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Make The World Better: FoodMesh

Diverting surplus food to those that need it most

/ 30 mins / SparxTeam

Picking up fresh produce for a nice at-home meal or eating at a favourite restaurant is many people’s go-to self-care in our ever-topsy-turvy world. As the meals go in our bellies, it can often be forgotten how much food waste happens behind the scenes — food waste that has a huge environmental impact and is a dig at our growing food insecure divide. FoodMesh is helping the food industry change the course of food waste — literally — to ensure it doesn’t end up in landfills and, instead, helps to feed those who are food insecure in Canada. We spoke with Jessica Regan, Co-Founder and CEO, about FoodMesh’s journey, tangible successes, and upcoming plans.

Food Stash Foundation in Vancouver is one of the charitable organizations FoodMesh partners with to redistribute retailers’ unsalable food to people in need. They use the food donations they pick up from retailers to create rescued food boxes, stock a community fridge, and host a rescued food market — all designed to make it as easy as possible for people in Metro Vancouver to access nutritious food in an affordable way. Here a member of the team is pictured after some of their pickups.

Tell us about your organization’s mission.

FoodMesh is dedicated to helping organizations reduce their food waste.

Our professional food recovery services help businesses divert the food they are unable to sell away from waste streams and ensure it is put to its highest end use, feeding people first, then animals.

We do this primarily through our managed food diversion service where we match retailers to a diverse network of charitable organizations and farmers in order to redistribute their unsold food by rescuing it quickly and efficiently. As well, we measure the volume of food the retailer is diverting, so they can track their progress against their food waste reduction goals and share the social and environmental impact of their donations with the public.

What inspired you/your founders to start your organization?

The journey began in late 2015 after I, along with our other co-founder, came across photos of beautiful edible produce headed to the landfill because it was too ripe for retail. Unable to shake these images, we started to investigate the root causes and scale of the food-waste problem.

We discovered that more than half of the food produced in Canada is not eaten, according to research done by Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International. Food is often wasted because it is easier and cheaper for businesses to pay to have their overstock, close-to-expiry, aesthetically-imperfect, and mislabelled food sent to landfills than to find an alternative use for it. Meanwhile, one in eight Canadians lacks reliable access to affordable and nutritious food, according to Community Food Centres Canada

We also learned that food waste is hurting our planet. With 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions created as a direct result of lost and wasted food around the world, it is one of the leading causes of global warming, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

That’s when the original idea for FoodMesh was born — to make it as beneficial, convenient, and cost-effective as possible for businesses to divert the maximum volume of their unsalable food away from waste streams for the sake of the people and health of our planet.

What were some of the challenges you/your founders encountered?

While many businesses have the desire to do the right thing, they are producing an enormous amount of waste and finding alternatives costly. 

We are lucky to work with some outstanding retailers that are committed to reducing their food waste and have employed us to help them ensure that the maximum volume of their unsalable food is being redistributed to people who need it so that it doesn’t end up in the landfill.

These retailers are seeing some significant gains from their hard work. For example, one of our customers has reduced its waste-related greenhouse gas emissions seven-fold since it started diverting its unsold food to charitable organizations.

We are encouraged to see an increasing number of businesses, both in Canada and around the world, publicly committing to reducing and reporting on their food waste. This means there is a growing need for data on the volume of food they divert away from waste streams, as well as the services to help them do it. 

We are currently in the process of developing new software that will make it as easy as possible for businesses to collect, aggregate, and visualize data on their waste practices — not just food but for all their waste streams. The idea for this software is to equip businesses with a true picture of the waste they generate in real time, so they can take necessary action to reduce it. Stay tuned for more information on this initiative!

A Better Life Foundation has a dedicated food recovery chef, Eileen Stanley, who turns the food donation she receives from local retailers into restaurant quality meals, to share with around 25 local outreach organizations that support mothers and their children, seniors, Indigenous groups, and street-entrenched youth residing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

What do you consider your organization’s biggest success?

We are extremely proud of the fact that through our managed food diversion service, the retailers we work with rescue the equivalent of more than 1 million meals every month to our charity partners to help offset some of their operational costs.

With one in eight Canadians reportedly food insecure (a number that only stands to rise with the rising costs of living), it is extremely heartening to know that we are not only helping businesses keep huge volumes of their unsold food out of landfills, but we are supporting the organizations that are working hard to put food onto the plates of people who really need it. This means a great deal to us.

One of our customers has reduced its waste-related greenhouse gas emissions seven-fold since it started diverting its unsold food to charitable organizations.

