Estimates from ReFED’s Insights Engine show that consumers are the most significant generators of food waste, a conclusion that is echoed by data from EPA and WWF. This points to an enormous “remaining opportunity” of a large volume of food surplus that is currently unaddressed by the modeled solutions within the “Reshape Consumer Environments” key action area of ReFED’s Roadmap to 2030. This indicates that the area is ripe for innovation.
Yet at the same time, many consumer-facing initiatives are difficult to fund and implement, since they may require a behavior change, may not be profitable and/or lack a business case, and may go against established incentives of the food system. Put another way, there is a perception that funding consumer-focused food waste initiatives is risky. Tracking where funding has gone further shows that consumers remain an area that is under-addressed. Except for meal kits, private funding for consumer food waste solutions has been relatively low compared to solutions for other audiences.
To address these challenges, the first open call for ReFED’s Catalytic Grant Fund – launched last year to deploy recoverable and non-recoverable grants to support, replicate, and scale solutions to food waste across the food system – was focused on developing and scaling solutions to make consumer food waste reduction easy, affordable, and convenient. This April, with guidance from our Independent Review Committee, seven organizations were selected from the 280 eligible letters of intent and approximately 70 full applications we received through the process.
We were excited to see that these submissions were strong in quality overall, and they represented solutions from across the food system, offering windows into all the areas where consumers directly or indirectly influence what food is wasted. While we are in the process of analyzing the rich information that the submissions provided with the goal of sharing high-level learnings with the industry, a few patterns are emerging so far…
- Research and Education Proposals: We saw a diverse set of initiatives, from plate waste to tracking the impact of specific interventions on consumer behavior in controlled settings. This indicates that there is still a lot to learn about what causes consumers to waste food – and what can help them to stop.
- Localization and Food Hubs: This has been starting to pop up as a direct response to onshoring production and the goal of having a more resilient food system, including providing localized economic benefits and fresher food to those in close proximity. The food waste angle? Less transport means greater shelf life.
- Compost Haulers and Processors: Although many are looking to expand their residential services, increasing capacity requires a lot of capital, which is difficult for low-cash flowing operations to self-finance. Although there are government funding programs – like CalRecycle’s Edible Food Recovery Grant – there are limitations, such as structuring the funding as reimbursements, which requires existing capital. We also saw recycling organizations looking to fund creative ways to engage consumers, for example through technology, school programs, and more.
- Consumer Apps: Although we have seen widespread funding for and use of apps that empower consumers to purchase discounted food in retail or foodservice settings to prevent waste, the proposals included a number of other tech products that are aiming to give consumers more information about product shelf life and at-home inventory tracking/recipe recommendations. Many of these struggle with adoption but are making improvements to the products to reduce friction.
- Geographic Gaps: Many applications came from the states of California, New York, Washington, Colorado, and Massachusetts. We are not surprised, given 1) their relatively larger populations in terms of size and density, 2) policy environments that have been conducive to supporting the operations of food waste organizations.
In addition to these applications, we saw a lot of upcycling companies, in-home recycling (e.g., organics storage and grinders), technology for foodservice companies (think quick-service restaurants, buffets, cafeterias), as well as diverse initiatives from food rescue solutions (including infrastructure purchases, general ops, and new recycling programs).
Receiving such a large volume of high-quality applications showcased the incredible work being done in the name of food waste reduction, as well as the significant financial support still needed for shovel-ready projects. As such, we are planning for the Catalytic Grant Fund’s second open call – and actively seeking funders for contributions that can help develop and scale the next food waste innovation.
To learn more about how you can support the ReFED Catalytic Grant Fund, please contact Caroline Vance at [email protected].