The nightmare of food waste

Great progress has been made in the UK, but food waste from all industries is still around 10.7 million tonnes (Mt). For households and businesses, 70% was intended to be consumed by people.Clearly this represents a massive waste of resources and time, at the same time as pressures on farmers and food producers are increasing:

  • Suffering the effects of climate change affecting practices and making more unpredictable yields
  • Navigating changes in the geopolitical and trading context affecting regulation, administration, and subsidies
  • Rising costs of energy, labour, chemicals, crops

And this is before we mention the contribution that food production and processing makes to emissions – food waste is estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to contribute 8-10% of total man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter after China and the USA.

It is also difficult to stomach the fundamental injustice of such ‘waste’ while so many struggle to access food, with the much-publicised increase in the use of food banks and reliance on donations.

The food system especially in the UK is mature and well-established. Minimising waste is a fundamental principle – for good business sense as well as responsible use of resources. There are well-established routes to market, with surplus at each stage diverted into productive usage where possible as commercial routes allow. For example, there are redistribution organisations collecting surplus to divert to human consumption, innovative players taking byproducts as infeeds for other products, produce unsuitable for human consumption may go to animal feed, and what remains heading for energy generation.

So, what is to be done?

Enter disruptive forces like Ample. Ample is a B2B marketplace which enables British farmers to sell their fresh, tasty, surplus produce to the food industry including restaurants, wholesalers, manufacturers, caterers and charities.

Argon & Co had the opportunity to work with Ample in the early stages of development with progressing their commercial vision and model, helping to prepare for funding rounds and navigating stakeholder engagement.

We are delighted at the launch of the platform. Ample brings a neat and innovative commercial solution, harnessing technology, to link otherwise surplus produce to commercial buyers. It offers smart matching of demand and supply, and an automated hassle-free logistics service if you like too.

A commercial niche: focus on farms

One of the supremely interesting things about Ample is its focus on farms. At least 1.6 million tonnes of edible food is wasted on UK farms every year. This happens for a number of reasons, including fruit and vegetables that don’t conform to strict marketing standards due to shape, size, or blemishes; contractors changing their mind after planting; unpredictable weather and changeable consumer demand.

The huge amount of resources in growing and harvesting the crops (energy, water, chemicals, labour and money) would be wasted if the produce is not sold. This amounts to over 6% of the UK’s carbon emissions, and directly impacts an industry suffering the extremes of climate change and economic hardship.

Neat solution to complex problem

Ample’s story is a powerful case study for a great idea, brought to life by assembling relevant expertise on the complex value chain, user-friendly technology, and a user-centric approach.

Tackling food waste at farm level is difficult, due to lack of real-time visibility at farm-level, lack of digitisation and digital adoption (itself with many root causes), unpredictability of surplus, disparate and relatively remote locations of surplus, lack of connection between potential buyer and seller, and the challenges incumbent with getting limited shelf life product through the non-standard value chain, to a commercial customer, while still safe and good quality.

Ample focused on the buyers and sellers and worked with growers and potential customers to understand the realities of the value chain and the users’ needs. To ensure adoption, the solution was developed with innovative early adopters, to be intuitive and hassle-free solution. With a focus on reducing complexity for these key stakeholders, Ample helps shorten the value chain and give them back control to act decisively and quickly while getting a commercial return.

Key get rights

Argon & Co supported Ample in defining its vision and operating model and preparation for engaging the sector. For similar dynamics start ups, some key learnings include

Understand the sector

  • Consult experts on the food system and dynamics, regulatory context, and operational considerations to help hone the vision
  • Identify and develop deep relationships with stakeholders (such as growers and food producers) to keep focus on the specific problem to be solved and blockers / enablers

Have a clear business model

  • While many of the buyers of food are purpose-led organisations, the benefit of Ample is a distinctly commercial vision
  • Be focused on the commercial return and benefit for all parties, considering flexible models (e.g. transaction fee, subscription model)
  • Ensure the service meets users’ needs – matching potential buyer and seller was not enough, having a ‘one stop shop’ and seamless logistics to transport the surplus is a game-changer

Prepare thoroughly for investment rounds

  • Argon & Co brought together a group of representatives from the food sector, retail, private equity, and commercial leaders
  • The purpose was to input into the proposed business and operating model
  • This was a chance to ‘stress-test’ Ample’s vision and prepare for investor meetings

This was an immensely satisfying project for Argon & Co – thank you to the Ample team for inviting us to join you on this inspiring journey.

Author: Judith Richardson

Judith Richardson

[email protected]

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