About 40 percent of edible food in the U.S. is wasted. It’s a figure Too Good to Go, a mobile app that redirects uneaten food from retailers to customers—is on a mission to remedy. The company was founded in Denmark in 2016 and has since expanded to 17 countries. In 2020, the brand came to the U.S., establishing a presence in 13 major cities. 

“We’ve seen 3.1 million downloads in just two years, which for a consumer marketplace app is pretty substantial,” says Tyler Simmons, head of key accounts in the U.S.

How it works is restaurants and food stores join the app and post “surprise bags” that are made up of food that would otherwise be thrown away. Then, app users can log on and purchase those surprise bags for a third of the normal price. 

The app taps independent restaurants and chains of different sizes to get excess food into the hands of consumers. One of the lead selling points is the ease of which businesses can implement the platform—Simmons says the process does not change much from a single restaurant to a larger group. Businesses partnering with Too Good to Go first identify what food is surplus, check its retail value, and place it in a surprise bag for a third of that value. “Say you put $15 in surplus food in the bag,” Simmons says. “The user buys it for $4.99 through our app; the business gets money; the user gets a good deal; the world saves the C02 emissions from that food not being thrown away.” 

Too Good to Go also has an internal system that brands have access to, which manages inventory quantity. Partners can change the number of surprise bags available to be sold depending on how much surplus food there is each day. Every quarter, brands get a payment from the surprise bags they have sold to consumers on the app. 

Philz Coffee first partnered with Too Good to Go last winter, says Andi Trindle Mersch, the brand’s VP of coffee operations and sustainability. The coffee chain launched a pilot program with a few stores, then moved to a full-scale launch by March. “For me, that was super-fast,” Trindle Mersch says. “Having been here plugging away on the sustainability part of my role at Philz for years now, the work is very well supported in what we do but it also is hard to execute, especially when we’ve got retail operations spread across the country, things just take a long time.” Too Good to Go was an easier step to take. 

The partnership was facilitated by the brand’s first retail sustainability committee. Trindle Mersch was able to present the opportunity to committee members, who were excited about implementing the concept in its stores. 

Thus far, Philz has filled surprise bags with bakery items, but Trindle Mersch says she is looking forward to adding hot breakfast items. She says one added value to partnering with Too Good to Go is the extra data Philz is able to include in its food waste reports.

These internal food waste reports are produced every two weeks and include guidance for stores on what to order based on sales trends, Trindle Mersch says. With the new data from Too Good to Go, the number of surprise bags being sold at every store is also monitored. If one store is selling too many, it’s a signal that it may be ordering too much food, she says. Ordering too little food, on the other hand, leaves room for a negative customer experience. “You have to balance out that optimal customer experience with waste,” Trindle Mersch says.

“Too Good to Go, I would say, really gave us a very tangible, almost dramatic first step, that is actually easy to track and report, and got the whole company around the zero waste goal,” Trindle Mersch says. “It’s just really accessible for everybody across the company, both home office folks and retail folks—it’s really clear what we’re doing.”

DIG, an east coast chain with 30 units, is also working with Too Good to Go to limit its food waste. Cameron Bersh, manager of offsite strategy and operations for the company, was already a fan of the app before the brand partnered with them. “I’ve actually always been a very passionate Too Good to Go customer,” she says. 

Like Philz, the brand decided to test the waters first and complete a pilot in two of its New York City locations. Bersh says the brand really enjoyed the test run, citing the ease of implementation, and positive customer and operator feedback. This past fall, DIG decided to launch Too Good to Go with its entire system. Typically, each DIG location has a target of five surprise bags per day. “They know they are supposed to make those five surprise bags every day,” Bersh says. “They don’t have to actually check the portal or anything unless they are conscious of the fact that their waste is going to be either up or down. It’s quite seamless from the logistics perspective.”

DIG has been able to work with its operators by looking at internal reporting to gauge how many surprise bags they should be selling, Bersh says. It has been a way for them to engage with the platform. “I feel like the element of the product where the operator is able to add additional surprise bags has really generated a lot of buy-in from them—for them to be more conscious on a daily perspective of how much waste they are generating,” she says. “That ability to toggle upwards and downwards has been really awesome to see a lot of operators actively engaging with.”

Looking toward the future, Too Good to Go wants to expand its presence in the U.S. “Our goal is to be everywhere,” Simmons says. “Our aim is to be that channel for consumers to take action against climate change and against food waste themselves, by just buying a bag of food that’s delicious and well-priced. It’s creating this unique way for consumers to interact with businesses, and we’ve seen that be successful in the dense urban marketplaces that we’ve built as well as in the surrounding suburbs.” 

Story, Sustainability