Foodcloud’s Silver Linings

 From left: Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward. Photos courtesy of Foodcloud.

From left: Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward.
Photos courtesy of Foodcloud.

Are you a charity that would put a supply of free food to good use? Does the talk of the copious amounts of food wasted in our society while you are working with people in need infuriate you? Contacting Foodcloud could be the answer.

You may be shocked to hear that there are one million tons of food wasted in this country annually. Non-profit organisation Foodcloud are taking steps to combat this. Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien are two Irish entrepreneurs who met in college while studying Business and Economics when their mutual ideologies and complementary skillsets brought them together to form Foodcloud. Here is how it works.

Businesses such as supermarkets, hotels and restaurants are unwillingly throwing away tons of food due to unpredictable demand levels. When they sign up to the Foodcloud app they upload the details of their leftover food, which is accessible to any local charities that are also signed up to the app. They receive a text message when there is a local business with available food for collection, cutting down on the waste disposal bill for the business and utilising much-needed nourishment at the same time.

Adrian O’Sullivan manages the Stillorgan branch of Tesco and spoke to NewsFour about the role that the retail chain plays in the initiative. “Iseult presented the idea to the team and we decided to trial it in a few stores. It’s been a huge success.” Stillorgan has been taking part for a number of months now and the amount of businesses involved is growing. The obvious benefits to businesses are the reduction in food disposal costs. O’Sullivan says they are throwing away considerably less food and that notable savings have been made on waste disposal.

The Stillorgan and Merrion branch work in tandem with each other, covering alternative nights and this would be duplicated in other stores around the city. There are two main in-store teams involved with implementation: the fresh team and the stock control team. The stock control teams are responsible for best-before dates on food and labelling reductions accordingly.

If the reduced food has not been sold by approximately 7pm of that day, the stock control will prepare for collection by a Foodcloud volunteer. The majority of stock comes from the fresh fruit and veg section and breads and pastries. O’Sullivan tells NewsFour, “We make sure everything is edible and the ideal foods are freezable. The Tesco in Ringsend also takes part in the initiative.”

The physical benefits to charities and businesses are evident, but there is also an unexpected secondary benefit that is intangible. The feeling of getting resources directly to where they are needed has motivated those involved and the direct contact through the chain enables feedback on a regular basis.

O’Sullivan explains, “The stock control team is made up of young staff members, students and those suited to the evening hours, and they are constantly bringing back stories from the volunteers. It’s created a great buzz in the place. A perfect example is that one night we got a call from Niamh from Foodcloud informing us that there was no one available to collect the food crates and a colleague of mine offered to do the drop in his own car. That’s how involved they are.”

So why would someone volunteer their time to a project like this? NewsFour asked Mark Kennedy, who along with wife Sinéad Morley turns up every Friday night reporting for duty. “It’s the same reason why people go to great sporting events or attend congregations; it’s to be part of something that’s bigger than ourselves. Being part of something you have a connection with is what it is to be human.”

Crowdfunding launch at Trinity College Dublin. Pictured are: Aoibheann O' Brien, with Iseult Ward Co-Founders Foodcloud. Picture Colm Mahady / Fennell Photography .

Crowdfunding launch at Trinity College Dublin. Pictured are: Aoibheann O’ Brien, with Iseult Ward Co-Founders Foodcloud.
Picture Colm Mahady / Fennell Photography .

The connection to this cause is strong for Kennedy, who was previously involved in a similar project in Australia called Oz Harvest. That is when he made a decision that upon his return home he would seek out an Irish version and found Foodcloud.

Kennedy’s background working in the food industry meant he had an in-depth understanding of exactly what was being thrown away. “I am into efficiency in a big way and when you stop and think about the amount of energy that goes into producing the food it just doesn’t make sense to stand by and watch it being wasted.”

Kennedy is currently working on ways to link in Foodcloud with the company he is employed with, Absolutely Organic, and hopes to see the spirit of Foodcloud spread. As he says, “We are only scratching the surface.”

Foodcloud have an online app with a timetable of delivery slots for volunteers to log onto and input their names in available cells. They then pick up the electric car and head to the store that is donating the food, continuing on to the charity in question. Some charities have their own transport and do not avail of the volunteer service.

Kennedy is primarily delivering to two charities on the Southside of Dublin; one dealing with homelessness and the other a community centre with a list of approximately 200 families in need, who receive a text when the food delivery comes in.

Ward and O’Brien are perfect examples of modern day social entrepreneurs. They have taken their business expertise, created a successful model and applied it to a different situation, one that does not measure its profit by the amount of money it makes but by the volumes of food it saves and mouths it feeds in the process.

Foodcloud: the moral compass pointing to true success.

By Maria Shields O’Kelly