Start-up Q&A: Iseult Ward, CEO and founder of FoodCloud

Tell us a little about your company and how you got to where you are...

FoodCloud connects businesses with too much food with local charities that have too little using technology. Our vision is for a world where no good food goes to waste. Our mission is to create a more sustainable food industry through more efficient practises and by creating innovative food rescue solutions.

FoodCloud has developed a unique solution that uses innovative technology, overcoming some of the traditional barriers that retailers and food rescue organisations face in managing surplus food donations directly to local charities. FoodCloud’s platform enables businesses and charities within communities to coordinate surplus food donations, establishing meaningful relationships and ensuring no edible food goes to waste. In October 2017 alone, over 627kg of food – the equivalent to over 1.3 million meals – was donated through the platform by 2,944 supermarkets to over 7,000 charitable and community groups across the UK and Ireland.

FoodCloud was launched in 2012 by Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward, while both were studying in Trinity College. The idea was to intercept food waste by connecting businesses binning surplus food with charities desperately in need of it. Rather than a food bank model, they were sure they could connect charities to companies directly through technology.

From one farmers market and homeless shelter in 2013 to over 7,000 charities and more than 2,900 retail stores in the UK and Ireland, the organisation has helped redistribute a total of over 25 million meals since launch, weighing in at 5,000 tonnes in the past 18 months alone. 

How can technology help to prevent food waste?

At an agricultural and manufacture level, the technology around food production, dates, storage and distribution is astounding. It is possible now to trace food back to the field of the farm it was picked on and know who it was picked by. The traceability involved here has helped thousands of tonnes of food avoid being wasted because of a single bad batch.

For retailers, stock control, traceability and food display and expiry have all been massively improved by technological innovations. With up-to-date systems, retailers should now know which food in their warehouses or stores is saleable, approaching its sell by date, approaching its best before date and expired. Previously much food may have escaped notice and had to be sent to waste - now that doesn’t happen.

Why have supermarkets failed to sort out their food waste problem sooner?

Access to technology and stock management is a major factor. And the lack of smart communication between tills showing actual customer demand and sales of a product, rather than purely relying on forecasts. Finally, the practise of following quality specifications and rejecting misshapen or “ugly” but edible fruit and vegetables grown by suppliers has been a huge contributor to waste.

Who are you working with, tell us a little bit about those partnerships?

In Ireland we work with Tesco, Aldi and Lidl and in the UK we work with Tesco, Aldi and Waitrose. We also work with 100 food businesses across the food supply chain in Ireland.

Why should retailers work with start-ups, rather than larger established technology players?

Retailers should be investigating who is best to work with. There’s little point in refusing to work with larger, established technology partners, but exploring what start-ups offer, in scale, available resources, agility and particularly innovation is a must-do. Working with start-ups helps promote innovation and collaboration and we see daily how the larger technology players look to start-ups for inspiration as much as the other way around. It’s an exciting time to be working with technology and data, as FoodCloud does, and we see opportunities to improve and innovate on a daily basis.

Iseult was a finalist at the Unilever Young Entrepreneur Awards 2017 last month, an annual event which recognises inspiring young entrepreneurs who have founded initiatives changing the world for the better.

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