When Gillian Pulfer bought roasted sweet potato soup, skirt steak and chicken salad at a Toronto Pusateri fine-dining restaurant for $10 last weekend, the deal was too good not to brag.
“It’s an upscale, more upscale grocery store … so most people don’t necessarily have the budget to shop there, but you’re saving money and you’re buying great food,” Pulfer said.
After chomping, he told his Instagram followers his secret: he found the loot in Too Good to Go. The app is one of many linking bargain-seekers with restaurants and grocers eager to keep aged, still-safe food out of the trash for a small fee.
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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, chief market officer for Flashfood.
“During the holidays, we had a father write to us and thank us because he had been laid off from his job due to COVID-19 and used the money saved on Flashfood to buy socks for his children,” Tribe said.
The app, which is used by supermarket conglomerate Loblaw Corp., was started by Toronto businessman Josh Domingues in 2016 after his chef sister threw away $4,000 worth of food after an event.
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The app offers produce, meat, fish, bread, dairy and pantry staples that are nearing their expiration date and are often at least 50 percent off. Some items last for weeks if frozen or cooked. Others have a day or two left.
Orders are picked up at supermarkets, which typically mark items nearing their prime before the deadline or donate them to charities, food banks and animal feed farms.
But those methods still make grocery stores 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.)
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To date, Flashfood has prevented more than 13.5 million kilograms of food from ending up in landfills and saved users a collective sum of $90 million.
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However, Second Harvest, a charity that redistributes unsold items to people in need, estimates that almost 60 percent or 35.5 million tons of food produced in Canada is wasted annually. About 32 percent or 11.2 million tons of that lost food is edible and could be redirected to people in need.
“Some people claim that this food waste can be solved by downloading an app,” said Maria Corradini, the Arrell Chair in Food Quality at the University of Guelph.
“That’s probably not true, but of course they can help reduce this burden.”
She believes that better inventory planning and the use of artificial intelligence would go even further in tackling food waste.
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Too Good To Go’s country manager 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 they can’t. serve customers who arrive late.
Too Good To Go deals primarily with restaurants, bakeries, and butchers, but also partners with supermarkets and convenience stores.
Users of the app, which was founded in Copenhagen in 2016 and expanded to Canada last July, order ahead before searching for items at designated times.
What they collect is a mystery because companies sell “jump bags” and while some offer clues to their contents, others do not.
For example, Italian food purveyor Eataly advertises that some $8 bags have deli ingredients, but McEwan Foods, celebrity chef Mark McEwan’s supermarket, shares no clues about its $8 bags.
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Toronto bakery bags Daan Go Cake Lab have featured cake slices or their famous character macarons. Some just didn’t sell that day, but others have cracks or blemishes that the fancy bakery 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 wasted food. It is almost sacred to us,” he said.
“So many people out there don’t have the same privileges, so food waste is something we’re trying to prevent.”
Corradini applauded those sentiments, saying the apps’ waste reduction goals are noble, but there are risks.
While some apps only deal with trusted vendors with trained food handlers, others like Olio let anyone cook food at home or sell items they can’t finish.
“I would never buy something that has been opened because you never know what happened in there,” Corradini said.
He added that even food in grocery stores and restaurants should be closely examined before eating it and customers should cook, freeze, prepare or consume anything they buy that is about to be consumed very quickly.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 23, 2022.
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