Every year, one third of all the food produced in the world ends up in the garbage. At the same time, according to UN data, about 690 million people on the planet suffer from hunger, 8.9% of the total. Against this scandalous reality tries to fight the Zaragoza 'startup' 'Encantado de comerte', an innovative project that has managed to save 75,000 kilos of food through an 'app' that connects establishments with surplus products and users willing to get food in perfect condition at a much lower price, achieving a more respectful consumption with the environment. The initiative also collaborates with various NGOs to offer an alternative to vulnerable families, and has just been awarded by the UN for its clear commitment to a healthier, sustainable and equitable food system.
Its creators, two friends from Zaragoza and one from Madrid, decided to undertake this project when they realized that the problem of food waste could be solved with the help of technology. "The project was born from a walk through Brussels and seeing an establishment throwing away food. I was on my cell phone and saw a problem and a possible solution. When you see a problem and such a simple solution, it is a moral obligation to put all your efforts into developing that solution," recalls Enrique de Miguel, a physicist from Zaragoza who specializes in wind energy and one of the co-founders of 'Encantado de Comerte'. Enrique and two other fellow engineers, Gabriel Ramas and Adrián Espinosa, decided to take the plunge and at the beginning of 2019 they launched a mobile application to connect establishments that end up with surplus food at the end of the day and end users willing to dispose of it.
"Through the 'app,' establishments offer lots of surplus products in perfect condition at a much lower price. For example, a batch of bakery and pastry products whose original price is 8 euros in the 'app' can be found for 2.99. You don't know what you're going to get, because the surplus is variable, but you get a surprise pack at a much reduced price that you pick up at the store. They are products in perfect condition; we must not confuse surplus with waste", explains Enrique de Miguel, who stresses that this system benefits both the end user and the establishment, which achieves "extra profits, new customers and an eco-responsible image".
The project, which began in Zaragoza and Madrid, has already expanded to other Spanish cities, such as Logroño, Santiago, Vitoria and other Madrid municipalities, and already has close to 300 establishments signed up. The team has also grown and there are now eight people working on this initiative. "The idea is to expand nationally in the coming months, but also to increase the network of establishments. In Zaragoza we have around 100 and we would love to attract more, for example chains such as Martín Martín or Frutos Secos El Rincón," adds Enrique.
Buy what's right
In addition to the lots of surplus products, 'Encantado de Comerte' offers other alternatives to users, such as the 'Compra lo justo' packs, made up of fresh, non-surplus products with the exact estimated portions per person. The aim is to avoid excessive consumption and reduce food waste in Spanish households.
Solidarity is another of the pillars of this project, which also fights against the problem of food insecurity faced by many vulnerable families in Spain. It does this through collaboration with various NGOs and social organizations, to which it provides digital social coupons to be distributed among families so that they can purchase products in the app like any other user. Cruz Roja, Cáritas Diocesana de Zaragoza or YMCA are some of the organizations with which they have already collaborated.
The innovation expert coach Beatriz Romanos was in charge of energizing the meeting.
"The current solutions to help vulnerable families are food banks and redemption cards, but there is a degree of digitalization that can be achieved for the benefit of families and NGOs, and that is to integrate them like any other user so that they can access fresh produce on a weekly basis with a non-stigmatizing methodology that empowers and gives autonomy. When the user goes to pick up the products, no one knows whether they are in a normalized or food insecure situation," Enrique points out.
All these initiatives have managed to save 75,000 kilos of food since 2019 and have earned the project recognition from the UN. 'Encantado de Comerte' was the only Spanish startup awarded among more than 2,000 SMEs from around the world at the pre-summit held last July in anticipation of the first World Food Systems Summit, organized by the United Nations; a recognition that they have received with great enthusiasm. "When you are starting out, the problem is to know if you are doing things right. This is a very disruptive project that is not done anywhere else in Europe and having the recognition of an institution like the UN makes us see that we are doing things right and that this is the way forward," concludes Enrique.
Due to the fact that food is still largely unrestricted and easily accessible the need for higher food waste education is paramount. There are more and more initiatives like this needed to give leftover food to those in need.