Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Feeding People in the Cloud

by Roger Gordon
Supermarket Rescue
You are at the supermarket when your phone buzzes with a text message: “Can you take three crates of apples to the fire station near your home?” It happens about once a month, ever since you downloaded the food rescue app and went through the online food safety training. The produce manager knows the apples won’t sell so she’s posted them on a bulletin board that's like Craigslist or eBay, but for food. You take a quick mental inventory of your trunk and press “OK.” Tomorrow, kids will be able to pick up breakfast on their way to school. Later that evening, you see a thank you note from the principal on your Facebook wall and the next time you go shopping the checkout clerk hands you a coupon for a free latte at Starbucks.
Supply Chain Rescue
You’re a food bank manager, it’s past midnight, and you can’t sleep. Christmas was weeks ago and donations have dried up but you still have families to feed. Your Facebook “fresh produce demand” status has been set to “High” for the past two weeks. Then, you get a text message asking whether you can open your warehouse an hour early to accept three tons of carrots that were rejected by a distributor because they weren't straight enough. You got the call because your warehouse is near the Interstate and has capacity and because you have a good record of showing up on time. You hit “OK." 

You and the driver immediately start receiving live updates of each other’s positions on your phones. You can see, for example, that she’s about to get back on the Interstate. Later, after inspecting the shipment, you hit “Accept.” If the food had been spoiled, you could have accepted it for composting or as animal feed and charged the shipper a disposal fee. As the driver climbs back into her truck, she receives an electronic coupon for a steak dinner donated by a national restaurant chain.
Restaurant Rescue
You see the linen van pull up and walk to the freezer. As the driver carries in fresh tablecloths and napkins you carry out trays of surplus inventory from the past two nights – wholesome food that never got served. The exchange made, the driver presses “Pick Up Complete” on the food rescue app on his phone. In a minute, it will tell him where along his route to drop off the food. Your Yelp and Facebook pages will be updated as soon as the delivery is made and tax documents will be e-mailed to your bookkeeper.
Special Event Rescue
It’s been a very long day but it’s finally over. The wedding went off without a hitch and everyone had a good time – only one thing left to do before you make your escape: You give the caterer the nod. He does a quick inventory, enters some numbers on his phone, and presses “Ready for Pick Up.” Volunteers from the local shelter have been on call to pick up any unserved food. It’s Saturday night and they have been busy. One van is on Restaurant Row and another is at the stadium, where the game has just ended. Choosing a food rescue-certified caterer didn't cost you more but it did make the evening end just right.

Next 3 Blogs …
Liability    Why the Good Samaritan Act doesn't go far enough and what charities can do to protect their donors better.
Logistics  Why hunger activists and waste entrepreneurs need one another more than they think.
Taxes       How a one-page letter from the IRS could make Section 170(e)(3) of the Tax Code a significantly more powerful food rescue tool.
Roger Gordon is president of Food Cowboy, a new technology firm that provides logistics support to food donors and charities. He founded the company with his brother, Richard, who has been transporting fresh produce and managing truck terminals for 25 years. Roger holds an MBA from Kellogg and a law degree from Georgetown and worked in catering throughout law school.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Simple Hi-Tech Solution to Retail Food Waste

by Roger Gordon
19 days.
That’s how long it will take food companies to waste as much food as they donate this year.

In all, they will throw away 34 million tons of good food – including enough fresh produce to feed 50 million elementary school students every day of the year. But don’t blame them, blame us.
Unlike consumer food waste, which is a behavioral issue, commercial food waste comes down to logistics: Food is expensive to move. If it can’t be sold, it can’t be transported far.
Supermarkets reject thousands of deliveries of wholesome but cosmetically imperfect food every day because they know it won’t sell. Truckers who get stuck with them don’t have time to search for food banks – and food banks, with their forklifts and 18-wheelers, are not well equipped to go out and get them. That task is better left to small food pantries and “food rescue” groups that can take the food right to where it is needed. But they can be hard to work with, especially for national retailers.
Technology often offers solutions to logistics problems like these. It allows Zipcar to satisfy the short-term private transport needs of many people using relatively few cars and it lets Uber take the guesswork out of taking a taxi. So what would a technological solution to food waste look like? Actually, we know the answer because it is already here – in pieces.
Yelp matches diners with restaurants. OpenTable helps restaurants manage reservations. Foursquare alerts shoppers to nearby last-minute deals. Google Maps helps get them there.
If we can use technology to get people to food, we can use it to get food to people.
For the past year, a small team of food, transportation and technology experts has been developing a system called Food Cowboy that integrates technologies similar to those mentioned above to help truckers find food banks, make it easier for supermarkets to coordinate with charities, alert rescuers about available donations, and help them plan efficient pick-up and delivery routes.
Food Cowboy can also be used to rescue food from dining halls, schedule pick-ups from catered events, and route spoiled food to composters instead of to landfills. The system will have built-in quality control features and can even keep track of the miles truckers and volunteers drive (or bike) and offer them rewards points. Participants at this spring’s Food Waste Solutions Summit at Stanford will get to try out the system and offer their own ideas.
There is no denying that we are wasteful. But we are also caring and resourceful. So let’s get“Stop Wasting Food” crossed off our lists this year. After all, we have all the tools we need right in our pockets.
Roger Gordon founded Food Cowboy in 2012 with his brother, Richard, who owns a small trucking company that specializes in transporting fresh produce. The system is being designed by Northern California-based Claresco Corporation. Roger can be reached at (202) 677-5601 or roger[at]foodcowboy.com.
If you’re interested in becoming a food, logistics or technology pardner, drop us a line.