Too much food goes to waste. That’s a reality in Belgium and in other parts of the world. Supermarkets have to dispose of food that is about to reach its expiration day. How to reduce this waste, and how to turn it into an opportunity where people could buy fresh food at a reasonable price?
In Brussels two entrepreneurs have looked into the matter closely and have come up with an innovative idea: Happy Hours Market, created by Ludovic Libert and Aurélien Marino.
To better understand the life cycle of food at supermarkets, the logistics behind its processing and handling, as well as the ideas for improvement brought about by Happy Hours Market, Brussels Express speaks this month with Ludovic Libert.
Could you please describe the current situation at supermarkets? How and when do they determine that food ought not to be sold to the public any more? What mechanisms do they use to dispose of it?
Legally speaking, food cannot be sold once the use-by date has expired. Therefore, every day before closing, supermarkets have to withdraw from their shelves the items which will “be expired” the day after.
However, the majority of these goods are still good to eat on the same day or could also be frozen to be consumed weeks later.
Being more and more concerned by their “Corporate Social Responsibility”, nearly all Belgian supermarkets give a maximum of their surplus to non-for-profit organizations. The remainder – which represents enormous quantity of food – is simply thrown away.
We are thus not alone in believing that such a waste is unacceptable, especially in light of the poverty in Belgium. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources, charities are not able to collect even a percent of what is wasted every day. Food waste quantities are tremendous, especially in Belgium, with an average of 10.400 tons per day, while charities manage to collect around 10.000 tons per year.
At the end of the day, more than a million people live under the poverty line in Belgium; hence do not have enough income to properly eat, while an average of 7 tons per minute of good food is simply thrown away.
This is why we believe Happy Hours Market will be useful. It will provide daily access to shops’ unsold food, just after their closing, at reduced price. Happy Hours Market aims to be an online platform where we can buy food at a very attractive price, between 8pm and 10pm. Happy Hours Market also intends to foster charities food collection: all the goods that are not sold before 10pm will be brought by Happy Hours Market directly to charities.
Why do you think nobody had done what Happy Hours (you and Aurélien) decided to do?
I think that a lot of people already tried to tackle food waste. Everyone has its own way. For instance, in Belgium there exists a huge network of charities called “Bourse aux dons”, gathering a hundred of charities that are able to supply thousands of households. Nevertheless, due to their non–profit aspect, their growth potential is bound by the generosity of governments and the time of their volunteers.
For its part, Happy Hours Market proposes another way of reducing food waste, which will complement the amazing work performed by non-profit organizations. We strongly believe that using the benefit of technology to gather food waste and inform the customers can be a great way to further reduce the garbage bins in front of the supermarkets and to meet the needs of people who want to buy groceries at reduced price.
Is Happy Hours a non-for-profit (ASBL)? If not, could you describe your decision process when you chose the type of organization Happy Hours would be?
Happy Hours Market will be a commercial company focused on its value propositions: we aim at significantly decreasing food waste and, at the same time, providing people with a new opportunity to buy food at reduced price.
We believe that creating economic value from the food that should normally be thrown away is a good way to incentivize supermarket to work with us and to help the customers discover new ways of consuming goods. If more supermarkets contribute to, and more customers buy their groceries from, our platform, less food will be thrown away.
While the impact that non-for-profit organizations may have generally depends on the means provided by governments and the generosity of their volunteers, our goal is to develop a self-sustaining business model that contributes to reduce food waste.
This willingness has therefore led us to explore a commercial approach in order to achieve our objectives.
How did the test period go? Could you share some overview of the results? What are the next steps?
We have been positively surprised by the enthusiasm generated during this test period. As from the first day at the ULB Campus, more than 40 people came to buy goods which we collected an hour before. And they kept coming more and more during all week.
Our wish was to test the distribution logistic in order to discover constraints that we would not have detected otherwise. We found that our operational business seemed solid, although we still have a lot of work to do.
At the end of the week, we collected around 500kg of food from which we sold about the half. The remaining 250 kg were given to refugees.
In the near future, we will develop the online platform that should allow people from everywhere in Brussels to access their neighboring shops’ unsold food. It should be effective within a few months as from now.
We are very thrilled at the challenges ahead!
Good to know