- Two Ontario grocers, Longo’s and Farm Boy, are using the Flashfood app to notify customers when food nearing its “best before” date goes on sale, according to Progressive Grocer. Users can pay for the food through the app, then pick it up that same day in-store.
- Flashfood CEO Josh Domingues told Progressive Grocer that while the company is currently working just with Canadian retailers, he would like to expand the service to U.S. grocers in the future.
- Flashfood estimates customers who regularly use its app can save as much as $3,700 per year.
Grocery retailers would rather sell food than throw it away, but effectively merchandising food that’s nearing its expiration date — or in this case, its “best before” date — is challenging. Consumers are very wary of these dates even though in both Canada and the U.S. they indicate freshness and quality more than food safety. For retailers, calling attention to surplus food, even through steep discounts, can look bad.
As a result, most retailers play it safe and take products off shelves that have passed their peak of freshness. Produce and meat often get repurposed by the prepared foods and deli departments, while packaged goods are often donated to food banks. There’s also quite a bit that goes into landfills. A study by Champions 12.3, a coalition of retailers, manufacturers, advocates and government entities, noted businesses lose a collective $940 billion annually on food waste.
What makes Flashfood interesting is it targets shoppers who are interested in buying surplus products at low prices. Its instant notifications and same-day turnaround mean transactions are efficient, and users can feel reassured that by flagging items for discount, retailers have deemed the food safe to consume. Most importantly, the app allows grocers to make money off surplus products that would otherwise amount to a loss.
The challenge is getting people to sign up. Flashfood offers point-of-sale information at store pickup points, including catchy messaging about waste reduction (tagline: “Reducing surplus food, together”) and directions to download its app. Still, the service is asking people to overcome the very ingrained habit of avoiding food that’s anything less than fresh.
In the U.S., regulators and industry groups are working to streamline what’s become a collection of ambiguous expiration labels. In December, the U.S. Agriculture Department recommended manufacturers only use a “best if used by” label on meat, dairy and other fresh food packaging. The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association recommend two labels: “BEST If Used By" to signify product quality and "USE by" to indicate the safety of perishable products. Organizations estimate these steps could cut food waste by as much as 8%, and it could increase awareness of the issue with consumers which could benefit a service like Flashfood.
Overall, awareness of food waste and the arbitrariness of expiration dates is increasing in the U.S. and abroad. Retailers are catching on, with “ugly produce” promotions at supermarkets like Hy-Vee and Whole Foods. Two years ago, Daily Table, a nonprofit retailer that sells food diverted from other retailers and manufacturers, launched in the Boston area. In March, The Good Food opened in Germany, offering a pay-what-you-want model for its collection of surplus food.