In Italy alone, about 10,000 tons of food are wasted every day.
One third of the food produced globally for human consumption is wasted or thrown away.
40% of food waste occurs in homes or shops.
These figures published by the European Commission, didn’t go unnoticed– or at least not by Last Minute Sotto Casa (meaning ‘Last Minute Nearby’) a startup from Turin that uses an app to combat food waste. It uses a very simple mechanism: the user signs up, registers their address, and receives alerts when nearby stores are about to close but still have fresh, unsold foods. Users can then go buy them for up to 50% off. In Turin alone, this app has helped reduce food Wasteby up to 3 tons a month.
“It’s a win-win-win plan,” says Francesco Ardito, co-founder and CEO of the company, because it benefits everyone. “The client wins because they get a deal on fresh products from that day. The shops win because they make a profit instead of wasting their unsold products, and they gain new clients. And the planet wins due to a noticeable reduction in food waste.”
So how did Last Minute Sotto Casa get its start?
As I often say when I’m asked this, LMSC started spontaneously in response to a pet peeve of mine: seeing even 2 pieces of pizza get thrown away at a pizzeria near closing time. I started asking specifically at those shops what happened to those pieces of pizza, and unfortunately the most common answer was “we throw them out.”
Then one day I started to wonder what happened the bananas at a small fruit vendor who displayed one basket of darkening bananas and another of still yellow ones. What was he going to do with those black ones?
So as I started chatting with the bakers, fruit vendors and butchers in my neighborhood, I discovered that things were thrown away nearly every day. One evening, I was leaving a pastry shop where I’d had a chat about what was going to happen to 10 croissants that were left over from that morning’s breakfast. I looked up at the apartments and high rise buildings of my neighborhood and I realized that there are thousands of residents in those very apartments, and every one of them has a smartphone in their pocket. And I wondered: what if the baker left the shop and yelled at everyone living nearby that he was selling croissants for 10 cents each? If nothing else, he’d make a euro that he wouldn’t have earned otherwise; 10 people could have breakfast practically for free, and everyone could avoid throwing away perfectly good food. And that’s how we could all win!
These days you hear a lot about social innovation. How has innovation responded to the social problem of waste?
It’s done a lot. If we didn’t have internet or smartphones, LMSC wouldn’t exist and the planet wouldn’t have us to thank for the tons of food that we avoid wasting every month. It’s clear that technology has helped us hugely, and the way we use it doesn’t ignore the social aspect. Compared to E-Bay or Amazon for example, which have a purchasing process that begins and ends with the technological platform, our project wouldn’t actually exist without physical contact with bread makers, fruit vendors or butchers. So we use technology, but it’s ultimately social: we help people spend a little less money on food, and we help businesses thrive at the same time.
Thanks to your app, about how much less food is wasted in Italy?
We estimate 3-3.5 tons of food monthly. We know this because of Gaia, one of our staff members whose job it is to find exactly this information. She picks up the phone and calls shop owners to find out how much food is sold at reduced prices because of LMSC. This allows us to have reliable data, albeit approximate, about a shop’s average levels of waste, and how much food does and doesn’t end up in the garbage. Our digital megaphone, which is exactly what LSMC is, is a win-win-win project. It’s not just the business owner that wins by earning that little bit more, but also the customer who keeps that little bit more in their pocket. And obviously, it’s good for the planet too.
But if everyone wins, how does LMSC make a profit? What’s your business model?
We’ve had the skills, the talent and also the good luck to win many, many prestigious awards, which immediately got us recognition and we’ve got the plaques on display in the office. I’m talking about Lega Ambiente, Confcommercio and the prize of all prizes from the President of the Republic… but besides these awards, we were also lucky enough to win a few particularly interesting ones – one of which was an international prize that earned us €250 thousand in cash. This almost immediately gave us a significant cash flow, so we didn’t have to rush to monetize.
There’s no bigger mistake a company can make than to have a business model that’s completely out of touch with what works in real life. We were able to be patient and really listen to shop owners and customers, which helped us develop a realistic business model, which is now active in Turin and Milan. The customer never pays, and shops have a 2-month trial period, after which they pay a fixed monthly fee.
At the moment you’re active in Turin, your hometown, and the some of the main Italian city squares. What are your next steps?
We’re seriously working on expanding, now that French multinational giant UP Group has officially entered LMSC. UP Group is the second largest food voucher business in the world and operates in 17 different countries. After a presentation I gave at the Expo in Milan, the CEO expressed interest in the project, and last summer the group officially entered with LMSC, both with capital and a marketing and commercial structure that’s now working to push the project beyond national borders. Just a month ago, we had a meeting in Rome with the CEOs from certain European countries who were interested in replicating our model – particularly in Spain and Portugal.
Cosa distingue l’Italia rispetto al mercato internazionale in materia di sprechi?
The cultures of Northern European are definitely more aware when it comes to waste. I’ve seen with my own eyes many interesting initiatives in Northern European restaurants where they cook exclusively with foods destined for the bin.
Let’s just say that we’re a little behind in Italy compared to these initiatives, but the introduction of takeaway or doggy bags is already a big step in the right direction. Now, instead of feeling embarrassed, we can ask for a container to take home our leftovers from a restaurant.
It was Cookie, along with Banco Alimentare that launched this takeaway bag initiative. This is why Cookie provides containers to all vendors that want to use them for packaging up food to take home. Our strength comes also from Italy’s new ‘Gadda Laws’, which were inspired by similar laws in France. These will undoubtedly help with the bureaucracy associated with donations of excess food. The bureaucracy used to be really complicated, but it’s now been greatly simplified. In Italy, the law is actually much less punishing than the one in France, and spurs on and facilitates better waste management.
People Watcher, Marketer, Mum. La mia insaziabile curiosità nella vita chiede di essere accompagnata da altrettanto forte intensità nel lavoro. Per questo scrivo.