Food loss and food waste are still a substantial problem in the catering and food industry. The issue came once again to the forefront during the Covid-19 lockdown. It’s an important problem that deserves a bold solution. And the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Food and Growzer have found this solution in the circular economy. From a circular perspective, the waste of one player is the raw material for another.
They join forces to create a technological solution that supports the circular economy in the catering and food sector. With the financial support of Flanders Circular, they launched two pilot projects in the Food Circle Lab with tech start-ups Foresightee and EIT RisingFoodStar Orbisk. Hopefully, this is the start of a beautiful and especially sustainable story. We spoke with Martine van Veelen, Director of EIT Food CLC West and Frank De Meulder, Managing Director of the Growzer catering management platform.
Martine, can you outline what EIT stands for and what your objectives are?
Martine: EIT Food is an independent organization, funded by Europe, that focuses on and supports innovation in the food sector. We collaborate with various parties such as manufacturers, trade unions, research institutes and retailers. Danone, Nestlé, Puratos and Colruyt are, for example, some of our partners. Equally important are smaller SMEs and start-ups. They are often the ones that come up with the most innovative ideas. We finance interesting projects that fit within our scope and introduce innovation and sustainability in the food sector. Furthermore, we sometimes work together with organizations like Flanders Circular, to provide the necessary funding to organize projects such as the Food Circle Lab.
Where did EIT Food and Growzer’s paths cross?
Martine: During the corona crisis, we noticed that an increasing amount of entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry were facing hardships. As an organization, we wanted to support them through our network. Our goal was to alleviate the worst suffering by offering the sector a future through innovation. So we started looking for people with a thorough knowledge of the hospitality industry. That is how we ended up with Frank and Growzer.
Frank: I have a lot of experience in the hospitality industry and on top of that Growzer also has a lot of valuable additional expertise and sectoral know-how. We are experienced with and integrated into the entire flow of the catering industry. From manufacturer to wholesaler and catering business: we have partners and collaborations everywhere. More precisely, Growzer is a B2B catering ordering and management platform. It is connected to the cash register, it allows you to keep an overview of your stocks and to send orders. As a result, the entire food & beverage can be mapped, including food cost management.
What is the main objective of your first joint project?
Martine: Starting from the needs of the catering and food industry, we decided to look for start-ups that can contribute to our goal of mapping and tackling the problem of food waste and loss.
Frank: Our first project is the creation of a circular platform. What one catering business considers food waste, can be the raw material for a new product at another company. For example, the coffee ground can be used as a breeding ground for growing mushrooms. There are even companies that specialize in processing smoothie leftovers. At Growzer, we can see a lot of potential to fight food waste. Through our mapping, we know who is ordering what, who is left with surpluses and who permanently orders too much. But to complete the story, collaborations with other partners are needed. Pilot projects to test and explore ideal partnerships are essential to moving forward.
Martine: And that’s where we come in. We are strong at connecting the right partners. We have the right connections and partnerships in the industry to be able to support initiatives that reduce food waste through circular economy principles. Specifically for this project, we connected Growzer with the tech startups Orbisk and Foresightee to launch pilot projects within the Food Circle Lab.
What is the match between these three players?
Frank: Foresightee specializes in machine learning. This technology knows how to interpret your historical data and important influential parameters: internal factors such as promotions and external trends such as local weather and holidays. This makes forecasting sales figures more accurate than other technologies. As a consequence, your orders will be more accurate. In addition, all linked processes will equally be optimized; from orders to promotion planning and staff. The result is less food waste, greater availability and better quality of products and, above all, satisfied customers. Foresightee is therefore an interesting partner to connect to our food cost management and optimization services.
Orbisk, a promising startup that's also an EIT RisingFoodStar, is at home in monitoring the waste that is thrown away in restaurants. They do this by having cameras with image recognition technology monitoring the waste bins. The waste bins are also placed on a scale. This way, Orbisk knows how much and which waste is thrown away. And the effective food cost can be calculated through collaboration with Growzer. The numbers often really come as a shock to restaurant owners. Add some machine learning to predict future purchasing volumes and, together with various parties, we will create a circular and future-proof story that is better, more profitable and more sustainable for everyone in the food and catering industry.
Sounds great. And what does the future hold?
Frank: It goes without saying that Growzer wants to support this initiative as our two pilots were promising. We aim to gather all actors on our platform, to streamline operations and ensure more circularity in the economy. A sustainable ambition we truly believe we can live up to. We think the time is right for it.
Martine: We are pleased when we can work with motivated partners who are committed to innovation and really go for it. No doubt this is just the beginning of the story. We will do everything we can to turn this project into a success. Making the catering industry more sustainable, circular and therefore more profitable: that's what we're going for!
Thanks for your time and good luck!
Do you want to know more about EIT Food? Have a look at www.eitfood.eu
For more information about Growzer, head over to their website.
This project is financially supported by Flanders Circular.