A collaborative approach to the reduction of food waste is critical

For the social entrepreneur Katy Barfield, CEO and founder of Yume Food Australia, collaboration is the key to tackling food insecurity and waste. Founded in 2015, her organisation has managed to prevent nearly 1,800 tonnes of quality surplus food from going to waste.

Founded in 2015 by food rescue veteran Katy Barfield, Yume Food is an award-winning Australian social enterprise connecting food suppliers to commercial buyers in the food industry. Their end goal? To help them sell and purchase surplus food, at fair yet appealing prices, and prevent these perfectly viable products from being discarded. A collaborative idea that has been, since then, seducing small and big companies alike. Yume’s CEO shares with us her organisation’s recipe — one that could contribute to reshape the entire food industry.

What led you to create Yume Food Australia in 2015?

I founded Yume after witnessing first-hand the amount of food that’s wasted in the commercial food sector. In Australia, 7.3 million tonnes of food are discarded each year — 4.1 million tonnes of which comes from the commercial food sector. However, between 400,000 and 600,000 tonnes of that food is still accessible, edible, quality food. And it’s not just about food. More than a quarter of the water we use globally goes to grow the 1.3 trillion kilograms of food that no one will ever eat. Plus, our planet simply can’t absorb the huge amounts of methane produced by fresh food in landfill as it breaks down. Yume’s mission is to create a world without waste, by facilitating the sale of surplus food that may have otherwise been discarded.

How does it work?

It’s an online BtoB marketplace that enables food suppliers such as manufacturers, primary producers and importers to sell their quality surplus products at a discount to commercial buyers in the food service industry such as caterers, wholesalers, restaurants, hotels and event centres, in order to prevent great quality food from going to waste. We focus on the first two stages of the food waste hierarchy — avoidance and reusing. We work closely with hundreds of leading food manufacturers, such as Unilever and Kellog's, and other suppliers to identify the issue early on, so we can try to find a solution and a new avenue to market the products before it is too late.

How do you ensure the products’ trackability, transparency and quality?

We have developed a very stringent process that suppliers need to go through before being able to list products on our platform. All of our suppliers are certified HACCP [an international standard defining the requirements for effective control of food safety] or equivalent. Also, unless given an extension letter from the manufacturer, no product will ever be past its use-by date on Yume Food. In addition, all products listed are covered by the ‘Yume Product Guarantee’ — if the product you purchased is not as described, Yume Food and our suppliers provide a 24-hour window for issues to be reported with a replacement or refund as appropriate.

What has been your impact so far?

Since we started, we have prevented over 1,800 tonnes of quality surplus food from going to waste, returning over AUD 5 million to Australian farmers and manufacturers and saved 120 million litres of water and prevented 3,498 tonnes of CO2 from being released.

Can the Australian market readiness to welcome eco-friendly solutions explain Yume’s success?

To be really honest, when we first launched Yume, the market wasn’t ready yet. Many thought it wasn’t going to work. Who would buy surplus food off a platform, unseen, and in many cases pay upfront? But I knew the system was broken and believed that technology was a scalable solution, so I pushed forward. I was really hard, knocking on doors trying to get people to understand the concept, let alone take it onboard, especially with companies who have very fixed procurement regimes. So we analyzed what products would get their attention and for which products they were prepared to go outside of their normal procurement processes — it turned out to be proteins. Because of their high-value, the discount was significant — it was exciting to buy salmon for AUD 12 per kilo rather than for AUD 30 per kilo. We then needed to make sure there were genuine surplus — and there’s surplus in pretty much every category of the food system. So we got laser focused onto proteins, and that’s really how we gained momentum. Then, when we could prove to the buyers that they could get a great product at a great price and they were going to get an environmental certificate that would tell them how fantastic that purchase was for the environment, they became repeat buyers. Since then, we have expanded our range to cover a variety of different categories. Now the environment has caught up with us and there is much more interest and a greater appetite for environmentally sound businesses.

How important is collaboration to implement efficient solutions to food waste?

Collaboration is key in any business, but a collaborative approach to the reduction of food waste is critical in any country. It’s a huge problem, you can’t tackle it alone. Plus, I think there is a wonderful mutual benefit in partnerships between larger companies, such as SUEZ, and smaller ones. The large ones get the agility, flexibility and innovation of the new breakthrough startups, which is something that larger companies want to adopt and bring onboard. And the benefits for a smaller company are obvious — established relationships and a strong network of opportunities from that larger company.

What issues should the market stakeholders prioritize in order to reshape the global food industry?

I think the covid-19 situation has shone a spotlight on our lives, and the same could be said for the food industry. We import a lot of products that could be grown or made locally. In the midsts of the pandemic, fresh food aisles were scarce in some retailers because the products were imported and got held up. That rises people’s awareness on how reliant we are on overseas, and I’m hoping that consumers and businesses alike will now look to source and support local food and eat seasonal. It’s better for health, for the planet, for our pockets, for sustainability and for our food security — there is no downside, except maybe being unable to get certain products that can’t be grown locally. But, do we need that specific vegetable right now? Probably not. We could find a substitute and get creative. The covid-19 situation has also shone a spotlight on how wasteful we are. People within their own homes have become much more resourceful. Again, I hope that will translate to the food industry. Throwing away the quantities of product that go to waste every day in the commercial food space is unsustainable and unnecessary. So business players need to be looking at reducing waste, supporting the local economy and making sure that we’ve got a strong and diverse food system that can withstand a crisis. We’ve been given a rare opportunity to change the way we eat and live, to be more resilient in the future.

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