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U.K. Startup Curbing Food Waste Gets $3.3 Million for Expansion

  • Winnow's smart scale promises to cut restaurant waste in half
  • Venture firms Mustard Seed, D-Ax lead Series A funding round

Would you knowingly throw money in the trash? Of course not. But that’s essentially what most restaurants and caterers do every day, collectively squandering billions of dollars each year by tossing away perfectly good food, said Marc Zornes, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Winnow, a London-based startup whose technology promises to halve food waste in commercial kitchens.

Winnowsaid Wednesday it raised $3.3 million to fund its expansion. Mustard Seed, a U.K. venture fund dedicated to social and environmental impact investing, led the Series A round along with D-Ax, a joint venture between Swedish retail group Axel Johnson and Recapex, a Nordic early stage investor. Both Mustard Seed and D-Ax previously provided seed funding. Jeremy Oppenheim, who leads consultant McKinsey & Co.’s Sustainability and Resource Productivity Practice Group, and Alan Parker, former chief executive of U.K. hospitality group Whitbread Plc, are also Winnow investors.

Winnow CEO Marc Zornes
Winnow CEO Marc Zornes
Source: Winnow

Zornes is an American who spent most of his career in the food business, first with U.S. food wholesaler C&S Wholesale Grocers and then as a consultant to the food, hospitality and retail sectors with McKinsey in London. He left that firm to start Winnow in May 2013.

“At McKinsey, I just came to see the extent to which food waste is an enormous economic opportunity as well as an opportunity from an environmental perspective,” he said. “And yet few companies were doing anything meaningful about it.”

Prompting Change

Winnow provides kitchens with a large electronic scale where produce is weighed and its software provides chefs with detailed reports about what’s being wasted and why – and how much it’s costing the operation. Most commercial kitchens either don’t track this information or do so using antiquated pencil and paper methods, Zornes said.

Though Winnow doesn’t tell the kitchens what to do, simply making chefs aware of what their kitchens waste prompts changes, Zornes said. Chefs can redesign their menus, change how frequently they rotate their inventories and even alter how they present food on the plate to lower waste. These changes can, according to Winnow, increase kitchen gross profit margins by between two and six percentage points – a huge difference in an industry where net profit margins are usually between five and 15 percent.

Industry Attention

Since its debut, Winnow has installed its smart food waste meter in 200 kitchens, including those of French hotel group AccorHotels and U.K. food service provider Compass Group Plc. as well as the Winchester branch of environmentally conscious celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Canteen

Winnow’s customers pay an annual subscription fee based on the number of installations and the size of their kitchens. A basic setup of a single smart meter in a small restaurant kitchen costs between 1,000 ($1,400) and 2,000 pounds, Zornes said, with expected annual savings of between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds.

Estimates of the cost of food waste are massive. In the U.K. alone, some 700,000 metric tons of food and drink from the hospitality sector is discarded each year at a loss of 2.5 billion pounds, according to a 2013 study conducted by the charity Waste & Resources Action Programme. Worldwide food waste accounts for about $1 trillion per year, or one percent of global gross domestic product, Zornes said.

Changes in the corporate catering industry, that shift more of the food costs onto the caterer, have also highlighted a need for more efficient use of food.

Zornes said Winnow will use the funding to continue to improve its software as well as growing both in the U.K., and with some of its larger corporate hospitality clients, internationally. The company currently employs 15 people but will expand to 20 over the next few months, Zornes said. 

“We are building a company that can solve this problem on a global scale,” he said.

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