Waste less, sell more – how one startup is using AI to transform food retail

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

  • We each throw out 74kg (163 lbs) of food waste per person, per year.
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals aim for 50% less food waste by 2030.
  • AI software is shown to reduce supermarket food waste by a third.
  • Tech startup Wasteless is using AI to cut down on food waste.
  • Wasteless is a member of The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021 on UpLink.

Admit it. We’ve all thrown good food away. It looked perfect in the supermarket. The ripe fruit or vegetables, the prime meat, the nutritious dairy products. But when past its peak – maybe it was close to the “best-before” date, into the garbage it goes.

We throw out 74kg (163 lbs) of food annually per man, woman and child on the planet, while two billion of the world’s people suffer from hunger or undernourishment. In total 1.3 billion tonnes, or a third of all the world’s food produced, is wasted every year. With the challenge of ending global hunger in mind, the UN incorporated a target of halving global food waste by 2030 into the Sustainable Development Goals.

The foods we throw away

a chart showing that 76% of surplus food comes from perishable items
Fresh and perishable products make up a large proportion of wasted food. Image: ReFed

The chart above shows the types of food most commonly wasted in the United States. Research by the non-profit Re-Fed shows 34% of fresh produce that goes in the supply chain is never eaten. Dairy products and pre-prepared meals are also high on the list of foodstuffs that go to waste.

From farm to…bin

But as the infographic below shows, food waste is an issue that goes far beyond wasteful consumers. There are many causes of waste across the food value chain from agriculture to transportation, and the shops where we buy our groceries.

a diagram showing how to prevent food waste
Preventing food waste is key to feeding a growing global population. Image: UN Food and Agriculture Organization


What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.

Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.

With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.

Learn more about Innovation with a Purpose’s impact and contact us to see how you can get involved.

Reducing retail food waste

Consumers the world over are familiar with discounted pricing on food nearing the end of its shelf-life. But figuring out the best pricing strategy, known in the trade as “markdown optimization”, is tricky.

That’s the challenge a tech start-up called Wasteless aims to meet. The company uses Artificial Intelligence to give retailers dynamic rather than fixed pricing for perishable food products.

The idea is simple. “It doesn’t make sense to go to the supermarket and then to pay the same price for a cheese that expires in two days or in seven days” says co-founder Oded Omer.

He argues that customers can be incentivized by reducing prices the closer a product gets to its “best-before” date.

The company says its technology, which is easily integrated into supermarkets’ existing IT systems, offers a win-win. A Spanish retailer ran a pilot with Wasteless which reported a nearly third less (32.7%) overall waste. Wasteless says its machine learning algorithms are developing all the time and are on track to hit an 80% reduction in food waste. That of course means higher revenues.

The company, founded in 2016, is headquartered in Israel and the Netherlands, and has been supported by the World Economic Forum’s UpLink crowdsourcing platform. This gives innovators and entrepreneurs whose ideas contribute to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals the opportunity to join forces with a trusted community of leading organisations, experts, investors and changemakers to deliver impact at scale.

Wasteless is one of the start-ups selected for The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021, an Accenture initiative run in partnership with Anglo American, Ecolab and Schneider Electric, in collaboration with the UpLink platform.

There are currently 17 companies in The Circulars Accelerator 2021 Cohort. The six-month remote programme includes expert circular economy workshops, coaching modules, mentoring, networking opportunities, investor engagement and accelerator team support.

Measuring the impact of food waste

While the Sustainable Development Goal of reducing food waste by 50% is clearly desirable, the challenge of how we measure food waste and compare progress across the world remains. The UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index 2021 points to a shortage of “accurate, traceable and comparable measurement”.

One measurement to consider is the impact of food waste on the planet. Much of the food we waste ends up in landfill sites which significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States for instance, rotting food waste accounts for nearly a quarter of methane emissions.