What makes your organization unique?

We are excited to see a growing number of organizations that are working toward the same mission as FoodMesh, to waste less and feed more; it’s this ecosystem of food waste warriors working together that will help make the change we want to see. What we think makes FoodMesh unique in that ecosystem is that we have the head of a business and the heart of a charity.

We offer professional food recovery services that provide our customers with a commercial guarantee that we will help them reach their food waste reduction goals.

As well as serving the food waste reduction needs of our customers, we ensure the rescued food is diverted to where it is most needed — meaning only organizations with a social impact have access to the edible food being donated. We have also built a revenue-sharing component into our service so that the organizations receiving the food donations also receive a financial stipend for the pick-ups they make in an effort to help offset some of the operational costs associated with collecting and sorting the food donations. This also helps us ensure that we are receiving regular data recording of their donations for better traceability.

We are not driven by making a profit out of food waste; we are driven by our mission to eliminate food waste. This means our job is to make it as attractive and viable for everyone involved to play their part.

Our diverse network comprises more than 2,000 organizations across Western Canada, which means we are uniquely positioned to help businesses redistribute the maximum volume of their surplus food to where it’s needed most, quickly and efficiently.

While some supermarket food may have aesthetic imperfections that render it unsalable, it’s often still perfectly edible. Fresh produce, like that pictured here, is included in the 1,000 food hampers that City Reach Care Society distributes to families, seniors and other individuals in their local communities every week.

How do you feel your organization makes the world better?

Because we track all the food that the organizations we work with are diverting, we know quantifiably how our organization makes the world better. 

Since 2017, the organizations we work with have collectively diverted 18,876,288 kg of food, which is the equivalent of 27,398,463 meals or approximately 1 million meals each month. In keeping this food out of the landfill, we have also saved 48,494,671 kg of CO2e emissions from entering the atmosphere as of July 31, 2022.

It’s the knowledge of this that gets the team really excited about the work we do.

Tell us about your organization’s goals.

Our vision is to build a platform that digitally connects the entire food supply chain so that we can eliminate avoidable waste and create new value.

Right now, we’re focused on the retail sector, but our goal is to extend our reach across the entire supply chain.

When food is past its best for human consumption, it is shared with farmers to feed their animals. Save-On-Foods at Park & Tilford in North Vancouver donates the fresh produce food that it can no longer sell and is not appropriate to donate to its charity partner to feed Maplewood Farm’s 76 animals, including horses and ponies, cows, sheep, ducks, guinea pigs, rabbits, and goats. Pictured here, from left to right: Selina Merrick, Supervisor of Maplewood Farm, and Bruce Currie, Energy and Sustainability Manager of Save-On-Foods.

Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects you’d like to share?

We are really excited to be in the midst of a three-year project to build a Metro Vancouver food recovery network. With Metro Vancouver’s support, we are raising awareness of food waste amongst local businesses and encouraging them to join the network, so we can help them connect with organizations to recover their unsold food, so they don’t have to dispose of it.

Any organization — whether they have a surplus of food or have a use for a surplus of food — is invited to join the network. We will connect them to a service that best meets their needs. If FoodMesh’s services can’t help them, we will draw on our extensive network to try to connect them to an organization that can. 

What do you most want people to know about your organization?

Our work focuses on helping businesses reduce their waste headed to landfills by diverting it to higher-end uses, ensuring edible food goes to the organizations that can put it onto the plates of people who need it most.

But reducing food waste isn’t just the right thing to do for the people and health of our planet, it makes good business sense also. Research shows that for every dollar a business invests in reducing their food waste, they save $14, according to the World Resources Institute. We want everybody to think critically about the waste they are generating and the steps they can take to eliminate it — either in their work or in their daily lives.

How can people help or contribute to your organization’s mission?

Of the 58% of food lost or wasted in Canada, 21% is happening inside our homes, according to Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International. Love Food Hate Waste Canada is an outstanding resource that provides information, resources, and practical tips to help us eliminate food waste in our homes, including everything from how best to store food for maximum life to how to use up leftovers.

As well, we can work together to hold our service providers accountable for their wasteful practices. Wherever you buy your food, whether it’s a supermarket or restaurant, ask them what they are doing with their unsold/leftover food. How are they keeping it out of waste streams? Do they have processes in place to ensure it is all being diverted, or just some of it? Only when consumers demand change will it happen.

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This story was featured in the Make The World Better magazine:

  

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