Where Does All the Food Go?
We’re in the midst of a global food waste epidemic. The latest statistics show that over 1.3 billion tons of food is thrown away or wasted in the supply chain; an estimated 40% of that food waste comes from the United States of America alone.
We chatted with Hannah Dehradunwala, CEO of Transfernation, an on-demand food rescue system based in New York City, who is transforming the way food donation works.
Read more to hear about how Transfernation is taking a bite out of food waste:
FLIK: Tell us a little about Transfernation? What inspired you to start the company?
Hannah: I think it started off with my own personal frustrations with food waste. When I started college at NYU, I was part of an events committee that was in charge of planning and hosting events for the freshman class. It was difficult to tell how many people would end up showing up to the events and we'd, inevitably, always end up over-ordering. It was also our job to clean up so at the end of the night, we were always faced with the same problem; how much could we take home? Who's turn was it to take the food outside to Washington Square Park to try to find people to eat it? It was incredibly frustrating because I knew that there definitely were people and places that could make use of it, I just had no idea where they were, how to find them, or how to get it to them. There weren't any resources or services that existed that I could use to redistribute it easily. In my sophomore year, my Co-founder and I came up with a very basic idea for a food redistribution system that specifically targeted catered events and cafeterias- spaces in which there is usually large amounts of excess prepared food. A version of that (a highly iterated, infinitely more sophisticated version) is Transfernation today.
FLIK: Why choose NYC at your HQ location? How has Transfernation expanded over the years?
Hannah: It just happened to be where we were based, but it actually worked out to be the perfect place for us to test our pilot. NYC is one of the most dense cities in the world and Transfernation's model is built to work in cities with a robust transportation infrastructure and high business/population/soup kitchen density. We were able to work through multiple models in a very short period of time to see what worked best and I think we were able to do that because NYC has so many transportation options; We started with volunteers on foot, graduated to bicycles, then to cargo bikes, and eventually settled on a combination of cargo bikes and cars. In the last two years, our client base has expanded from 4 to over 65, we have a partnership with one of the largest catering delivery infrastructures in the U.S., and our iOS app enables us to be the only food rescue organization on the east coast that has the capacity to rescue and redistribute catered food on-demand.
is food recovery so important? What repercussions do we face as a society if we
ignore the world’s food waste and hunger problems?
Hannah: At the end of the day, food waste is a sunk cost. It's money down the drain for a product that was produced, but not utilized. So it's not only a waste of resources that is detrimental to the environment, but it has the potential to affect a company’s bottom line. Food recovery not only helps bring money back for food that would have otherwise been garbage, but also fills a need for a population on the other end of the spectrum: food insecure individuals and families. We’ve seen, over the three years that we’ve been operating, what an incredible difference good food makes. And people notice; If quinoa and greens start showing up at soup kitchens, the people who frequent these programs for their daily meals take notice and it contributes to their overall nutrition.
Food waste is a problem that is constantly being created and it isn’t, by any means, slowing down especially in cities. There is no way to completely eliminate overproduction. If we continue to operate without measures that are simultaneously working to redirect extra food towards where it can be used, we’re not only unabashedly and knowingly wasting, we are causing harm that will be very difficult to reverse in the long run.
FLIK: Is there a “busy season” for food recovery? How does each season differ in regards to recovery?
Hannah: The holidays (October-January) is usually our busiest time, given the number of holiday parties, gatherings, etc. that are taking place. That’s also usually the time when people are encouraged to give, so we generally see a spike in donations. Our goal is to make this consciousness more year-round than seasonal.
FLIK: What is the greatest challenge you face as a business leader?
Hannah: Our process brings together three very different populations/demographics: corporate hospitality, rideshare, and public feeding programs. Balancing the needs and expectations of each equally, very different from one another, has definitely been a challenge. It’s like working with three different worlds.
FLIK: What’s next for Transfernation? Do you have plans to expand into other markets?
Hannah: Boston and Washington DC by the end of 2019!
Let’s talk statistics:
- Since founding Transfernation, how many lbs of food have you recovered?
- >600,000 lbs
- On average, how many lbs get recovered each year?
- >250,000 lbs
- Can you provide any stats on your work specific with FLIK Hospitality Group? We’re big fans of your work and love partnering with you!
- As do we! 2016 was our first year working with FLIK and 8 units donated over 42,000 lbs. In 2017 we had 16 units donate over 81,000 lbs. And in 2018 we had 18 units donate over 102,000 lbs. This food has collectively served over 230,000 meals to food insecure New Yorkers.
What We Were Talking About in 2018: Baked Falafel
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