Mette Lykke: “It is not enough to know how big of an issue food waste is. We need a change in behaviour”
Food connects us. It is part of our identity and our culture. It is also a trigger for our memories; an aroma or a flavour can make us travel through time. But if food means so much to us, why do we throw it away?
Throwing food into the bin is much more than the act of throwing it away – it means we are destroying our planet. We spoke with Mette Lykke, the Executive Director of Too Good to Go, the famous mobile app that allows restaurants, supermarkets and other establishments to sell their surplus of food, offering quality food packages at a very affordable price.
Nearly four years after its launch, the app is a great success in 15 countries, and it keeps on growing and expanding. Its strengths are France, Germany and the Netherlands; while the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy stand out for their rapid growth. “On average, we save 120,000 food packages a day,” says Mette. “We beat a record last Friday when we reached 131,000 packages, lately every Friday we outdo ourselves,” she adds enthusiastically referring to the last Friday in January.
— For the people behind Too Good to Go these figures must mean a lot.
“Of course, they do. Our focus is on how we can take the concept that we have and bring it to scale. Food waste is a very important issue: 10% of all greenhouse emissions are caused by food waste. It really takes a lot of effort to make a difference in the issue.
For Too Good to Go saving one and a half meals per second is a good starting point, but there is so much food being wasted (more than 50 tons per second), which means we have a lot more work to do. That is why we focus on how we can solve this, by trying to keep our concepts simple so that it is easier to scale across countries and into new cities in each country.”
According to FAO data, a third of what we produce worldwide is thrown away. By throwing away food, we also lose all the resources that have been used to produce it, from water to labour. The social, economic and environmental cost of this waste is very high and, above all, unsustainable.
— Do you think that this application, and technology in general, can help change society’s attitude towards food?
“Yes, I think it can. We have to think more about how we apply the technology. It is a good thing that we are more focused on the tech-for-good trend (the intentional design, development and use of digital technologies to address social challenges). When it comes to food waste specifically there is a lot of things that technology can help with.
One is of course helping stores predict better what they are going to sell, in order to prevent food waste even before it happens. Platforms like Too Good to Go give them a resource so they do not have to throw any food away.
On the other hand, on a consumer level, people have the ability to figure out how they can shop more efficiently and how to use food items that are left in the fridge and that are going to go reach their expiration date soon. For all that, technology is a great help. It is more a matter of figuring out how to navigate them all.”
It is not the first time that Mette is involved in the world of technology. She co-founded Endomondo, a personal physical training application at a time when smartphone use was still in its infancy. The app’s success caught the attention of Under Armor, who bought it for $ 85 million.
— Do you think that young people and city dwellers are relying on technology to practice (or even demand) responsible consumption?
— “Part of the power of technology is that it enables us to connect different people. In our case, we are able to connect consumers with businesses. Without technology communication is very hard and all that stores can do is basically label-sticker their products. With technology, we are able to connect consumers and businesses: they can see in advance what is offered in the platform, and that is really what enables us to put scale on.
Months after selling Endomondo, Mette decided to invest in Too Good to Go and join the movement as CEO.
— Let’s talk about the history of the company
— “We started out with a group of Danish people who were surprised to see how much food is being thrown away on a normal day in a restaurant. They wanted to prevent this food waste. From then on, this movement spread fairly quickly to other countries. When we started to put things in a formula and have a proper playbook, we were able to attract funding to allow us to scale up even further. We are in 15 countries now, 14 in Europe and in the US. Our plan is to have saved 1 billion meals by 2024, a pretty ambitious target but that is what we are aiming for with enthusiasm.”
The application now exceeds 32 million users and is used by people of all demographics, genders and social status. What do they have in common? Their concerns for the environment. On the other hand, a total of 60,000 businesses joined the app so far.
— What kind of businesses are the contributors of food?
— “We started out with buffet restaurants, but the type of businesses have been changing throughout time. Buffets are an efficient way of serving people but they are also a pretty certain way of creating a lot of food waste at the end of the day. We started out in that segment and then added bakeries. But since then we have added a lot of other types of partners, such as supermarkets, hotels, sushi restaurants, corporate canteens and since COVID-19, a lot more food manufacturers as well.”
Saving food through the app has many advantages. Consumers get delicious food at a good price, and merchants reduce waste and attract new customers, all while benefiting the environment by reducing waste.
— Initially, the goal was to create a market to prevent food suitable for human consumption from ending up in the garbage. Has this changed over time?
— “I think Too Good to Go has not really changed in its core. But what has changed is that we think of the marketplace as a starting point to help build this movement against food waste.
In order to do so, we have a lot of initiatives targeted at households, businesses, education and politics, with the aim of changing mindsets and raising awareness of food waste, as well as giving a sense of urgency to the problem and getting people to change their habits. It is not enough that we know how big of an issue food waste is. We need a change in behaviour”.
We also need to shop smarter, we need to use all the food we have in the fridge, … We have a lot of initiatives targeted at that, such as the date labelling campaign we have done in half of our countries in which we educate consumers beyond our business model.”
With the number of labels that exist in stores, it is easy to get confused. According to the European Commission, it is precisely this variety that confuses consumers. The numbers speak for themselves: in Europe, expiration and best-before dates represent 10% of the 88 million tons of food thrown away.
— Good food management could help reverse the numbers of hunger and global warming …
— “Definitely. When it comes to global warming, research shows that combating food waste is the number one action we can take in the world to fight climate change. Especially if we consider that almost 10% of the emissions are coming from food waste. From an environmental point of view, this is a big deal.
When it comes to the social aspect, it gets more complicated, because a lot of food is being wasted in areas where people do not have an abundance of food. If you think of the world as having a certain amount of resources, then we definitely need to distribute those resources in a better way and that starts with not throwing away food.”
When we prevent food waste, we all win. Are you on board?