TORONTO — When Gillian Pulfer bought roasted sweet potato soup, flank stink and chicken salad at Toronto’s Pusateri’s Fine Foods for $10 last weekend, the deal was too good not to brag about it.
“It’s a more upscale luxury grocery store…so most people don’t necessarily have the budget to shop there, but you save money and get great food,” said Pulfer said.
After swallowing, she shared her secret with her Instagram followers: She found the loot on Too Good to Go. The app is one of many that unites deal seekers with restaurants and grocers eager to keep aging foods that are still safe to eat out of the trash for a small fee.
Users of apps like Too Good To Go, Flashfood, Feedback and Olio say they’ve paid between $3 and $10 for prepared lunches or dinners, a week’s supply of vegetables and fruit, several loaves of bread, boxes of pastries and even whole pizzas or cakes.
The savings often go a long way, said Eric Tribe, Flashfood’s market manager.
“Over the holidays we had a dad write to us and thank us because he was fired from his job due to COVID-19 and he used the money saved on Flashfood to buy Christmas stockings for her children,” Tribe said.
The app, which is used by supermarket conglomerate Loblaw Corp., was launched by Toronto entrepreneur Josh Domingues in 2016 after his chef sister threw away $4,000 worth of food following a catered event .
The app features produce, meat, fish, bread, dairy and staples that are nearing their best before date and are often at least 50% off. Some items last for weeks, whether frozen or cooked. Others still have a day or two.
Orders are collected from supermarkets, which typically mark items close to their best-before date or donate them to charities, food banks and animal feed farms.
But those methods still leave grocers responsible for a quarter of the nation’s food waste, so Flashfood targeted that portion exclusively, Tribe said. (The app does not divert food from charities, he added.)
To date, Flashfood has saved over 13.5 million kilograms of food from landfills and saved users $90 million.
However, Second Harvest, a charity that redistributes unsold food to those in need, estimates that nearly 60% or 35.5 million tonnes of food produced in Canada is wasted each year. About 32% or 11.2 million tonnes of this lost food is edible and could be redirected to those in need.
“Some people claim this food waste can be solved by downloading an app,” said Maria Corradini, Arrell Chair in Food Quality at the University of Guelph.
“That’s probably not true, but of course they can help reduce that burden.”
She believes that better inventory planning and the use of artificial intelligence would go even further in the fight against food waste.
Too Good To Go’s national director for Canada agrees inventory management is key, but said “matching supply and demand is very complex” and no restaurant wants to produce less only to find that he cannot serve late customers.
Too Good To Go primarily deals with restaurants, bakeries and butchers, but also partners with grocery stores and convenience stores.
Users of the app, which was founded in Copenhagen in 2016 and expanded to Canada last July, pre-order before picking up items at designated times.
What they pick up is a mystery because companies sell “loot bags,” and while some offer clues about their contents, others don’t.
For example, Italian food supplier Eataly advertises that $8 bags contain deli ingredients, but McEwan Foods, the supermarket of celebrity chef Mark McEwan, shares no clues about its $8 bags.
Bags from Toronto bakery Daan Go Cake Lab featured slices of cake or its famous character macaroons. Some just didn’t sell that day, but others have cracks or blemishes that the bakery’s posh clientele wouldn’t accept.
Signing up for Too Good To Go was a no-brainer, said chief operating officer James Canedo.
“As chefs, you never want to see food wasted. It’s almost sacred to us,” he said.
“There are so many people who don’t have the same privileges, so for food to go to waste, that’s something we’re trying to prevent.”
Corradini praises those sentiments and said that app waste reduction goals are noble, but there are risks.
While some apps only deal with reputable vendors with staff trained in food handling, others like Olio allow anyone to prepare food at home or sell items they can’t finish. .
“I would never go for something that’s been opened up because you never know what happened there,” Corradini said.
She added that even food from grocery stores and restaurants must be carefully examined before eating, and customers must cook, freeze, prepare or consume anything they buy that must go very quickly.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 23, 2022.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press