According to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Resources Institute, about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around $1 trillion, is lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems each year.
Given that the world is full of hunger, volatile food prices, and social unrest, a pair of recent MIT Sloan Business School graduates have launched a mobile application called Spoiler Alert to make it quick and easy for companies to sell or donate millions of tons of surplus food.
Food loss is one of the most pressing global issues of our time:
- Every year, the amount of food lost and wasted on the planet is equal to more than half of the calories in the world’s 2.3 billion tons of annual cereals grown.
- Consumers in industrialized nations waste about 220 million tons of food, about equal to the 230 million tons of net food production for all of sub-Saharan Africa.
- In the US, 30-40 percent of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month according to the United Nation Environment Programme and the World Resources Institute. As a result, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.
- Although most Americans are oblivious to U.S. poverty, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that from 2009 to 2011 approximately 31.6 percent of the U.S. population had at least one spell of poverty lasting 2 or more months. The state of California not only has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. at 23.4 percent, but that rate is now also higher than Greece, at 22.3 percent.
These reasons explain why every year about 50 million Americans live in “food insecure” households, which means they do not have regular access to affordable food. Yet nearly one-third of food inventory in the U.S. goes to waste–about 20 pounds per person, .
Beginning in the New England region, Emily Malina and Ricky Ashenfelter designed the Spoiler Alert as the business-to-business (B2B) app for the tens of thousands of companies involved in food production, processing, distribution and recycling.
Launching their pilot Apple iOS app with 8 companies donating nearly 10,000 pounds of surplus and waste food stocks, much of the listed of tons of food available on the was claimed in minutes.
Having provided proof of concept, Malina and Ashenfelter are now trying to turn Spoiler Alert into the lynchpin of a food analytics platform to help companies plan their inventory and distribution to achieve much higher levels of inventory utilization.
Malina told the TechCrunch blog that “grocery stores and other businesses are often unsure of how to donate food or don’t know about the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects them from legal liabilities.” Operating on very slim margins that rely on rapid inventory turnover, Malina sees the Spoiler Alert app as the perfect tool to maximize revenue and avoid the disposal costs associated with wasted inventory.
In full deployment, Spoiler Alert can offer a profitable secondary food market. Notifications of food availability are sent out as soon as new inventory is listed and all transactions are recorded within the app’s host. Many food products that become cosmetically no longer attractive or edible for humans can be sold for recycling into fertilizers and animal feeds.
Retailers can gain charitable tax deductions for food donations, but the law requires the type of detailed weights and volumes recorded in Spoiler Alert product availability listings.
Food companies are also now facing government initiatives and regulations designed to limit waste site disposals of carbon based products. Massachusetts’s Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban, which became effective in the fall, limits businesses to less than a ton of food waste each week and requires active recycling programs.
Spoiler Alert intends to expand to New York City, which just launched its own commercial food waste ban next year, and then expand to cities like San Francisco and Seattle that also have stiff environmental and recycling regulations.