Saving one meal per second and helping restaurants adapt to corona

Mette Lykke, CEO Too Good To Go.

We need to bring back the old school respect for food like our grandparents who lived through the war, they would never throw away food. If there is something positive coming out of this crisis right now maybe we will be a little bit more grateful for the resources that we have and conscious about conserving them, says Mette Lykke, CEO of Too Good To Go.

The company began life as a marketplace for surplus food, and since the app was launched in January 2016, the social impact company has very quickly grown to connect 22m users with unsold food from shops, restaurants and bakeries in 15 different countries.

– During more normal times, whenever we see food go to waste, we see an opportunity to save it. That is what we are looking for, and whether that is in a restaurant, a supermarket or a bakery, we can save it, Mette Lykke says.

We have increasingly seen other types of food waste that we can help save; a lot of manufacturers have surplus food for examples. This can be down to mistakes with packing, with labelling, or maybe they just produced too much, there are many different reasons why food ends up being in surplus. We now work with Unilever and other companies with the aim of saving larger quantities of food. We are actually using that model now in this time of crisis as many of these producers have even more surplus than before. Demand has fallen, and their hospitality customers have shut down, but they have already produced it.

One example is a cheese factory in Denmark that has over 80 tonnes of cheese in surplus. What do you even do with that when all the restaurants are closed and there is no one to buy it? To Good To Go put it on the platform and now there is a truck driving to pick-up points around Danmark with literally tonnes of cheese.

– Whether there is a crisis or not, we are looking for the food to be saved, but it has gotten a little more extreme during this time.

How do you think that the restaurant and food business is coping with this situation right now?

– It’s a massive exercise in agility and adaptation. But it is really critical for the whole industry to be so, and to support each other. Even before this crisis, many of these companies and business owners were struggling. Very few have the cash reserves to manage for many months more.

But at a time when conditions have changed, Too Good To Go has also changed. In just a few days, the platform was redeployed in ten countries and is today helping restaurants reach out with their takeaway food in a project called WeCare. 

– Many of our restaurant partners have moved towards takeaway as the only option to keep the kitchen open, and we have worked to support them by offering our platform for takeaway meals. At the core of Too Good To Go is to connect food and people on a daily basis.  Normally it is about surplus food but the platform works just as well for their normal food at the regular price, so we have told all the restaurants we work with that they can put their takeaway food on our platform free of charge.  We only need to cover our costs with this, so we don’t charge the extra percent that many takeaway platforms normally do. It’s a way for them to make up some of their lost revenue. We understand it’s not going to make up for all their losses, but we have to help our community, with the resources that we each have.

But of course, if the takeaway is up by 20 or 30 percent it can’t cut the losses when main revenue is down by 80. A lot will depend on how and when restrictions start lifting again and how fast the restaurants will get going.

– What I hope to see are restaurants opening up but with some distance restrictions, and that’s my best guess for what can happen based on where we are right now! In countries where governments are already talking about opening up again, this is what I think it will look like. I also hope so, because the industry needs some reprieve, and a chance to get back on its feet.

How do you think this situation will affect the sector over time?

– Sadly, many businesses will disappear. A lot have already had to shut down. There could also be a scenario now where fewer new restaurants take the risk and open up. I think that we, as citizens and business leaders, have now realised that there is this whole dimension in our world we never thought about before, and that this can happen again. 

How should small businesses act when an entire market and sector is paralysed?

– I’d have a bet with anyone that business managers around the world are spending a lot of time looking at their cash flow and trying to figure out how bad it can get while staying in business. If you have a small restaurant you are literally counting days. A lot of these business owners have their entire livelihoods riding on when this will pass, and if they think that’s a matter of months then sadly we’ve seen that it’s better for them to lay people off now. But if they believe they’re looking at a  shorter period, it’s better for them to take a help package from the government. It is a very tough choice we are putting on these people, a lot of pressure.

You are heading into the US, tell us more about this.

– We are heading into the States in 2020, but because of corona we have postponed the move for three months. It’s a weird situation right now especially since our launch would be in New York. Of course it depends on how things will develop in the next coming months, and we have to wait and see, but our plan is to go live in September. We’ll start on the east coast with New York and Boston, and then the idea is similar to what we did in the Netherlands and Belgium. Here we are about to launch in both a small and a large city and see what works and learn from that so that we can use that experience in the rest of the country. We haven’t named what will come after the US since that is such a big country, with big cities, and we almost consider New York a country on its own! I think the top five cities in the US are together almost like a country on their own. So the US is going to be our main focus in the foreseeable future!

You were also planning to enter the Swedish market this spring. How are you planning for this now?

– Sweden, like everywhere else, is now affected by the crisis, and although we had hoped to launch right about now, we will postpone for a month or so. We have to see day by day, week by week how things develop. It is very hard to plan right now for a specific date because it is not the way the world is operating. It’s frustrating for the Swedish team to not know an exact date, because we have been working hard with one date in mind and so looking forward to all the things happening then. But we are adaptable – we have to adapt and it will be fine.

Lisa von Garrelts

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