The apps that help you eat cheaply and cut food waste at the same time

10 November 2017

Too Good to Go app

I’ve been looking at apps that are focused on the issue of food waste. It’s an area that’s just beginning to take off.

Too Good To Go is aimed at finding a home for food that would otherwise be thrown away by commercial premises. Yo Sushi have been one of the early adopters, for instance. I figured I should try this out in the name of research, even though I live in the middle of nowhere where nobody’s signed up to such technological marvels.

The principle is easy. You download the app and sign up. It shows you which outlets are participating in your vicinity. It shows you what the charge is for the would-be-waste food (it’s a pittance - heavily discounted), and what time exactly you need to be able to pick it up. 

So my nearest was the Apiary Cafe in Harleston. You pick up from there between 4.00 and 4.15, and the cost is £2.50. So I duly put in my order and drove to Harleston (this is a lot more convenient if you actually live in the place where the shop is located, for sure) to see what I would get. I turned up, got a welcome and a big smile, and a bag containing two mini-pizzas, two ordinary scones and two cheese scones. No problem. I can ensure that those goods don’t see the inside of a waste bin, even if that’s a little heavy on the scones.

That, of course, is part of the downside - or the charm, depending on your mindset. You have no idea what you’re going to get - it very much depends what the outlet has left over after a busy, or maybe not-so-busy, day. 

The other challenge is one of timing. The Harleston café was no problem, but Yo Sushi typically doesn’t know what it’s got left over before 9pm. That’s rather late for most people to be eating, especially if you’ve got some highly perishable foods as you tend to have with sushi generally.

Nevertheless, the genius of the app is that it’s a very simple mechanism, and it takes food that would otherwise go to waste and put it into the hands of people that are happy to make the trade-offs in return for a great bargain.  In principle, it should be one of those apps that grows and grows.

As ever with such things, there’s a critical mass you need to get to, and Too Good To Go hasn’t quite made it there yet. It has already, according to the website, saved 1.6 million meals, which is a pretty good level of success for an early stage. But unless you live in a big city, you probably won’t currently find many places that are signed up. For example, Yo Sushi is the only place in nearby Norwich - a big enough city with enough venues that you would hope for better.

I asked the café people whether I was the first person that had used the app with them, and was told there had been about seven or eight previous users. It’s an encouraging start, but clearly the power of the app will come through when there is a wider take-up. It deserves to be successful, so why not encourage your local places to sign up?

The other app of interest has a different focus - that of household food waste. Olio enables you to notify people who live nearby if you have food that you can’t use, and they indicate that they want it, and you give it to them. All you do is download the app and sign up. When you have something that will be wasted, you can snap a picture of it with your phone, add a brief description, and people near to you will be alerted to its availability. 

Once again, it needs a critical mass of people to really get it working. But it could be extremely powerful if it did manage to get more penetration. So far it has over a quarter of a million people signed up over 41 countries and 172,000 meals have been prevented from going to waste. That’s not bad, given that it’s very early days for the app. But it needs to be better.

In my village there are two others signed up, apparently. I’m not expecting the app suddenly to be pinging every day with fabulous food going for free. But the next time I cook more than I need (sometimes you can’t avoid it) I will give it a go.

Too Good To Go: http://toogoodtogo.co.uk 

Olio: https://olioex.com