A veteran in the business of food rescue is directing food away from landfill and back to the food industry. By Cassy Polimeni
Food waste has become an increasingly front-of-mind issue for both businesses and consumers in recent times, due to our growing awareness of its dire consequences for planet and profit. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.
Yume is an online marketplace for surplus food with a mission to create a world without waste. Founded in 2014 by food rescue veteran Katy Barfield, it allows food manufacturers and producers to onsell quality surplus goods to buyers in the food industry—hotels, restaurants, caterers—at discount rates.
“Products on the platform are considered surplus by suppliers due to cancelled orders, packaging errors, over production or they might be slightly out of spec,” Barfield says. “For whatever reason, the supplier can’t sell their stock through their usual channels and it becomes at risk of going to waste. We upload the product onto our platform (yumefood.com.au), for buyers to browse and purchase, so it’s a win for everyone—the supplier receives a return on their surplus, the buyer gets a great deal on a quality product and the planet benefits as we’re preventing food from going to waste.”
Yume is the culmination of Barfield’s combined experience working in hospitality and heading up food rescue organisations such as SecondBite—and with 600 buyers and over 150 suppliers, it’s clear she’s found a receptive audience.
“Businesses are more aware of food wastage than they used to be, and I think one of the biggest contributors to this is increasing food costs,” Barfield says. “As [Australian chef and media personality] Guy Grossi points out, ‘Every time you throw something in the bin, you’re throwing away money.’”
A broken system
Currently in Australia, 9.5 million tonnes of food are discarded each year, including 3.9 million tonnes from the commercial sector. An estimated 400,000 to 600,000 tonnes of that is quality food that could be salvaged.
Indeed, Barfield has spent much of her career trying to do just that, whether through providing food to those in need at SecondBite, or advocating for farmers and aesthetically imperfect produce through her other project, Spade & Barrow, which was sold to Aussie Farmers Direct in 2013. But it was Barfield’s stint as owner of a Melbourne bar that shone a light on the level of food wastage within the restaurant industry, and the limitations faced by those in charge of ordering.
“Businesses are more aware of food wastage than they used to be, and I think one of the biggest contributors to this is increasing food costs.”—Kate Barfield, founder, Yume
“I wanted to create something whereby we blasted through all of the product specification rules and regulations and enabled people to buy wonky carrots and curly cucumbers and give a fair price back to farmers—a whole crop approach,” she says.
“To do something at scale, you need technology. I wanted to leverage technology to solve the commercial food waste problem and that’s really how Yume was born. I wanted to remove all the bounces in the chain for surplus food. If a farmer has product, they should be able to sell it to the end user without all the bounces in between. Yume is about surplus product; it’s not about replacing distributors, we can’t do your whole weekly shop in one go. But what we can do is bring you salmon at half price that’s in perfectly good condition and we can do that because there’s been a cancelled order or an export that’s gone awry. We’re giving people access to product they would have never previously had access to.”
Yume went from idea to execution quite fast, Barfield explains. It started out as a B2C app—restaurants would upload their end of day product to sell to the public for 50 per cent off. “We realised we could have a much greater environmental impact and become viable more quickly if we moved further upstream,” she says.
“In the beginning, we sold wonky produce into restaurants like Añada, Florentino Grill, Bomba Bar and Pope Joan. Through these strong contacts with well-known chefs we were able to get introductions to other like-minded people, but it also came down to doorknocking and telling people what Yume was about. We hit the pavements in our local area and tried to engage people with the idea. It’s an idea that really resonates with people because it’s good for the people, good for the planet, good for the pockets, it’s really all good!”
Something for everyone
Among Yume’s early adopters were Sophie Gilliatt and Katherine Westwood of Sydney-based food delivery service The Dinner Ladies. The pair, who met at the school gate, began the business 10 years ago, creating home-cooked meals from scratch on two camp stoves in Katherine’s garden shed. They now have commercial premises in Matraville and a staff of 30.
“Dinner Ladies is quite uniquely positioned in that we can take advantage of what [Yume] has to offer because we can take things on in large quantities and—because our menu changes every week—we can put things on as a special,” says Gilliatt. “We love the whole idea of really good food not going to waste obviously, which is a huge issue, and having the savings passed on to us is tremendous also. When it’s good-quality produce and an ingredient we would be using anyway, why wouldn’t you use it? It makes sense on every level.”
For Katie Barfield, the message is simple: “If you want to save money, save the environment and have a real point of difference for your customers, give it a try. Yume offers businesses a point of difference because you’re doing good for the environment and that’s what the public want to see.”