FoodCloud is an innovative social enterprise aimed at reducing food waste and tackling food poverty.
by Julia Migné
Born out of a collaboration between Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien, FoodCloud connects retailers who have surplus food with local charities in the UK and Ireland using a unique software platform. Since its launch, FoodCloud has redistributed the equivalent of 8.5 million meals. We met with Iseult Ward, co-founder of FoodCloud to learn more about their projects and hear about their upcoming plans.
INKLINE: How did you and Aoibheann O’Brien come up with the idea of FoodCloud?
Iseult Ward: FoodCloud started when I was in university 4 years ago. I learned that globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted annually, which is 30% of the food that is produced. At the same time, 1 in 7 people don’t have enough to eat. I was shocked at these statistics.
That year, I met my co-founder Aoibheann O’Brien at an event about social enterprise. We were both passionate about food and finding a sustainable solution to solve the considerable social and environmental issues of food waste and food poverty while also building strong community relationships.
IN: How did you go from a small-scale redistribution between the Honest2Goodness farmers market and a local charity to a national-wide scale?
IW: After we established the first relationship between the farmer’s market and a local charity, we began researching how technology could enable these local relationships to work at scale. We started using an app to connect businesses with local charities so that good food could be rescued within communities. We then approached retailers with our solution and Tesco became the first to agree to a trial. A few months later, we had a contract with Tesco to expand our solution to every Tesco store in Ireland.
Now, four years on, we can appreciate the impact FoodCloud has started to make, having worked with over 3,800 charities and 1,000 stores across the UK and Ireland.
IN: How did you manage to get massive retailers such as Tesco on board?
IW: Our experience has been that people who work with food do not like to see it going to waste. When we first approached Tesco, they were immediately interested in trying our solution. We worked with Tesco during the trial to ensure that it worked for their stores and their local charities. Once they saw the huge potential impact they could have by donating their good surplus food products to local charities we began to work on plans to work with every Tesco store across Ireland and now the UK.
Our aim is to make donating surplus food as simple as possible for food businesses so that every business with surplus food can feed people and not bins. Our platform allows ‘smart donations’, donations enabled by technology and supported by people – technology with a human heart!
IN: How do you pick your retailers and charities’ partners?
IW: Businesses and charities can sign up through our website or over the phone. We work with a wide variety of charities and not for profit community organizations that use food. We would also like to see all food businesses donating their surplus food to ensure that no good food is going to waste where there are people that are going hungry.
IN: Did you or Aoibheann have any experience in creating apps before starting working on FoodCloud?
IW: Although from business backgrounds, we were also tech enthusiasts, and we reached out to an organization in Chicago (Zero Percent) who were developing an app to facilitate local donations. We learned a lot from this organization, it is amazing the support you can receive when you reach out to an international community of tech enthusiasts who are motivated by creating a positive social and environmental impact.
IN: How did you manage to develop your project while studying?
IW: I was in my third year in university when we started working on FoodCloud and Aoibheann was working on her masters. It was difficult to balance studying and trying to set up FoodCloud at the same time but we also had the benefit of having access to resources through the university. We started FoodCloud as part of Enactus and then as soon as I graduated secured a place in Trinity’s first accelerator program for start-ups, Launchbox.
IN: How did you get the funds to develop your project?
IW: FoodCloud is a non-profit social enterprise and funds its operations by charging retailers for the service it delivers. Any additional revenue is re-invested in the organization so that we can constantly improve our platform and the service we provide.
We have also received some grant funding and won awards which helped in investing in the technology and building our expertise, particularly in the beginning.
IN: What has been the most challenging aspect of this FoodCloud journey?
IW: When we first started, donating surplus food to charities wasn’t a common practice in Ireland so there was a lot to learn about what works and what doesn’t. We really relied on the first businesses and charities that signed up to give honest feedback and work closely with us while we developed and perfected the model. At the beginning, it was great to see the positive impact we could have even on such a small scale, and this inspired us to do more.
IN: What are you most proud of?
IW: The impact that we are seeing from rescuing good food in communities and donating it to charities across the UK and Ireland. This food is redistributed to partner charities that provide critical services for youth, homeless as well as in childcare, addictions, domestic abuse, education and unemployment. This food allows many of our partner charities to reduce their food bills and redirect resource towards their core services. To date, the equivalent of over 8.5 million meals have been redistributed to people who need it across Ireland and the UK.
However, food is more than sustenance. It has amazing powers to bring people together. We hear stories every day from our partner charities about how the food facilitates conversations, inclusive activities and events and even friendships.
IN: What’s next for you and FoodCloud?
IW: In 2016, FoodCloud grew from 200 donating stores to over 1,000 across the UK and Ireland. In 2017, we want to continue to expand with retailers across the UK and Ireland and also the wider food industry in Ireland through our newly established FoodCloud Hubs.
FoodCloud’s vision is a world is where no good food goes to waste and we want to continue to expand our solution to communities internationally.
IN: Finally, what advice would you give to readers who want to become social entrepreneurs?
IW: Focus on the problem you are trying to solve and not your solution. Your solution will always need to change and adapt as you learn more about the problem you are trying to solve.