Can shoppers save money while reducing food waste?

Photo: Instagram/@LaurenandLattes
Mar 01, 2022

A smartphone app meant to tackle the problem of food waste and help customers keep their grocery bill down in the process is hoping to make a name for itself in the U.S.

Flashfood just received a round of venture capital funding that it plans to use to fund an expansion of its U.S. presence, according to TechCrunch. Flashfood is a marketplace application that allows users to find discounted food nearing its expiration date at nearby participating grocers, and even purchase the food via the app for pickup at in-store “Flashfood zones.”

The Canadian startup has already partnered with chains as major as Loblaw, Family Fare and Stop & Shop. The plan for expansion consists of establishing new U.S. grocery partners and other strategic partnerships, as well as expanding its user base across the entire country. The app is currently available in 17 U.S. states.

Food waste is a perennial problem in this country. Environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that up to 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten.

As customer concerns over environmental issues have grown in recent years, some major grocers have taken steps to address the issue. Kroger, Stop & Shop and other major retailers have, for instance, begun to implement large scale anaerobic digesters that break down organic material as an alternative to throwing it into landfills. Some grocers have begun selling marked-down “ugly” fruits and vegetables that are often overlooked in favor of more visually appealing produce.

Along with looking favorably on Flashfood’s environmental proposition, customers may also be on the lookout for mobile apps that promise deep discounts on groceries.

Food prices continue to rise, according to CNBC, although grocery shoppers do not appear to have shifted spending habits despite an awareness of price hikes. There are bellwethers, however, of an impending wave of consumer price-consciousness. Customers purchasing in categories like beer, tobacco and energy drinks are beginning to look for cheaper options than their regular buys.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How important do you think the reduction of food waste is to the U.S. consumer and what should grocers do to address the issue? Do you see Flashfood or a similar app becoming a go-to grocery shopping solution in the U.S. with the right retail partners?

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"The reduction of food waste is not so important to the majority of the U.S. consumers but it should be."

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13 Comments on "Can shoppers save money while reducing food waste?"

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Neil Saunders

Quite honestly, I don’t think most U.S. consumers really focus all that much on food waste. If they did then the rates of wastage from households would be much lower. That said, people will take steps to reduce waste if it is simple and cost effective for them to do so. This new app helps them to do that, and gives them the benefit of securing lower-cost food in the process. Of course, wastage from grocers and supermarkets is another dimension and this is something the industry works hard to remedy. Again, this app is another potential tool in the arsenal.

Bob Amster

The reduction of food waste is not so important to the majority of the U.S. consumers but it should be. It is so easy to convert overripe produce into perfectly edible dishes, or to consume leftovers of oversized restaurant servings, that there is no excuse for not doing it. This is a cultural change that needs to be brought about by the consumer sentiment, with the subsequent support of grocery chains.

Nikki Baird

As someone who went on a personal crusade on this topic – and now am back to where I started – I think what is essential here is the hardest thing to get: good data about what the expected lifespan is of what you’re buying. There’s a big difference between “ugly” food that has three more weeks in it, and aging food that has three days. As a consumer, when you can’t tell the difference, not only do you end up throwing out something that you didn’t know only had the three days – it ends up spreading the mold or whatever to the other stuff that should’ve had three weeks. I think consumers are even willing to spend the same (not more, but at least as much), if they can feel like they have an impact without having to put any more time into it than a “regular” shopping trip. But I have yet to see a company crack that code in the offering.

Liz Crawford

Unless that is a very deep discount, I don’t think that shoppers will take advantage of this offering. Also, the demographics don’t line up: those tech-savvy enough to use an app to locate certain foods aren’t those who will be seeking these kinds of deals.

David Naumann

Food waste is a big drain on grocer profitability and leveraging an app like Flashfood may help retailers minimize waste. Better demand forecasts also help minimize food waste but, with produce, the life span of products isn’t perfectly predictable. The challenge with flash sales on foods that are nearing their expiration dates is getting enough consumers to participate on the app and respond to the sales. It is a clever idea and I hope it works as intended.

David Spear

Apps like Flashfood offer consumers and non-profits terrific information that retailers might not otherwise provide. These apps will gain traction in times like today where costs are rising dramatically. The question is, will they attract enough mass appeal to make it as underlying fundamentals in the economy improve? And will consumers maintain the same mindset during “good times” for issues concerning food waste and discounted perishables?

Gwen Morrison

My understanding is that the majority of food waste in the U.S. is attributed to restaurants. The app Too Good to Go is a solution that allows restaurants to sell meals towards the end of the day that would otherwise go to waste. These range from bakery “surprise bags” to upscale dinner menu items. It was reported that Le Pain Quotidien saved almost 4,000 meals during 30 days of the pandemic by “redirecting” them through the app. When consumers begin to participate with platforms such as this and Flashfood that aim to reduce waste, it demonstrates the problem to them and makes them feel like part of the solution. In the U.S., 40 percent of edible food does not get consumed. We need more innovative models like these with dynamic pricing tied to shelf life.

David Slavick

Now this is something to get behind and support. Sustainability, environmental concerns, reducing waste and helping those in need – what more can you ask for out of a solution for the masses?

Jeff Weidauer

The fact that food waste is and remains a problem demonstrates the lack of interest in solving the problem. We have the technology to solve it — but until there is a clear financial benefit the problem will remain just where it is. First we need to define the terms and explain them to consumers — food waste sounds bad, but what is it really and why does the average person care?

Craig Sundstrom

I think these questions can be answered with a (remarkably) short survey: when shopping, do you (a) always look for the freshest product, or (b) buy the oldest products, because you’re afraid if you don’t no one else will? I think we know the answer to this.

That having been said, I wish the effort well: there may be an audience for it, albeit I’m guessing the motivation will be cost saving(s) more than altruism.

Lucille DeHart

OMG, where has this app been?!? I don’t think the US consumer is walking the walk yet with food waste reduction, but I do see this app as a way to provide lower cost products to less affluent markets. If we focus on the benefits being around getting nutritious, perishable foods to low-income families, this could be an amazing advancement for our society–as long as the near expired food is priced low. I think shoppers will still reach for the back of a shelf to get food with longer expiration dates as that implies freshness, but grocers need to either attach a premium to those items or manage the restock better to limit the choice to more near expiration dates.

John Karolefski

That fact that up to 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten is a national disgrace, considering all the people who do not have enough to feed and nourish themselves largely through no fault of their own. Regular folks do not care. But the food suppliers and retailers need to care more than ever. Make it a national priority, which it is not currently. Buon appétit.

Anil Patel

For sustainability-conscious customers, food wastage would be a major concern. Additionally, with inflation being at an all-time high, customers are searching for food products that are low at prices yet maintain quality. And it remains a challenge for retailers to provide a discount beyond a certain price. So, I don’t think grocers or customers can afford to waste food resources. Therefore the best way for retailers here would be to keep limited quantities of products that are over-ripe or nearing the perishability tenure and sell them at mark-down prices.

Flashfood and similar apps can become a go-to grocery shopping solution because they are aiming at filling major gaps. There are grocery retailers who want to reduce wastage by selling near-expiry products at lower prices. On the other hand, some customers are willing to buy low-cost but quality products. I believe there is a great business opportunity here and apps like Flashfoods are doing a great job leveraging it.

"The reduction of food waste is not so important to the majority of the U.S. consumers but it should be."

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