FoodCloud's local solution to a global problem

John Daly looks at the incredible tale of how FoodCloud has ensured 50 million meals have gone to people and not to waste.

Businesses across the world are throwing out perfectly good food every day, while charities in their communities are struggling to feed those in need.

This is a global problem, with 30% of food produced going to waste, which uses scarce natural resources and contributes to climate change. It equates to 1.3bn tonnes of wasted food.

FoodCloud is a social enterprise that matches businesses with surplus food to charities that can use it in communities across the UK and Ireland. Its technology solution connects retailers directly to local charities to donate surplus food on a daily basis. FoodCloud Hubs located in Dublin, Galway and Cork work with farmers, distributors and manufacturers to rescue large volumes of surplus food and redistribute to charities and community groups across Ireland.

Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward - FoodCloud co-founders
Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward - FoodCloud co-founders

As an Origin Green Partner, FoodCloud works with its members to provide them with a solution for surplus food, helping them reduce their impact on the environment and also to support the communities in which they operate.

At a retail level, FoodCloud works with Origin Green members Aldi, Lidl, Musgrave Group and Tesco to ensure that the surplus that arises in stores is donated to local charities.

It also works with members such as Kepak, East Coast Bakehouse, Glenisk, Lakeland Dairies and many more. In 2018, FoodCloud also collaborated with both a retail and food manufacturing Origin Green member — Meade Potato Company and Lidl Ireland — on an innovative project to manually ‘glean’ carrots and potatoes that were left in the field following the harvest.

It is hoped to expand this project to more growers into the future. There is enough food going to waste feed the world’s hungry four times over, while, at the same time, 825 million people around the world do not have enough to eat. One in seven people are experiencing food poverty. The UN stated that if global food waste was reduced by just 25% we would have enough food to feed all of those who are malnourished.

FoodCloud represents a local solution to a global problem.

Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward - FoodCloud co-founders
Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward - FoodCloud co-founders

Fight against poverty

Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward are FoodCloud’s co-founders.

“The idea of FoodCloud was born while we were in university and working on an innovation project,” Iseult explains. “We were shocked that 1 million tonnes of food is thrown out by Irish consumers and businesses every year, while 1 in 10 people are living in poverty.

We were determined to do something and came up with a simple and scalable solution — an app and platform that makes the redistribution of surplus food as easy as possible, matching businesses with too much food with charities in their community that have too little. Retailers and businesses use the app to upload the details of their surplus food, with local charities receiving a text message notifying them. The charity can then collect the donation and distribute it to the individuals they support

In 2014, they won €100,000 from the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland’s Impact Award, where the pair were described as “perfectly positioned to become leaders in the fight against food waste not just in Ireland, but around the world”.

The pair credit the funding, training and mentorship from SEI as having supported them through the ups and downs of the early years. “The Impact Award gave us credibility and helped us to spread the word about our work. It also gave us the opportunity to gain support from SEI’s network of business contacts. What started in Ireland is now expanding worldwide.”

Iseult and Aoibheann met as students in February 2012, when their shared concern about hunger and waste saw them collaborate on an idea that has since absorbed all of their energies.

By June 2012, they tested their fledgling venture in facilitating the first donation from the Honest 2 Goodness farmers market at Glasnevin to the charity, Don Bosco Teenage Care. Four months later, they oversaw the feeding 5000 in Dublin, with the collaboration of a number of charities. Realising they needed technology to make the process scalable and sustainable, they developed the FoodCloud app.

During 2013, they successfully pitched FoodCloud at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland’s first Minnovation Fund, a validation of the concept and their first funding. FoodCloud was subsequently accepted into the TCD Launchbox accelerator programme.

Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward - FoodCloud co-founders
Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward - FoodCloud co-founders

“Not all of this food is actually waste,” Aoibhinn says. “Large quantities are better described as surplus food — perfectly good food that, as a consequence of the modern food system, does not reach consumers and invariably ends as waste. Within communities across Ireland, food businesses frequently experience food surpluses while charities struggle to provide food for those who need it most. What drove us was the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be this way.”

TIME Magazine cited them amongst its list of Next Generation Leaders — individuals who “have not just succeeded in their fields but have also persuaded others to share their vision.”

FoodCloud also won the top prize in the food category of the Arthur Guinness Projects.

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