In the food industry there are a myriad of reasons quality surplus food might not make it to its destination: new marketing, cancelled orders, incorrect or damaged packaging, to name a few. This food is perfectly suitable for human consumption, but with no simple solution it would likely go to animal feed or lower down the waste hierarchy to composting or landfill. Enter Yüme Food: a business that has saved over 2 million kilograms of food from going to waste to date.
We caught up with founder and CEO, Katy Barfield, to learn more about the Yüme story.
After growing up in the countryside in England, with wildlife all around her, Katy developed a deep connection to the planet. “I was one of those slightly odd kids that would lie on their back in the garden aged five to just look at the stars for hours. So I've always been aware of how incredibly small we are on this majestic planet of ours.” While the environment was always key, the issue of food waste first came to front of mind for Katy when she owned an underground jazz bar in Melbourne. Witnessing the food waste produced by a single small bar, Katy realised there was a huge problem and a huge opportunity to transform the system.
This first-hand experience with food waste led her to be the founding CEO if the food rescue organisation, Second Bite and the idea of Yüme was eventually born out of this experience. As Katy explains, “I fell in love with the idea of preventing food from going to waste and equally fell in love with the idea of providing healthy food for people who couldn't afford to put food on the table. The two seem to be a natural marriage and off I went. But on my journey there, I did discover that there's a lot of businesses and farmers that really can't afford to donate, there's more food than we could ever imagine.So it needs a whole community of solutions. And it needs a lot of collaboration to solve this problem.”
Food rescue organisations, such as Second Bite, Oz Harvest and FoodBank, play a critical role in saving food from landfill and feeding those in need. However, some food is not appropriate for food rescue organisations and this is the gap that Yüme helps to fill.
"Second Bite was up and running, and there was a lot going on in food rescue. So I felt that I could step away and it was going to be in good hands and continue to grow and provide that service for people in need. But I wanted to go and explore other solutions for food waste, because I knew Food Rescue was not going to be able to do it all. There’s just too much. And there's a lot of product that's not necessarily suitable for donation. There's also times when people need to see a return on that product. I met farmers who were leaving their farm… because they couldn't make ends meet through their crops and specifications. So I wanted to find solutions for them as well. So that's kind of where the idea I guess the catalyst for Yüme came from."
Some producers are not in a position to be able to donate surplus food and need to see a return on that product while also reducing food waste — Yüme opens up a new revenue stream for struggling farmers and producers. In addition to this, some food isn’t appropriate for food rescue, think: pallets of ice creams taking up valuable and expensive fridge space that could otherwise be used for protein which is critical for a healthy meal.
Founded in 2014, Yüme Food’s vision is a world without food waste. Yüme exists to reduce waste by making use of quality surplus food. Every time a transaction happens on its online marketplace, quality food is being salvaged and used for its intended purpose: human consumption. Yüme is an online marketplace that connects businesses that have quality surplus food with those who can purchase this food.
In this country alone, we drive 561 semi-trailers of food to waste every day. And that's just the commercial industrial food space. That's not in homes; that's not hospitality; it's just coming out of manufacturers and not even leaving the farms — 561 semi-trailers a day.
A key to the success of Yüme has been the commitment to building trust for their buyers and suppliers and it hasn’t been an easy road. Katy understands that brand is critical and companies don’t want to compromise their brand. By providing a platform on which suppliers have full visibility of their products and where they go, Yüme has been able to gain the trust of their clients. Via the Yüme marketplace, suppliers can connect with each other and products are priced at least 20 per cent below wholesale price so it’s a win-win for business and the environment; suppliers are getting a new revenue stream and buyers are reducing costs.
The Yüme team has worked very hard to build relationships with stakeholders across the whole value chain, from producers, to manufacturers, to waste companies. One particular collaboration has been with waste management company Suez.
“Think about who actually moves the food when it's too late. Now, how did we get to it before that? I've been incredibly impressed with their ability to collaborate, because, really, what we're doing is stopping them getting the product [that] actually turns to waste. They’ve been really proactive,” Katy explains.
"I think if you look to collaborate with open arms to choose your partners carefully — make sure you've definitely got that values alignment and that you're both on the same page — then I think these collaborations can be really successful."
When asked about the barriers to starting Yüme, Katy shared with us that there has been four years of barriers, with every week bringing a new breakthrough.
Now, the system is working. Yüme has over 500 suppliers and over 3,100 buyers within the database and companies have changed the way they interact with the platform. Four years ago, they didn’t want anyone to know they were purchasing surplus food. Now, they are publicly pledging how much they intend to purchase from the platform.
After growing Yüme for six years, Katy had this critical piece of advice to share: “It's not easy. Take whatever advice you can, collaborate wherever you can [and] don't reinvent the wheel.”
To date, Yüme has saved over two million kgs of food going to waste through purchases on the platform and has donated over 20,000 kilograms of food to food rescue organisations. During COVID-19, Yüme has provided additional benefits as these organisations were able to spend grant money on the Yüme Platform, essentially getting more bang for their buck and, in turn, being able to feed more people in need. The additional benefit has been that food that has been stranded due to disrupted supply chains has also been able to find a home.
We asked Katy what action she would want readers to take, "Please stop and think where your foods coming from … Take a moment to think: ‘Do I really need to buy this imported product or whatever it might be? Do I really need to buy this perfect looking piece of salmon? Or, is there an alternative? Is there a more unusual cut of meat that’s more sustainable? Can I can I take a moment to look at if this fish has been sustainably caught? Can I take a moment to see whether I really need asparagus from Mexico or could I actually wait for the fabulous Australian asparagus to come into season? Let's support our growers, let's support our producers — people in Australia who make and grow our food."
If you are in the food industry, either as a business who has quality surplus food or as a business who may make use of this food, take a look at how Yüme can help you.