During a midnight escapade to my local bakeshop, I learned something sweet: to clear their shelves and reduce food waste, they dramatically slash food prices in the hours before closing.
And it works – I’d know, since I walked out of the shop with a satiated sweet-tooth plus next day’s breakfast. Now, “food rescue” apps are adopting this model to help reduce the walloping quantities of food that go wasted every year (30-40% in America – yikes!).
At a food waste panel a few months ago, I learned about the Food For All app, which lets you buy unsold food from local vendors (e.g. restaurants, bakeries) at steeply discounted prices – up to 80% off.
Every food vendor has a different policy when it comes to shelf life. As far as I know, the pumpkin muffin I bought using a food rescue app sat on a display platter until I swooped down on it about half an hour before closing. For a dollar and a few taps on my phone, it was scrumptious and (I thought) well worth it.
App technology is making it convenient to implement this waste-reduction initiative. I thought my favorite bakeshop’s weekly midnight pastry-push-outs was the neighborhood’s best kept secret. Now, apps have created a platform to connect these well-meaning efforts to the masses. In no particular order:
Food Rescue & Sharing Apps
|Locations (as of 12/11/2017)||
What it does
|Food For All (2017)||
||“Rescue delicious meals before restaurants close, up to 80% cheaper”|
|Too Good To Go (2015)||
||“Enjoy delicious takeaway food from local restaurants, cafes bakeries & other stores from as little as £2.”|
||“…order takeout meals from your local restaurant with savings up to 90%”|
|ResQ Club (2015, merged with MealSaver)||
||“Discover and buy meals with your phone or online! Pick up the meal at the restaurant the same day.”|
||“…a win-win-win solution for vendors, diners and society by offering time-specific promotions on great local food.”|
||“…connects neighbours with each other and with local shops so surplus food and other items can be shared, not thrown away.”|
(And there was the now-defunct Cookisto, which connected entrepreneurial homecooks with hungry neighbors!)
Where I live (the US), an estimated 40% our food is wasted every year. This means that food rescue apps have a vast playground at their fingertips. Boston-based’s Food For All has gradually been adding partnerships, with one highlight being that, as of December 2017, all Bolocco locations are on the Food For All app, with all proceeds going to the local food bank. Burrito lovers rejoice! 🙂
My experience with Food For All
On Friday morning, I checked into the app and found a cafe offering discounted pastries not too far from my workplace. Bingo.
Since most city restaurants don’t close until midnight, I wasn’t left with many options if I wanted to grab a dinner during my usual 6-8pm time frame. But this cafe closed at 4pm, which meant I could pick up pastries at 3pm, which is precisely when I’m delirious for afternoon pick-me-up sugar. The app itself is straightforward and easy to navigate, so I quickly booked my “spot” for 3 pastries at a dollar apiece. Then, I waited eagerly at the edge of my chair and daydreamed about pastries until it was time to head out.
Unfortunately the only in-app payment method is credit card. After a recent identity theft and fraudulent charge fiasco, I wasn’t thrilled to be entering my credit card information into another system. Ah well.
Note that there’s no place to cancel in case you can’t make the pick-up. I’m wondering if you can “reschedule” your pick-up for another day, as long as the cashier hasn’t confirmed your pick-up via the nifty green slider button.
Even as I booked and pre-paid in the morning, I had my doubts about how anyone could guarantee this little cafe had pastries left by afternoon. And if the cafe owner anticipated such a surplus, why haven’t they made internal adjustments to meet more realistic demands? were some of the questions floating around in my head.
By the way: The app doesn’t send a reminder/push notification when your pick-up window begins, so until they change that (if they ever do) I suggest setting your own reminder.
Alas, the clock struck 3pm, and I giddily skipped out of the office into downtown Cambridge. When I arrived at the cafe, I noticed there was a small sign by the cash register advertising Food For All. When I showed the woman behind the counter my receipt, her immediate reaction was one of enthusiasm, and she proceeded to describe her support for the service and cause. When I asked her how many people had been using the app, she said that she came across an average of 2-3 people per week, but that the numbers were slowly building up. She was obviously very supportive of their partnership with FFA.
At half an hour before closing, there were four kinds of pastries to choose from including an uncomfortable amount of bran muffins. Soon I was out the door, pastries in tow. Success!
One question on my mind was, what would’ve happened to the unsold food if it weren’t being “rescued” through apps like Food For All? It varies from place to place. I’ve read that while some restaurants deliver unsold food to food banks, the logistics (transportation, timing) and lack of people/vehicles can make this step inefficient or unfeasible. Luckily there are growing food recovery efforts like the Food Recovery Network and Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, which loop in volunteers to make the restaurant-to-soup kitchen deliveries possible. Furthermore, many of the food rescue apps have portals to where users can donate money or a meal to local food banks.
My overall feeling is that this is a smart and simple way for food vendors to cushion costs and manage supply/demand, in addition to being an easy and budget-friendly way for anyone to grab a bite. Apps like this are particularly excellent for students, people who want to eat out on a budget, people who work late, people who aren’t particularly choosy about meals, and restless office workers with a strong affinity for bran muffins. The next time I have a long day ahead, at least I’ll already know my dinner plans.
P.S. After using Food For All for a few months, I’ll note that sometimes the app stops loading properly (e.g. Home page goes blank), but a simple logout and re-login seems to do the trick!