But the climate change impact of food waste begins long before we throw produce in the bin. Growing and producing food uses energy, water and other resources and has a negative impact on biodiversity. When food goes to waste, all those resources are wasted too. As the UNEP report puts it: “all of the environmental impacts of food production without any of the benefits of people being fed”.

a graph showing wasted commodities and their respective carbon footprint.
Wasted commodities and their respective carbon footprint. Image: FAO

The chart above shows how different food commodities contribute to the overall level of wastage, and the subsequent impact on climate change. As UNEP’s head Inger Andersen says, “if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

This farmer used an age-old technique to save his soil and now his farm is prospering

Stronger partnerships with post-conflict countries needed to ensure ‘path towards durable peace’: UN chief

EU consumer rules: Airbnb cooperates with European Commission and EU consumer authorities improving the way it presents offers

Assembly President launches new initiative to purge plastics and purify oceans

To feed 10 billion people, we must preserve biodiversity. Here’s how

Fragile countries risk being ‘stuck in a cycle of conflict and climate disaster,’ Security Council told

State aid: Commission approves €1.4 billion Swedish scheme to support uncovered fixed costs of companies affected by coronavirus outbreak

Women’s rights: MEPs call for action to fight backlash against gender equality

Tax crimes: MEPs want EU financial police force and financial intelligence unit

Reusable packaging: 6 benefits beyond sustainability

Our present and future tax payments usurped by banks

Aviation Safety: Commission adopts new EU Air Safety List

This is how COVID-19 is affecting informal workers

Eurozone stagnates after exporting its recession to trading partners

Juncker Plan reaches almost €410 billion in triggered investment across the EU

Technology can transform clinical practice – here’s how

Knowledge management and entrepreneurship: short term vs. long term perspective

The Cold War had an unintended side effect: It created a European wildlife paradise

‘Counter and reject’ leaders who seek to ‘exploit differences’ between us, urges Guterres at historic mosque in Cairo

MWC 2016 LIVE: Xiaomi looks to revive growth with flagships

How our food system is eating away at nature, and our future

Medical workforce migration in Europe – Is it really a problem?

Four things workers want implemented by their bosses post-pandemic

‘Unlock opportunities’ and pave the way for sustainable development, UN chief urges on World Population Day

This Japanese experiment shows how easily coronavirus can spread – and what you can do about it

EU and Georgia sign Financing Agreements for COVID-19 Recovery worth €129 million

Security Council urges countries to factor child protection into conflict prevention efforts

Peer-to-peer learning: a way to develop medical students’ trainings

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is driving Globalization 4.0

MEPs demand safe and clean travel

3 ways to stop COVID-19 from drying up start-up talent pools

European Business Summit 2015: In search of a vision for the future

Apple® logo (copyright: Apple)

Apple takes further step into music: EU Regulators formally approve its planned Shazam acquisition

How do we upskill a billion people by 2025? Leadership and collaboration will be key

Palliative care: an indispensable component for a better quality of life

Idea of ‘homogenous’ Polish culture is a myth: UN human rights expert

Unity, regional cooperation and international support needed for Horn of Africa to develop sustainably

How we can work together in the fight against NCDs

The first-ever climate telethon has raised $2.6 million for new forests

Parliament approves seven-year EU budget 2021-2027

Anti-terror measures against youngsters’ online posts ‘linked to spike in child detention globally’

Hiring more female leaders is good for profits. Here’s the evidence

More than nine in ten children exposed to deadly air pollution

How the world’s best teacher is changing lives in Africa

Coronavirus: Commission approves contract with BioNTech-Pfizer alliance to ensure access to a potential vaccine

Mindfulness: a freedom we can still have in the pandemic

Obama turns the G20 summit into warmongering platform

Cheese energy could power hundreds of UK homes

COVID-19: MEPs fear impact on justice system and threat to rule of law

Greek citizens to pay the price again but Tsipras risks losing next elections

5 lessons for community-focused planning during a pandemic

The challenge to be a good healthcare professional

Mental health In Times of a Pandemic: What can each Individual to lessen the Burden.

WHO and UNICEF in campaign to protect 1.6 million in Sudan from cholera

UN ready to rise above political fray and help Venezuelans based ‘on need, and need alone’

Commission notifies the Republic of Panama over the need to step up action to fight against illegal fishing

This man is helping explorers carry out scientific research at the ends of the Earth

CLIMATE CHANGE FOCUS: Cows, coffee and sustainable farming

“Smoking steam instead of tobacco, are the E-cigarettes a safer alternative?”

Wages are flatlining around the world – is automation to blame?

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s