to collect.”
Axel and Katelijne wanted to see what opportunities use of the app could offer to Unilever and waste-conscious Belgian customers.
They decided to run a pilot, offering consumers the chance to buy Knorr soups, Lipton’s ice tea lychee bottles and Ben & Jerry’s products which could no longer be sold to retailers because they were nearing their sell-by date.
Running close to the sell-by date did not pose any health and safety issues for our brands or the consumers who bought them. “Goods were all still at least a day in date and Too Good To Go’s concept is very clear,” Axel explains.
A trial that left consumers asking for more
“We offered trays of products on the app for a limited window of time,” says Axel. “Buyers could purchase them and pick up the goods from Unilever’s office, using their own bags and boxes.”
The products were sold at a considerable discount so revenue from the trial was small. But that’s just one part of the story. “This pilot was run to scope the business potential and see if there was a consumer need,” Axel explains.
“Consumers know that the products will go over date soon so there were no complaints. In fact, we got amazing ratings. Everyone who picked up their orders asked us if we would be doing this again.”
“What we saw was that there is a community of users that communicate about offers going on,” says Axel. “A lot of Unilever colleagues also asked about the app and downloaded it to have a look.”
Enjoying food that would otherwise be wasted
“During the pilot we sold two pallets, each containing 1,000 products, in one day, in one city,” says Axel. “Potentially, we could do this all year in all Belgian cities. If we sold one pallet per day (for 200 days) in each of the country’s five big cities we’d sell around 1,000 pallets per year. There are 1,000 products per pallet so that means 1 million products/year,” Axel says.
The team are now looking to roll out the concept beyond Brussels. “Too Good To Go exists in most of Europe’s big cities,” says Axel, and people are beginning to take notice. “The app recently reached a milestone of 1 million orders delivered – that’s consumers buying goods that would have otherwise been wasted,” he says.
The pilot had other wins besides potential revenue. “It means we can offset the cost of obsolete stock,” explains Axel. “And it fits in with our mission to reduce food waste.
“At Unilever we aim to produce the best products in the best possible way. But waste is unavoidable and if we are transparent about it and search for solutions, we obviously are one step ahead – always.”