How one startup is leading the fight against food waste

Too Good To Go hopes it can make people feel as emotional about the issue of food waste as they do plastic, and that Covid-19 will change people’s relationship with food for good.

Too Good To Go is on a mission to fight food waste, which costs the UK £14bn every year and could cut global emissions by 8% if people stopped wasting food altogether.

The social impact startup is known for its app that allows people to buy unsold food from local cafes, stores and restaurants for a reduced price. It has saved 30 million boxes of unsold food from going to waste across the 14 countries it operates in since it launched in 2016.

Two million of those been saved in the UK from well-known food retailers including Morrisons, Yo Sushi, Costa and Paul. This has prevented 5,000 tonnes of CO2 to-date, which is the same as that emitted from 984 flights around the world.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, much of Too Good To Go’s marketing and communications had been encouraging people to go outside and collect their ‘magic bags’ of surplus food. When the world started going into lockdown earlier this year it had to make some rapid changes so it could continue to try and prevent food from going to waste during the crisis.

Its Instagram is currently full of of recipes that chefs and influencers have created from leftovers, tips and tricks on how to make food last longer, simple three- and four-ingredient recipes and how to ‘upcycle’ things like hot cross buns and regrow scraps.

I’m hoping a silver lining of this crisis is that people will value food more, and this is definitely going to be a message that we push out more now and in the future.

Georgina Preston, Too Good To Go

“We started thinking what is it consumers and people would want to be hearing about now that would be helpful for them but also encourage them to fight food waste,” explains Too Good To Go’s head of marketing, Georgina Preston. “It’s always about trying to find what is relevant to your audience.”

The newly-certified B-Corp also launched a not-for-profit initiative called Support Local, which enables businesses to offer their food as takeaway via the app rather than it necessarily being food waste.

It is working with more wholesalers and manufacturers as well, which have been struggling with surplus food as a result of hospitality and food service sectors shutting amid Covid-19.

According to a survey the company ran aiming to understand behaviour changes around food before and during lockdown, nine out of 10 adults are more aware of how much food they are wasting during lockdown and over a third are throwing out less food than before the Covid-19 crisis struck.

Half of Britons are spending more time cooking from scratch than before the lockdown and 60% are trying out a new skill in the kitchen.

“I’m hoping a silver lining of this crisis is that people will value food more, and this is definitely going to be a message that we push out more now and in the future,” says Preston.

“Also it was interesting for us because we’d previously done some research before the lockdown which showed if you cook from scratch you are less likely to waste the food because if you put so much effort into it you value the food more.”

A piece of research it did with a university in the Netherlands, meanwhile, found people who downloaded the app changed their relationship with food.

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“Some people download [the app] because they care about fighting food waste, other people do because they want to save some money. But what’s great is whatever your initial reason was to engage with it, we then produce content around the topic of food waste so it raises that in those people’s agendas,” Preston explains.

“We’ve had feedback from people saying it’s affected their behaviour from home. Because they’ve started using the app they then take food waste on in a much more serious manner moving forward.”

A big education job

It is estimated that UK households throw away 4.5 million tonnes of food every year, costing £700 per household. Food that goes to land fill produces methane, which is even more potent than carbon dioxide, yet two-thirds of Brits don’t realise that food waste is a contributor to climate change.

Too Good To Go estimates wasting 1 million meals has the same impact as driving around the earth 245 times, charging 300 million smartphones or burning 2.5 million pounds of coal.

“So there’s a lot of education that goes around that,” Preston says. “There’s been a big focus, quite rightly, on plastics over the last few years and people feel more emotionally attached to that.

“If you see a turtle with a plastic bag around its neck it’s a really awful emotional thing to see, whereas a lot of people think if food goes to waste it’s quite a natural thing and it’s not bad for the environment.”

While the app is instrumental to its mission, Too Good To Go is looking at how it can drive change in many different areas of society, including in schools.

In February it launched a poetry competition for primary school children, asking them to write a poem about food waste in order to “bring that topic into their mindset in a fun and creative way”.

Too Good To Go is also hoping to change perceptions of food waste, which Preston says is a topic that can feel “alienating” for some people.

“The word food waste in itself can sometimes sound unappealing and fundamentally food waste is actually perfectly good food that just ends up going in the bin a lot of the time because people have forgotten about it,” she explains. “There’s an education piece around that. Sometimes people call it surplus food or unsold food to try and make it sound more appealing.”

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Too Good To Go often includes statistics in its marketing and communications and out-of-home has proved to be an especially effective medium to highlight key messages such as one third of all food going to waste.

Given the current circumstances, it is focusing on digital and social channels with the hope of doing more outdoor advertising at the end of this year or the start of next.

“For us at the moment we’re a bit on the fence with out-of-home, just because it’s hard to know realistically how much people are going to be going on the tubes and buses,” Preston says. “We’re going to be looking more at influencer, social media, TV potentially, lots of PR, that’s going to be our focus for the near future.

“The plan moving forward is to do some bigger scale, more impactful, less saying and more doing campaigns. That’s the way we’re moving towards.”



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