Food & Drink

This App Is Tackling Food Waste By Scoring You a Better Meal

Since its inception, Too Good To Go has saved hundreds of thousands of meals from waste.

too good to go app
Photo: Courtesy of Too Good To Go

Lucie Basch was not planning on saving the world. Before founding an app that aims to reduce food waste and saves both consumers and local restaurants, bakeries, delis, and fresh grocers money, she was—shockingly enough—working at the opposite end of the spectrum. 

“My education is [in] engineering. I was working for Nestle and I was on the production line to make sure that we can improve the process and really make sure that we can produce more food cheaper,” she explained about her beginnings in food manufacturing. “I realized that a big part of what we were doing was producing products that would never even make it to the shelves… I looked into numbers and I realized that today we throw away one third of the food we produce—which is completely insane on the global level and that it’s actually responsible for eight percent of greenhouse gases emission.”

The numbers weighed on her. Nestle is the largest food company in the world with ownership of thousands of brands, and although the company has promised to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, will it matter if the climate crisis has worsened irreparably? So Basch quit—though she doesn’t regret the time she spent at Nestle. “I guess the fact that I started in an extreme part of [the food industry] that I was really misaligned with kind of made me react a lot faster. I quit my job and I was like ‘I just want to put my energy into something that makes sense.’”

It was 2015, and that something was Too Good To Go. It’s an app that sounds a bit too good to be true, so simple and yet it had never been done before. The premise is this: Too Good To Go connects consumers with local fresh food sources—whether it be a bakery, sushi restaurant, deli, or salad bar—and hooks their user up with a surprise grab bag of food that would otherwise be thrown away by the end of the day. The leftover bagels that users can get are perfectly good and fit for eating, they just won’t be fresh or viable for sale tomorrow. And yet, they’re too good to go into the trash, hence the name of the app.

Too Good To Go started in Scandinavia, where Basch moved after leaving Nestle. After connecting with like-minded developers, a basic version of the app was launched at the end of 2015. It wasn’t intended to scale so quickly. “This mainly started as a project of us being pretty passionate [about] making a difference,” Basch explained. But then news started circulating about the app, investors approached, and Basch knew she was onto something. She moved home to France and brought Too Good To Go with her.

"We want Too Good To Go is to really be a win-win-win solution."

By 2016, Too Good To Go was in six different countries with six different teams. “It was really, like, bootstrapping at the beginning,” Basch said as she reminisced on attempts to save a mere $10 on flyers she had drafted. “But then, because we got so many users and so many stores that started to reach out, we said, ‘OK we need to make it proper.’” 

Too Good To Go united into one global team, launching in eight new countries throughout Europe. By that point, as Basch reviewed the numbers, she realized that with the help of the app, thousands upon thousands of meals had already been saved from the grim fate of decomposing in a landfill. She took her aspirations to the U.S.

Too Good To Go debuted in New York and Boston in late September, 2020, as the United States’ Covid-19 cases continued to spiral out of control. One of the industries most blatantly affected has been restaurants. According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly 100,000 restaurants in the United States have closed since the beginning of the pandemic, and more are certain to come with lack of governmental support. In addition to giving consumers a cheaper option to purchase fresh food and potentially try a new spot in their neighborhood, Too Good To Go also helps restaurants sell all their goods.

“We want Too Good To Go is to really be a win-win-win solution,” Basch said. Restaurants with leftover products can list their items on the app and a specific time of day for them to be picked up. “You’re never going to know exactly what you’re going to get because the baker, when he starts, he doesn’t even know what he is going to throw away otherwise he wouldn’t produce it. But you’ll know roughly what kind of products you’re getting.” 

Though consumers can’t specify what they want—so no insisting on an everything bagel instead of blueberry—they’ll still be able to snag an item that is, according to Basch, three times the value of what you pay for. There are also a couple of guardrails for consumers with specific dietary restrictions. “We added some filters for vegetarian, for vegan, for gluten free so that we can remove all the stores that [we know]... so you’re going to have a limited selection of stores [but] you know there won’t be any gluten [or] any meat for example.”

“When we started, the only ambition we had was to say, ‘Let’s stop throwing food away,’” Basch said. Now, 5 years later, the mission remains exactly the same and is embedded in every facet of Too Good To Go’s business model. “Our main KPI in the company is the number of meals we save everyday [and] that’s directly linked to our revenue,” Basch explained. 
 
With more than 700 employees known as “waste warriors,” 50,000 restaurant partners, and over 28 million users across fifteen countries, Basch and her crew are showing that it’s not only possible to create a sustainable business, but it can be profitable and beneficial to all. “Today, in all our countries with Too Good To Go, we save more than 130,000 meals,” Basch said. “It’s really showing that when everyone acts at their own scale, then we can really make a massive difference.”

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Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn