Picture this: Today, like any average day, a typical American restaurant produces roughly 411 pounds of waste1. Some is attributable to “food loss,” including shrink during preparation, defects, or molding. But a significant amount of loss is pure “food waste,” perfectly edible food that goes uneaten due to overproduction or consumer plate waste.
All told, grocery and restaurant food waste in America totals a staggering 43 billion pounds annually, representing roughly $80 billion in good food that goes to the trash. A 2010 USDA report reveals that this total makes food waste the largest single contributor to solid municipal waste after recycling.
Food production and distribution numbers can be downright frustrating:
- In 2010, 31% of the available U.S. food supply went uneaten
- To produce that supply, 300 million barrels of oil and approximately 25% of the total agricultural usage for fresh water went to food that was never eaten.
- Alongside this cycle of wasteful production, 13% of American households experience “food insecurity,” a lack of adequate access to affordable nutrition.2
Picture this: Today, a steadily growing number of restaurants in Chicago, New York, and other cities are reducing their food waste by selling discounted leftovers to consumers through an online marketplace, BuffetGo. BuffetGo, founded in 2014 in Finland, launched its U.S. operations this year.3 Its model creates value for four groups:
Restaurants – Restaurants sell quality food that would otherwise go to the trash at the end of shifts. Any revenue from this food presents an increase in profits.
Consumers – Value-driven food consumers purchase meals at up to a 90% discount. Meals that typically price at $20 are sold for ~$5 through BuffetGo.
Food Equality Groups – BuffetGo donates 20% of each purchase to the United Nations’ World Food Programme4
The Global Environment – Every purchase throught BuffetGo represents up to a full plate of food that gets consumed rather than sent to a landfill.
BuffetGo operates as a two-way online marketplace that connects restaurants with surplus food to consumers who wish to purchase those meals. BuffetGo partners exclusively with buffet restaurants, which are legally required to dispose of any prepared foods that are not eaten by the end of a shift.
On BuffetGo’s website, a customer searches for available “meals” from nearby restaurants through zip code or map search.5 Each restaurant has a limited supply of meals available each day for pick-up at a specified time (typically a 30-minute window at the end of a shift, after the restaurant has finished serving regular customers).
Customers pay anywhere from $2 to $6 online through BuffetGo for a meal, and must present proof of their order on a SmartPhone when they arrive at the restaurant. At the restaurant, customers fill up a container with food as they would at any traditional buffet, but these meals must be taken to-go.3
BuffetGo’s model is promising as more and more individual consumers and retailers look to reduce waste. Even staying concentrated on buffet restaurants alone still provides a huge opportunity for growth with a proposition that benefits all parties involved. Individual restaurants could also initiate their own efforts to reduce waste by donating/selling goods, but the time and capital required to develop programs and find consumers discourages that activity. BuffetGo’s service can allow restaurants and consumers nationwide to reduce waste through their internet platform.
BuffetGo has tremendous opportunity to aggregate and utilize data to further enhance their service. Customers are already required to use a smartphone to present proof of order, so I’d like to see a dedicated phone App soon. I’d especially like to see some marketing on the impact of BuffetGo purchases on the environment and food equality. BuffetGo is already responsible for the leftover meal transactions, so I could see them developing trackers in-App for individual users to see how many pounds of food waste they have saved, or how many dollars/meals they have provided to families in need through their purchases. Further, aggregating those types of statistics for restaurants or for whole cities could be very powerful.
Other ways BuffetGo could enhance their product would include an ability for customers to save favorite restaurants, to more easily track nearby BuffetGo partners using GPS, and to provide and access quick restaurant ratings. Features from leading food or logistics apps such as Caviar, Yelp, and Uber can apply to this service to make the overall experience one that customers want to repeat.
Overall, this space is unique and looks promising for BuffetGo. It will be important for BuffetGo to continue to provide benefits to both restaurants and customers to keep their presence necessary, and for BuffetGo to stay ahead of any competition that may enter by expanding to gain partnerships in more cities.
- “Restaurants.” End Food Waste Now. http://www.endfoodwastenow.org/index.php/issues/issues-restaurants. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
- Wells, Hodan F., Jean C. Buzby, and Jeffrey Hyman. “The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest …” USDA. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
- Garfield, Leanna. “The ‘Seamless for Food Waste’ Lets You Eat at Buffets for as Little as $2.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 05 Oct. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.Chicago Tribune
- Elahi, Amina. “BuffetGo Lets You Grab Restaurant Food Cheap at Closing Time.” Chicagotribune.com. 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
- “BuffetGO – Up to 85% Closing Time Discount on Local Food!” BuffetGO. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.