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Solving food waste: There’s an app for that

Flashfood hopes to divert a portion of food thrown away by grocery stores to Canadian refrigerators

A Toronto startup is looking to solve what its founder describes as Canada’s “food waste epidemic.”

Josh Domingues, who spent the early part of his career in finance with firms including BMO Nesbitt Burns, launched the Flashfood app in January. He is hoping to prevent a fraction of the more than $6 billion worth of food thrown away by restaurants and grocery stores from reaching landfills, where it is converted into harmful methane gas (including consumers, an estimated $31 billion worth of food is thrown away each year in Canada).

The free app enables users to purchase surplus food from restaurants and grocery stores at what is describes as “enormously” discounted prices. App users can view and purchase the food directly from their mobile device, and pick it up later that day in a designated zone within participating stores.

On Friday, deals offered by Flashfood included 16-pack of Black Diamond Cheese Slices discounted from $5.99 to $3.99; a six-pack of Dempster's bagels discounted from $4.29 to $3.29; and a 1L container of Tropicana watermelon juice discounted from $5.49 to $4.49. All of the deals are time-sensitive, and Domingues says no food is sold after its best-before date.

The company completed a pilot with a Farm Boy location in January, and embarked on a three-month pilot with a downtown Toronto Longo’s location last week. Domingues says the company hopes to be in two more Farm Boy locations “relatively quickly,” and also has an agreement in place with Sobeys to introduce the program in one of its downtown Toronto stores, with the date and location to be determined.

While Domingues was aware of the problem of food waste, it took visiting a grocery store in downtown Toronto – and seeing packs of boneless skinless chicken breasts being thrown away four days before their best-before date – to realize the magnitude of the problem. According to Domingues, the average grocery store throws away between $2,500 and $3,500 worth of perfectly edible food every day.

Domingues says customers are as much to blame for the waste as the stores themselves. “This is not just a story about the big bad retailer, these are consumer habits that have grown over decades,” he says. “If you and I go to the grocery store to buy a watermelon and only see one, we’re not going to buy it because we assume it’s the worst one.”

The Flashfood app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times to date. According to Domingues, it has diverted the equivalent of 1,300 meals from Canadian landfills. The average basket size is just over $10, with rotisserie chicken and dairy among the most popular items.

Domingues says that average customer is also spending a “significant amount” on regular-priced products when entering participating stores, with Flashfood’s “engaged” customers going to the store between 2.5 and 3.5 times a week. The app’s leading customer is a young couple with five children, with Domingues projecting their annual savings at more than $5,000.

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