Every day, about one third of all the food produced in the world is wasted, or 1.3 billion tons per year, according to the United Nations. At the same time, one in every nine people across the world goes hungry. And if we saved just one-fourth of the food we currently waste, we could feed 870 million hungry people in the world.
Staring down this massive problem, the global home goods giant Ikea is working to cut the food waste at its signature cafeterias in half by 2020. On a weekday, an average Ikea restaurant usually serves around 1,200 customers, who line up for the Swedish meatballs and marzipan cream cakes. But with expectations to serve so many, it's easy for the cooks to over-prepare and pounds of food are thrown away at the end of each day.
Called 'Food is Precious', the initiative to cut this waste employs a smart scale that will measure all the thrown-out food at its 400 locations, and come up with innovative solutions to reduce that waste. Now whenever an employee throws out food, the scale will record the weight of that food. Then, on a touchscreen mounted near the trash, employees quickly record what type of food was thrown out. Employees can also enter the quantity of products being thrown out (like, for instance, hot dog buns) instead of exclusively the weight. In the end, the platform will figure out the cost as well as the carbon footprint of the overall waste, and over time, the patterns in the data will help the company implement changes.
“If we do see a significant amount of waste over a specific period of time–let’s say at 2:00 every day we’re wasting so many meatballs–then that says for us that we’re overproducing, and if we’re overproducing, then we can train our coworkers to minimize that waste,” Peter Ho, Ikea U.S. food sales leader, told Fast Company.
Ikea began rolling out the initiative in stores in December 2016. By May 2017, 20 percent of its stores had smart scales and had reduced nearly 80,000 pounds of food waste, saving the company more than $1 million. It’s now in the process of implementing the system in all of its 400 stores, which serve 650 million customers a year. A co-worker survey performed at the stores showed that over 70 percent of Ikea's kitchen staff was proud of the initiative, and 50 percent began taking measures at home to decrease their personal food waste.
In the past, Ikea had its employees track food waste by hand in log books, but it was difficult to be accurate and efficient. With the new goal of reducing waste by 50 percent, it made sense to turn to technology. In the U.S., Ikea partnered with LeanPath to produce and tweak the design of the digital scale to better suit the company's specific needs. In Europe, Ikea uses similar technology in partnership with the company Winnow.
"With the global reach of IKEA, we have a great opportunity to inspire people to think differently about food waste and incorporate sustainability into their everyday lives – true to the IKEA vision of creating a better everyday life," the company said in a press release.
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