Using technology to try and minimise food waste

Over the past year my wife Rose and I have been thinking about setting up a new business together as our children are getting a little older now and we will have a fraction more time this year to build a business we are both passionate about.

For around 5 years now Rose has been getting more and more interested in food, nutrition and learning as much as she can about everything (both good and bad) that we put into our bodies. Actually she has been a very positive influence on not just myself but has also introduced countless friends and family to some simple, healthy changes in diet we they have mostly all taken up.

In fact on a personal level it had pretty dramatic effects, dropping me from a near 36" waistline to a 32" waist and losing around 2.5 stone. This in turn made me more energetic allowing me to fully enjoy my time with our kids and helped me get back into water sports/cycling etc. As you can probably tell I'm pretty happy about this.

But I won't go too much further into the benefits of healthy eating as that is not what this post is about and also hopefully soon some of you will be using our new lunchtime delivery service to see for yourself...

Firstly, let me give a brief background to our new service

I now work in Exmouth, Devon which is a small town in the south of the UK and unlike cosmopolitan centres of large cities, my options for eating at lunchtime are pretty poor. In fact I would say they are appalling. Apart from a few key exceptions, the daily menu is generally sandwiches or pastries.

The problem is even more exacerbated in some of the nearby business parks where there is actually no choice available.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." - J.R.R. Tolkien

So one of the most important meals of the day is limited to eating pretty poor quality food and this is something we intend to fix. In future posts I will talk about the specifics of the service but in this post I would like to talk about the issue of food waste.

How we plan to tackle food waste

Pretty much every food establishment, whether it be a supermarket, delicatessen or sandwich van has to budget for waste. The reason is obvious - they don't know how much food they need to have in stock and therefore (in general) will overstock to fulfil their daily demand.

Obviously people learn their ordering patterns, test menus etc but nonetheless there is generally some food waste even from the most experienced companies.

What we aim to achieve is a small shift in the regular mindset of "grabbing some lunch". Our initiative is to make all of our food pre-order only. Now before you start shouting at your screen let me explain.

The initial reaction people have is that nobody will want to pre-order their lunch for the next day or week. There is a belief that the choice needs to be made there and then and that people cannot possibly think through what they may be eating at lunch this week.

Although they already do that in many ways!

Every time people go for a weekly shop, they are envisaging what they are going to eat this week. Whether it's for your lunchtime snacks or evening meals the food you buy dictates the food you will be eating.

People happily pre-order when asked. Think of any large event like a wedding or Christmas party where the caterers simplify by taking orders before the day. They can plan in advance, and not only simplify their catering but also know precise ingredient quantities.

In places where choice is already restricted as in my case here in Exmouth, even if I do "choose" on the day, my choices are so restrictive that essentially I may as well have pre-ordered anyway!

The tech bit

So the idea of pre-ordering food is not original in any way and for other tech-bods the application design is not so complex.

We are designing an application that processes our food pre-ordering which in turn automatically creates our daily fresh food order with our suppliers. By knowing exact amounts, we will not need to roll stock over into the next day and can optimise the production flow to minimise the time to pre-order whilst ensuring minimal waste and always getting the freshest food (for best nutritional value).

Our data-driven system will help us "learn" about the food patterns of our customers enabling us to generate menus based around their tastes and eating habits. We can also tailor some parts of meal to individual customers again meaning less waste.

Actually there is quite a lot more fun stuff in the technology plan, but in regards to reducing food waste this seems like a simple obvious approach to minimising food waste.

There are plenty of other initiatives up our sleeve to help reduce the overall carbon footprint of the company and for engaging out customers with the benefits of great food. I'll go into these in later posts.

Until next time.

If you are interested in any of the ideas that I have talked about or want to get in touch then send me a tweet @jimhilluk.