Technology to reduce food wastage
Rushika Bhatia
10X People

Technology to reduce food wastage

From AI in kitchens to apps for food-sharing, technology is at the forefront of reducing food wastage and ensuring food security. In this special feature, we turn to a local expert Ignacio Ramirez, Operations Manager of Winnow Solutions, to take us through his journey of building a tech solution to tackle food wastage head-on and shares his insights on the local landscape…

In his article for UPS, Tim Richards of Fast Company, outlines the magnitude of the food waste challenge we currently face: “Right now, almost one-third of the world’s food supply ends up in the trash. Food waste is a serious, yet often overlooked ecological hazard, responsible for 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, one-fourth of our freshwater usage and one-fifth of the trash in American landfills.”

As we struggle to address the changing socio-economic dynamics and the threat it poses to our food security, we’re seeing local businesses rise up to the challenge by using technology to implement ground-breaking solutions. SME10X had the privilege of having a conversation with one such expert: Ignacio Ramirez, Operations Manager of Winnow Solutions. Here are excerpts from our chat.

Artificial Intelligence and Food Wastage - those are two things you would not think would be used in the same sentence. What inspired you to create this idea?

Winnow Vision was two years in development before its launch in March. The intention when Winnow started was to create a computer vision-enabled product that automatically recognizes what’s being thrown into the bin, but it's taken until now for the technology to be commercially viable at scale. Winnow was launched in a single staff restaurant in 2013 and Winnow Vision was introduced to maximize operational efficiency and data accuracy. We are excited that the technology is being applied across thousands of kitchens, helping chefs cut food waste. Our groundbreaking new product Winnow Vision puts AI into the hands of chefs to help seamlessly track waste saving both money and time. Winnow Vision has global application and is already delivering deep insight to over 90 kitchens worldwide.

What kind of acceptance are you seeing in the UAE?

Winnow launched in the UAE in 2016 and now has 90 units deployed and 30 sites are in the pipeline. We work with Emaar Hospitality Group, Majid Al Futtaim, Rotana, Marriott, Kempinski, IHG, AccorHotels, and Hilton Hotels in the region. We have seen great acceptance in this region for our technology. The UAE as a country is very conscious about being sustainable and reducing food waste. The partnership between Winnow and the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment stands testament to this fact. The partnership on The UAE Food Waste Pledge has the goal of saving 3 million meals annually by 2020. We have also launched an online platform for the initiative urging hospitality businesses across the country to pledge to reduce food waste in their kitchens. This supports the UAE’s commitment to halving food waste by 2030 in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 for all nations to halve food waste and reduce food loss by 2030.

What have top milestones for your company thus far?

After launching Winnow Vision last year - our new AI-enabled tool to help chefs run more profitable and sustainable kitchens by cutting food waste in half, we have been pretty busy. With global customers using the system, we are excited with the technology being applied across thousands of kitchens, helping chefs cut food waste accordingly. In addition to this, we have been proud of the opportunities following the launch, such as strong media coverage, such as the piece on Winnow with Dubai Tech on CNN International. We are working with our key partner in the region - The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment on the UAE Food waste pledge, we are on target to save three million meals by 2020. Whilst we’re proud of these achievements we’re just getting started. We’ve set ourselves a target to save the hospitality industry $1bn worth of food per year by 2025.

How affordable is your solution? Can a small restaurateur consider implementing it? Do you offer different packages depending on the size of the business?

Right now our focus is our large kitchens like hotels, staff restaurants, universities, retailers and cruise ships. Our pricing is tiered based on the size of the kitchen and industry. Smaller kitchens can get going for just a few hundred dollars a month, and we’d typically expect to deliver a 2x-10x return on investment via the reduced food costs achieved by reducing wastage.

Does your solution need to be implemented on a large scale to make an impact? How quickly can you start seeing a difference?

The system has already proved that it can be implemented at scale to deliver significant savings for the entire hospitality sector. Our achievements demonstrate that our technology can provide a scalable, cost-effective solution to reduce food waste and empower chefs to run an efficient operation.

Surely reducing food wastage would reduce costs for businesses as well. What kind of cost savings can a business expect when investing in a food waste management solution?

Kitchens using Winnow over a year are able to reduce food waste by 50% or more and maintain it at this level in the long term. On average, a kitchen adopting the Winnow system sees over 1 percentage point of food cost saving within the first quarter and can expect an ROI of 2x to 10x.

What tips would you give to restaurant owners to reduce food wastage that can be implemented today?

  1. Focus on encouraging a positive attitude throughout the entire process to achieve the collective buy-in from all members of the team.

  2. Actively track what food, and why the food is being thrown away.

  3. Hold daily meetings to review what’s being thrown away each day. Focus on cooking more of the foods that are most likely to be eaten, and be careful to only cook the necessary amount.

  4. Avoid over production and spoilage by adequate planning.

  5. Check your top sellers daily.

  6. Use data to empower staff.

  7. Focus on quick wins.

  8. Reduce portion sizes in buffets to provide guests with fresher food.

Finally, are you planning to offer a solution for individuals as well?

While we've tested application in the home, right now our focus is on contract catering, hotels, quick service restaurants, supermarkets, and cruise ship sectors.