This Eco-Friendly App Reduces Food Waste by Offering Discounted Meals From Local Restaurants

No dumpster diving required.

too-good-to-go-app: to-go meals
Photo: courtesy

Selling uneaten food at a discount has been common practice for bakeries over the years, but even unloading a basket of discounted muffins each day has done little to properly address the food waste epidemic. That's because food waste has gotten out of control.

Need proof? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one-third of food goes to waste across the globe—which amounts to about $1.3 trillion worth of food getting tossed each year. And in the U.S. alone, 40 percent of edible food doesn't even get consumed. If you've ever tossed a wilted head of lettuce from your crisper just to replace it with a fresh one doomed to repeat that fate, you know exactly what we're talking about.

To make matters worse, restaurants and food producers often toss perfectly edible foods at a higher rate, thanks to laws preventing donations (for alleged food safety reasons), and other obstacles that make it very difficult to off-board food that may be slightly less than peak quality. But as many of us know, a quick trip to the toaster works wonders on a days-old bagel, and even that rotisserie chicken that's been sitting in your fridge for a few days can be turned into a tasty chicken salad.

There's no doubt that eliminating food waste is a challenge with a myriad of ongoing obstacles, but one app is trying to make it easier than ever to stop hours-old croissants and sandwiches from heading straight to the landfill. The app, called Too Good To Go, works by helping restaurants and grocers sell their about-to-expire product to consumers at a steep discount.

Too Good To Go launched in Copenhagen in 2016, and is quickly expanding overseas and into major American markets like New York, Seattle, and the Bay Area. Founder Lucie Basch thought of the idea for the app when she was at a bakery and witnessed perfectly good food getting thrown away at the end of the day. Basch asked if she could rescue the treats and was surprised by the reply. The baker explained that he was unable to donate the food (for food safety and legal reasons), so Basch purchased the end-of-day product at a steep discount—the baker gave her triple the baked goods just so he could move inventory into a willing stomach.

"That made a light bulb go off," Basch explains. "This is something that could happen every evening at every local food store. It's been five years since that day and we have saved over 71 million meals thanks to this super simple concept." Since creating the app, some of Basch's favorite food rescues include cornbread, mac and cheese, coleslaw, and large beef ribs from Hudson Smokehouse in The Bronx, and a Surprise Bag—what Too Good To Go calls uneaten food—filled with hummus, pitas, tabouli, pastries, and malabi from San Francisco eatery Oren's Hummus.

Too Good To Go, which is free to download and join, offers just about everything—think bags filled with nearly fresh bagels from bagel shops in the early afternoon, to a pepperoni pie from a Brooklyn pizzeria that went unsold after midnight. And that's not all! Grocery stores bag up their about-to-expire produce (hello, banana bread!) while sushi restaurants can ensure their food doesn't go to waste by unloading the leftover nigiri and rolls at closing time.

Prices for the Surprise Bags start at $4.99, which means that in addition to saving food that would otherwise be wasted, Too Good To Go offers an affordable option to those who may not be able to spend the full amount on the meal earlier in the day. "While nothing was preventing restaurants from selling end-of-day goods at a discounted price, Too Good To Go helps to remind restaurants that they have that option, and our solution makes it easy for them to connect with consumers who are interested in saving their surplus products," Basch says.

To get eateries on board, Too Good To Go "waste warriors" visit local restaurants, eateries, cafes, and grocery stores in person. "We have been able to sit down and have great conversations with these businesses around the issue of food waste and how we can all contribute to the solution," Basch adds. "From the overwhelmingly positive interactions we've had so far, it's clear that people in the food industry truly want to solve this problem. It has been such a rewarding experience to bring on new partners and watch them make an immediate impact in the fight against food waste."

For restaurant owners and others who are keenly aware of how much of their food goes uneaten each day, Too Good To Go is a welcome solution. "Food is how we express love in Taiwanese culture and we share our love for the community through our menu, featuring local, seasonal, and sustainably sourced ingredients prepared with care," notes Judy Ni, owner of Philadelphia's bāo * logy."Joining Too Good To Go gives us the opportunity to continue doing our part in building a more sustainable culinary ecosystem."

Too Good To Go also served as another way to manage inventory and sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the restaurant business was, at best, unpredictable. "I love the concept and overall mission. After opening Nûrish last year, I realized how hard it is to keep a small business sustainable in NYC—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic," Elijah Bah, owner of Nûrish, explains. "We're looking for all the ways we can to cover costs. Too Good To Go is helping small businesses like mine earn something for food that would either be thrown out or given away, and connecting us with customers to buy the food at a small fraction of the price. It's rewarding to be part of a startup with a purpose to help small businesses resolve their food-waste problems."

The majority of Too Good To Go's Surprise Bags contain fresh, prepared, and perishable foods, which would otherwise be discarded at the end of the day if not for the app's users. "While a few slices of pizza, an extra sushi roll, or a mix of pastries might not seem like a lot of food to toss in the bin at closing time, when multiplied by all the food establishments around the world, the amount of food waste created is startling," Basch shares. "By creating a network of partners and consumers focused on fighting food waste, we've not only made saving these small, consumer-sized volumes of food as easy as throwing it in the trash, but we've created a global food waste movement. [Currently,] Too Good To Go waste warriors are saving over 160,000 meals from being wasted a day."

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