Too Good To Go to the landfill? This app is reducing food waste, one surprise at a time

Too Good To Go image
Too Good To Go is connecting businesses with consumers to reduce food waste. Photo provided.

A new app for hungry Ottawans saves money for businesses while saving food from a landfill.

Founded in Copenhagen in 2016, Too Good To Go is spreading across North America by partnering with local chains and businesses to offer a win-win-win situation for consumers, businesses and the environment. 

“It was founded out of a desire to eliminate food waste,” said Sarah Soteroff, Too Good To Go’s manager of public relations. “The founders thought there must be a better way.”

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The business model allows any food-serving company – from grocery stores and bakeries, to restaurants and convenience stores – to list unsold food that might otherwise be headed for the landfill as “surprise bags” available for purchase. Using the app, consumers claim a bag, pick it up and enjoy discounted food. Because the bags are “surprises,” businesses don’t need to itemize or list the food items – they just fill the bag, generally describe its contents and set up a pickup time.

Too Good To Go quickly expanded into 16 markets across Europe before moving into the U.S. in 2020 and Canada a year later. The food- and money-saving app is now available in the Greater Toronto and Vancouver areas, Montreal, Edmonton, Ottawa, Calgary, Guelph, Hamilton, Quebec City, Kitchener-Waterloo and Winnipeg.

The bags never cost more than $10 and include details that give the customer an idea of what might be included. All of the food must pass health and safety guidelines. 

“Nothing can be sold that couldn’t be sold for full price,” explained Soteroff.

Too Good To Go has already partnered with Subway, Edible Arrangements, Mr. Pretzels, Pizza Pizza and Maverick’s Donuts, in addition to smaller establishments like Sherwood Supermarket and Equator Coffee. 

A bag from a cafe listed as containing “baked goods” could include croissants and muffins, while one from a grocery store advertised as “produce” might include leftover berries, fruit and salad greens. In short, businesses can make money off of any food they didn’t sell rather than simply throwing it out. As a for-profit corporation, Too Good To Go receives a flat fee of $1.99 for every order. The app is free for businesses to use and to date Canadian businesses have recouped about $5 million on food that would otherwise have been wasted. Last week, the company hit a milestone of more than 1 million meals saved through the app.

“There are lots of bread and cookies because it’s produced in mass quantities,” explained Soteroff. Baked goods make up 42 per cent of meals saved by the app. “The grocery segment also has a ton of waste because they purchase for a consumer base that may not be buying that much and there is not a long shelf life.”

In the five months since Too Good To Go launched in Ottawa, more than 16,000 meals have been saved from more than 110 food businesses across the region and Ottawans have collectively saved more than $185,000, according to company data.

“The food service industry margins are tight,” said Soteroff. “This is an avenue to lessen the burden of putting love and care into producing food just to watch it go to waste.”

The app also saves money for consumers. As a rule, consumers pay one-third of the regular retail value. Soteroff said she has started to include Too Good To Go in her weekly meal prep, planning food and groceries around her surprise bags. For $6, she can pick up a full bag of produce, saving money on her weekly bills.

According to a 2019 report by the City of Ottawa, each Ottawan throws away 158 kg of food every year. Research from Second Harvest shows that throwing away food costs $148 per month for every Ottawa household.

“Our goal is to be across Canada, on everyone’s phone and in every market,” said Soteroff. “A world without food waste is possible, but we need people to make a few different changes in their lifestyles for the better.”

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