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App used globally to reduce food waste launches in Minneapolis to help restaurants sell their extras

A store manager says the app has lessened the stress of wasting food, while an expert says it could be taking surplus food away from households in need.

Backstory Coffee Roasters joined the “Too Good to Go” app last month.
Backstory Coffee Roasters joined the “Too Good to Go” app last month.
MinnPost photo by Liv Hines

Backstory Coffee Roasters in Minneapolis’ North Loop used to throw out extra muffins, croissants or danishes after closing. 

To prevent that, Backstory last month joined an app aimed at decreasing food waste by helping restaurants market and sell the extras. The “Too Good to Go” app has helped Backstory sell “surprise” bags of four to six pastries at a discount, said Kinsey Johnson, who has managed Backstory since it opened in October 2022. 

“Management is a little daunting to not have any waste and still order enough to be profitable,” Johnson said. “It’s OK if we have a little extra because now people will be eating it.” 

Since Backstory joined the app in September, the transition has been smooth, Johnson said. The app fit into the shop’s routine and employees felt comfortable with the new process. 

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Backstory has sold one “surprise bag” a day, but is planning to sell more since they have been selling out, Johnson said. The coffee shop has saved 26 meals since joining the app. 

Consumers can use the app to find and buy surplus food from 55 local businesses in Minneapolis, said Allie Denburg, the U.S. head of strategy and planning for Too Good to Go. About $15 worth of surplus food is packaged and sold for $4.99. 

The app has been available in the U.S. since 2020 and has saved more than 7 million meals across 20 cities, Denburg said. 

“Too Good to Go” started in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2016 and has expanded to 17 countries, Denburg said. The app has saved more than 250 million meals globally. 

“It’s been amazing to see the demand for this solution across the country,” Denburg said. “We’re continuing to accelerate that growth so we can be something that businesses and people are using to save meals anywhere.”

Besides Backstory Coffee Roasters, other Minneapolis businesses that have joined the app include T-Rex Cookie Kitchen, The Buttered Tin and Mama Sheila’s House of Soul, Denburg said. 

One researcher who studies the food waste crisis and potential solutions said the app has some merit when it comes to saving food that would otherwise be thrown out. 

“A concern I have as an economist is what are the unintended consequences?” said Bradley 

Rickard, a professor in food and agricultural economics at Cornell University. 

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For example, Rickard said one solution to reducing food waste is giving extras to those in need, specifically by donating to food banks. The Too Good to Go app instead is giving food secure households meals at a discounted price while businesses profit, he said. 

Between 30 to 40% of food purchased is wasted, not including inedible parts of food such as peels and bones, Rickard said. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated 66 million tons of food was wasted and 60% of the total waste was sent to landfills. Different categories of food, like fruits and vegetables, are wasted more than others. 

A contributor to food waste is date labels, Rickard said. Consumers interpret “best by,” “use by” and “best if used by” differently without knowing what these labels mean. 

Date labels are supposed to tell consumers that after a certain date the quality of the food will deteriorate, Rickard said. Consumers won’t be sick if they eat the product one day past the expiration date. More concise date labeling is another possible solution to food waste, he said.

Most waste occurs in food secure households, but it is difficult to get an accurate number, Rickard said. People don’t want to admit they waste food.