Food loss continues to be one of the biggest problems impacting the global food industry, resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars of lost revenue each year. According to the United Nations (UN), at least one third of the food produced for annual human consumption (1.3 billion tons) gets lost or wasted.
Consider this, though: The UN also claims that if you were to reduce just one fourth of the food that gets wasted annually, you would have enough left over to feed about 870 million people.
This is an attainable goal. As an industry , it’s time we come together to eliminate waste and improve efficiencies. And technology — specifically apps — can play an instrumental role in making this happen.
Why does so much food go unused?
Food loss stems from a variety of different causes such as overproduction, rising quality standards, premature harvesting and consumer waste. Many of these challenges are beyond our control right now.
There is one major issue, however, that can be immediately addressed which is the lack of real-time communication and visibility across the highly-fragmented food supply chain. Farms and fisheries, restaurants, warehouses and distribution centers are all collecting data on their own, but most of it is living in stagnant spreadsheets.
Businesses need to put this data in motion by pumping it into apps that make it easy for end users like employees and supply partners to access, visualize and understand.
One way that businesses in the food industry can improve efficiencies and eliminate waste is by using apps. Apps can be used for a variety of important communications purposes, ranging from intelligent purchasing to fleet management and route optimization to scheduling and reporting.
What’s amazing, too, is that you no longer need to know how to code — or shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars — to build a high quality business app. Now there are low- and no-code app maker platforms that you can use along with the data you already have. You can design a robust app in as little as ten minutes, even with little to no experience. So businesses of all sizes, even small restaurants and farms, now have access to affordable apps.
One company that has had great success with an app maker platform is Montreal’s CHEF514, the brainchild of app maker Thibault Renouf.
CHEF514 is an app that brings together local farmers and connects them with chefs in their area — reducing long-haul food shipments, which produce a lot of waste, while also helping small farms get their produce to market.
As Renouf explained in a recent interview, there is massive consumer demand for local food. 77 percent of consumers, for instance, are actually willing to pay more for local produce. And there is even strong interest among chefs in Montreal to offer local food.
The challenge for many chefs, though, is finding nearby farms to consistently do business with.
“I have spoken with countless chefs and owners who recognize the demand for local produce, but can’t easily connect with nearby growers in their towns or provinces,” explained Renouf. “This is what I am actively changing with CHEF514 — a restaurant app, built with AppSheet, that helps local farmers in Montreal to connect with chefs and bring their products to market in one centralized place along with fresh data, pictures and contact information.”
In many ways, CHEF514 is a labor of love — a “bootstrap” project with only a few team members. When the company first launched, Renouf didn’t have an app. He was simply communicating with local growers, asking them to enter data into spreadsheets and exporting the information to restaurants over email. This worked fine at first, until it became apparent, based on feedback from the chefs he was working with, that an app was needed to organize the data more effectively.
This posed a big problem, as Renouf didn’t know how to code or make an app!
Renouf didn’t have a budget so instead of hiring a developer, he went to the Internet, searched for no-code app platforms and wound up selecting AppSheet.
Using the platform, Renouf transformed his large database of farming information into a fully-functioning app that chefs could use to browse the local produce market.
Here’s how the process works:
Every week, Renouf simply sends out a newsletter reminding farmers who are using his service to update their inventories with information they want to share like prices, pictures and product descriptions. Then, he uses a Google Sheets add-on, Sheetgo, to consolidate the disparate spreadsheets into one master document which syncs with AppSheet.
Inside of the app, chefs easily navigate between different screens displaying vendors, products with detailed descriptions and even specials. There is even a map that shows where farmers deliver their produce.
“For farmers, all they need is an Internet connection and a Google account to use the service,” explained Renouf. “So it’s a very simple way that they can grow their business and expand into new markets. And for chefs and restaurant owners, the app eliminates the need to travel around to physical farmers markets or cold call businesses.”
This is very important, as his end users are busy farmers and chefs who have a lot of other responsibilities on their plates and need to take care of this process quickly.
One chef that is currently using CHEF514 is Andrew Gray of Montreal’s Café Guererro.
“For me it has been a fantastic experience so far, as I have been able to get a couple of contacts from local producers,” Gray said when I asked him about his experience using the app. “I have been using it for almost 2 months. I have discovered a local pig farm, and now have an entire pig delivered to the cafe every 2 or 3 weeks. We butcher the whole animal, which has been a lot of fun.”
Andrew also spoke about the experience of meeting and interacting with local farmers.
“I met a great farmer, Mathieu, who delivers produce on a weekly basis,” he said. “His produce is beautiful — super fresh and really flavorful. Also, it’s very reasonably priced (as is the pig). It has been great to offer our clients local produce, and they enjoy it a lot as well. So it has made our business better. Plus, the app is very easy to use, too. I love how the producers have been divided into different categories, which is very helpful when searching for products.”
One of the most interesting parts about what Renouf is doing is that he is proving that there is a market and a need for the services that he is offering. He is taking unique data, and using it to build digital pipelines between chefs and local farmers — something that had not previously existed.
It’s hard to overstate the value of this type of service for the global food industry.
“I would have never thought of tackling something like this without the help of a no-code platform like AppSheet,” said Renouf. “An app maker platform gives you the freedom to act like a technology company, without having to go out and hire someone who knows how to code. It’s a truly game-changing service.”
Praveen is CEO of AppSheet and full-time coder. Over his career, he has pursued the "dream" of declarative end-user programming in various incarnations. In a previous life, he was a CS professor at Cornell University. And in another previous life, he was a partner engineering manager at Microsoft in the SQLServer and Bing teams.