Food waste is a constant problem that’s overlooked in the U.S., with 40% of food in the U.S. going wasted according to the National Resources Defense Council. Restaurants and grocery stores especially waste a great deal of their food inventory on a daily basis, throwing away millions of tons in waste. There are many approaches to reducing this waste or distributing it more efficiently, and using or developing an app can help. Many restaurants use a food delivery app to connect with their customers, but there are key differences in the features and business models used for a food waste app compared to a restaurant ordering app.
Business Models for Food Waste Apps vs. Delivery Apps
Food waste apps have a different business model and goal than food delivery apps. Food waste occurs at all levels, from production to consumers, but preventing waste at different stages is challenging. An app needs to identify where they can efficiently redistribute food: restaurants, grocery stores, and caterers are often the ideal sources. Having a clear goal of how the app can reduce waste is important.
While food delivery apps are run by restaurants or third-party delivery platforms, many food waste apps are run by non-profit organizations devoted to connecting restaurants to those in need. Businesses can give away food that they aren’t able to sell at the end of the day. Since the 1990s, the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act has protected food sellers who give away excess food.
Another type of food waste app such as GoMKT lets businesses sell food rather than give it away by alerting customers to steep discounts for food that is closer to expiration. With good inventory management practices, you can determine that food will be wasted if not disposed of immediately, and still earn money rather than give it away or throw it out. In addition to these business-to-consumer models, no other model is business-to-business, connecting food producers or sellers to companies who can use waste for compost, animal feed, fuel, and more.
Features of Food Waste Apps Compared to Food Delivery Apps
Many restaurants use in-house or third-party mobile apps to make pickup and delivery orders from customers. Some popular food waste apps have some similarities to third-party apps that aggregate many different restaurants in an area, but they operate in different ways. Both delivery and store pickup options are essential parts of restaurant ordering apps, but offering delivery is probably not economical for food waste apps that don’t earn a profit. However, location-based services are critical for both kinds of apps, since they can only serve users within a limited geographical area, and store pickup makes directions and mapping a needed feature.
Like other restaurant and grocery apps, food waste apps need to be able to provide an organized, real-time food listing where the store can post pictures, descriptions, and prices (if applicable) of what’s available. Taking and uploading pictures easily is an essential feature since each item may be unique and needs its own photo. Since food waste is more time-sensitive, stores need to be able to promote the most current food available for pickup in the app’s inventory listing and display the expiration dates or time before it will be thrown away.
If the app takes payments from customers, it needs to have full functionality for accepting digital payments and integrating with retail POS systems so the app can work smoothly as a revenue stream, just like a food ordering app.
Customers need to be able to sign up for the app to browse for food that’s offered, and receive notifications and alerts about what is available for pickup. Communication with users can be through phone calls, text messages, and push notifications. Unlike food ordering apps, the user account system should accommodate the fact that customers and users may be organizations such as community centres, food banks, and charitable groups rather than individuals.
Developing or Choosing a Food Waste App
Using a food waste app can connect restaurants to those in need to dispose of excess food and help the community. Joining an existing service such as OLIO or Too Good to Go can quickly connect to an audience of nearby people in need of food. It’s vital to attract an engaged user base if food needs to be picked up regularly and consistently.
Restaurants who adopt a food waste apps shouldn’t expect it to be a source of profitability, but offering a food waste app can appeal to restaurant customers: a study from Unilever cited by ReFED showed that 72% of U.S. diners care about how restaurants handle food waste, and 47% would prefer to eat at a restaurant with a food recovery program. Publicizing your approach to food waste will encourage people to patronize your restaurant and make them feel better about their experience. If they know that unused food goes to the needy or is otherwise reused productively, they will see your restaurant as a positive place to support.
A food waste app could be developed alongside or as part of a brand’s food delivery app. Discounted food can be distributed at the same pickup window or station using the same logistics as takeaway customers.
A food waste app works differently and attracts a different audience than a food delivery app, but it represents another way that technology can help restaurants work more efficiently and connect with their customers and community effectively. Food waste apps can make restaurants more responsive to waste issues and promote good habits overall.