In the ongoing fight against food waste, startups continue to innovate to offer solutions: Renewal Mill is turning waste such as olive pits and grape skin into new food products, and apps are springing up around the world to help restaurants, bakeries and more sell their leftover food at a discount. Meanwhile, Electrolux has launched a new global competition looking for innovative ideas to inspire home cooking.
New Haven, Connecticut-based Renewal Mill is turning food by-products into “okara flour,” a specialty blend containing pulp left over when soy milk is strained from cooked soy beans by manufacturers. The flour tastes slightly sweeter and milkier than traditional white flour, and boasts the nutritional properties of whole wheat, with increased fiber, calcium and iron. Using it is a simple substitution from one flour for another in certain baked goods; scones made with okara flour are already being sold in two locations – Katalina’s in New Haven and Whole G Bakery in nearby Branford. For products like baguettes, however, it does require more labor to mix in the okara blend, since such items rely more heavily on gluten structures to hold the bread together. Despite this, Renewal Mill’s co-founders Claire Schlemme and Sumit Kadakia aim to convince a wholesale bread-making company to adopt their product.
“It’s just an optimal time to be doing this project. People care a lot about where their food is coming from,” Schlemme told The New Haven Independent. “These fibrous waste products are just very nutritious food products that are just waiting to be utilized.”
Both graduates of Yale, they have participated in several of the university’s entrepreneurship classes, programs and competitions. Earlier this year, they won first prize at a business competition hosted by Yale and NYU, on top of $25,000 and business support they received for winning Yale’s Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize and an additional $15,000 from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) Fellowship 10-week accelerator program. Based on their experience, Schlemme and Kadakia said it made sense to build the company in New Haven.
“It’s big enough that you can really form valuable partnerships, but small enough that you can be a vital part of the community right away,” Schlemme said, adding that small companies can build their reputation quickly while still benefitting from business resources in nearby hubs like New York and Boston.
The team has been tight-lipped about what may be in store in terms of future products. For now, they are “laser-focused” on okara flour.
“We are currently determining where best to situate ourselves in the flour-to-finished-product value chain,” Schlemme told YEI last month. “We are also refining our cost and logistics models to ensure that we maintain our competitive advantage.”
Unfortunately, finished products are sometimes wasted, too. Ask almost anyone who has worked at a bakery and they likely have a tale or two about food being thrown out because it was nearing its shelf-life and it wasn’t possible to donate it to a charity. Caroline Pellegrini, for example, says she saw everything from cakes to sandwiches get tossed in a year working at a bakery.
“I felt heartbroken,” Pellegrini told CBC. “I thought there must be a more efficient way to deal with this problem.”
After hearing about similar experiences from friends and learning more about unsold food ending up in the garbage, Pellegrini quit her job as a project manager at a large marketing firm to work on a solution. In March, she launched the Ubifood app, which allows eateries and stores to post their products for a discounted price, and allows consumers to buy it. Items on Ubifood are discounted by anywhere from 15 to 80 percent, with the app taking a cut of the sale.
“The app lets you save on the food you crave while saving the environment,” Pellegrini said.
By the beginning of August, Pellegrini had already signed up about 5,000 customers and almost 40 local vendors, including a grocery store.
The idea behind the app is not new; many startups are helping retailers donate food to charity or sell it via an app, such as Food Cowboy, Food Shift and Spoiler Alert in the U.S., Neighbourly, FareShare and FoodCloud in the U.K., FoodLoop in Germany, Zéro-Gâchis in France, Froodly in Finland, and more seem to keep cropping up.
In fact, fellow Canadian entrepreneur Josh Domingues also recently quit his job to create a similar app. Set to launch this month, Flashfood aims to replicate the model in Toronto. Items will be offered at a minimum 50 percent discount, and Flashfood will take a 25 percent cut of the sale, with the remaining 75 percent going to the seller. Nothing will be sold after its best-before date through the app.
Apps such as Too Good To Go are much farther along. Founded in Denmark, the company is currently operating in 7 countries, including the U.S. and U.K. Items on Too Good To Go must be picked up within a designated time slot, which is often as a café closes, or after lunch or dinner. The company provides participating restaurants with recyclable takeout packaging for the orders filled through the app.
Too Good To Go is expanding its service one city at a time, with great success – in the U.K., for example, the app had already [saved 600 meals from landfills](http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/app-lets-you-buy-leftover-food-from-restaurants-and-its-really-cheap_us_57aa4469e4b0ba7ed23dff1a target=) before it launched in London earlier this month. Furthermore, it has generated more than 1,100 meal donations for people in need by providing users with the option to donate just $1, £1 or more through the app.
At the same time, Pellegrini believes apps like theirs are only scratching the surface, and would like to see government action similar to that in Italy in France. Both countries have recently passed laws encouraging food waste reduction, including banning large supermarkets from throwing out unsold food. Instead, they must donate it to charities or to farms for animal feed or compost.
“This is how we're going to solve an issue like this one,” Pellegrini said. “I feel here we're lagging behind.”
Meanwhile, Electrolux wants to inspire people to cook healthy food at home through a new global competition. On Monday, the home appliance manufacturer launched the “Electrolux Ideas Lab” to “bring healthy, home-cooked food to every dinner table.” The winner will receive a cash prize of over €10,000 and a one-week experience in Stockholm, Sweden, where the winner will have the opportunity to meet with mentors from Electrolux, Stockholm Epicenter, and others in the capital’s food and startup scene.
“With Electrolux Ideas Lab, we are aiming to trigger creativity and out-of-the-box thinking around matters relating to the home and everyday life,” Electrolux President and CEO Jonas Samuelson said. “The competition celebrates the creative minds of participants and enables them to take their ideas even further.”
The company invites everyone who has an idea that can inspire people to enjoy tastier, healthier and more sustainable home cooking to participate by submitting an idea, whether a smartphone app, food-sharing program, innovative recipe collection, kitchen tool, life hack, or full-fledged business model. It is seeking the “next big innovation in food, to drive ideas generation and create positive impact in the food landscape,” amidst rising concerns about food waste, carbon emissions, obesity, diabetes, and under-nutrition around the world. Electrolux says it is passionate about food and hungry for change.
Those who submit ideas can also partake in a social media competition by posting a video using the hashtags #ElectroluxIdeasLab and #DeliciousChange. The five videos that receive the most likes and shares on social media will automatically advance to the Top 50 list and receive a chance to win the overall Ecolux Ideas Lab competition.
Submissions are due October 3rd, 2016. Submissions will be evaluated according to consumer insight, creativity, design, and also on a variety of other factors. The Top 50 will be announced on October 18th and subject to a public vote. The Top 10 will be revealed on November 17th and the winner will be announced on the 28th.