Despite recent food-saving innovations such as FreshPaper, efforts to promote “ugly produce” and industry-wide commitments to reduce food waste, millions of tons of food are still discarded every year. Now a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup has thrown its hat into the ring with an app called Spoiler Alert.
Spoiler Alert is designed to make it easy to get surplus food to qualified recovery non-profits in the area, in a mission “to create efficient, connected communities that are empowered to minimize wasted food.” The app connects retailers, producers and suppliers to nearby organizations that can use it. Foods that can still be eaten can be donated to non-profits, and those that are passed their sell-by date or are inedible can be given or sold to companies that make fertilizer and animal feed.
Two recent MIT Sloan graduates, Ricky Ashenfelter and Emily Malina, founded Spoiler Alert as a business-to-business marketplace that would reduce obstacles in the waste management process and help companies reduce food waste. It is free to sign up for companies that donate. When new inventory becomes available, the app sends out notifications so the organizations can coordinate an exchange. The app records all transactions and communications, which makes it easier for donors to prepare tax donations.
“Many people come to this issue from an environmental or social perspective, which is absolutely right, but it also has serious financial implications for food businesses, many of which are dealing with extremely slim margins across the industry. To put that into perspective, at least in a U.S. context, businesses are throwing away $50 billion worth of lost revenue and hauling fees in wasted food,” Malina told TechCrunch.
Spoiler Alert is monetizing its solution by taking a commission on discounted food sales and offering software-as-a-service subscriptions for businesses that would like to keep accounting and tax documents.
“What we offer is an opportunity to save money through a variety of ways. If companies are able to reduce the amount of food they throw away, they can have fewer hauling pickups, which reduces hauling fees,” Malina said. “We offer a secondary market for discounted food sales, which enables new revenue streams, and streamline and simplify the documentation for tax benefits, which are quite sizable.”
Earlier this year, eight organizations participated in Spoiler Alert’s pilot program and nearly 10,000 pounds of food were donated through the iOS app. The startup is now seeking funding, recruiting more businesses, and completing the web and Android versions of the app. Ashenfelter and Malina plan to expand the company to New York City in 2016, followed by other cities such as San Francisco and Seattle.
The concept of food redistribution systems is nothing new, but every little bit helps. In Boston, a non-profit grocery store called the Daily Table sells surplus and food slightly past its sell-by date (which largely has nothing to do with whether the food is still edible — UK waste-reduction charity WRAP recently asserted that an increase on product life [as indicated by its sell-by date] of just one day across a range of foods could prevent roughly 250,000 tons of food waste each year). And UK grocery giant Tesco recently partnered with food redistribution charity FareShare and social enterprise FoodCloud to try an app that would enable charities to pick up surplus from Tesco stores.