Food Cowboy, which uses mobile technology to help food companies route surplus and unsaleable inventory to charities and organic waste to composters, recently announced the launch of the No Waste Promise Alliance and the Food Waste Innovation Fund. Together, the Alliance and the Fund will invest up to $75 million a year in solutions that help eliminate food waste.
“The scale of the food waste problem in America is enormous,” said Food Cowboy co-founder Barbara Cohen. Food waste has been estimated to cost U.S. consumers, businesses and farms a staggering $218 billion every year, prompting NGOs, CEOs, chefs, and many others to advocate for reduction and take action. Adding to the problem, food banks often lack the capacity to accept more than a fraction of the inventory that businesses need to dispose of.
“Meaningful change won’t happen until charities have the right tools and we develop more market-based solutions,” Cohen said.
With these challenges in mind, Cohen and her team came up with a business model that will allow Food Cowboy to maximize the positive impact it creates through its facilitation of the food donation process.
Congress recently granted the food industry bonus tax deductions as an incentive to donate more food. Food Cowboy explains that under these changes to the tax code, recovering and donating supply chain waste would allow the food industry to reduce its taxable income by up to $6 billion a year and eliminate $1.3 billion in disposal fees. Recovering and donating just 7% of wasted food each year (15% of fresh produce and 6% of non-perishables) would allow the industry to take an additional $485 million in deductions.
Beginning this fall, when companies use Food Cowboy to donate inventory they will pay a small commission on the tax benefits for which they qualify. Two-thirds of the fee – up to $50 million a year – will go to the Food Cowboy Foundation to help food banks cover the costs of recovering food, adding capacity and developing new service models, such as L.A. Kitchen, which D.C. Central Kitchen founder Robert Egger launched in 2014, and Daily Table, launched last year by former Trader Joe’s CEO Doug Rauch. Both Egger and Rauch serve on the board of Food Cowboy Foundation.
“Our plan is to invest $50 million a year to transform the food bank sector,” said Food Cowboy co-founder Roger Gordon. “With experience like this on our board, we know we’ll get the job done right.”
The remaining fees – up to $25 million a year – will be invested in new waste-reducing businesses and technologies, such as companies that deliver “ugly” fruits and vegetables directly to consumers and small scale anaerobic digesters that turn food waste into cooking gas.
Growers, wholesalers, retailers and others in the food supply chain are invited to take the No Waste Promise and agree to work internally to reduce waste and encourage their suppliers to do so as well. Consumers can support the Food Waste Innovation Fund by supporting members of the No Waste Promise Alliance and buying food items sporting the Food Cowboy logo.