This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s May issue.
The fast and the fresh
Toronto’s Josh Domingues is taking on the mounting food waste problem, one purchase at a time
When Josh Domingues learned $31 billion worth of food—35.5 million tonnes— is wasted in Canada each year, while more than 850,000 Canadians rely on food banks and one in eight families live with food insecurity, he knew he had to do something.
Encouraged by his sister, a chef, to dig deeper into the issue of food waste, Domingues uncovered more startling facts. “The statistic that really changed my life was, ‘If international food waste were a country, it would be the third-leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions behind the U.S. and China,’” he says.
“When food gets thrown out it ends up in a landfill, it gets covered with garbage, and when it rots it doesn’t have any oxygen, and produces methane gas,” explains Domingues. “It started me thinking about how much the average grocery store throws out, and I found that it’s anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 in food a day. That [wasted] food is anywhere from two days to weeks before its sell-by date.”
All this would prompt Domingues—a former CHL hockey player who was working as a financial management consultant for professional hockey players at the time—to switch career paths in 2016 and launch Flashfood. The free mobile app connects grocers offering discounts on perishable food with consumers looking for ways to stretch their food dollars.
“We’ve basically taken the discount rack and put it on your phone,” says Domingues, adding that the aim is to offer a triple-win situation for grocers, consumers and the environment. “We want to reduce food waste, so we want to partner with grocers to help them reduce their shrink while providing consumers with significant discounts on their food,” he says, “and we want to do that with as many partners in as many countries as we can.”
Once consumers download the Flashfood app to their smartphone, they can browse participating grocers’ fresh food items (uploaded daily and usually discounted 30% to 50%), make the purchase online, and pick up their groceries in-store at a Flashfood Zone refrigerator. The average online sale is $10 to $15, while shoppers typically spend one to two times that on other in-store goods.
As of this spring, the Flashfood app had been downloaded approximately 80,000 times, and Domingues says more than 75% of the groceries available on the app have been sold, diverting more than 50,000 pounds of food from landfill. “We’ve given operators a simple opportunity to drive new customers in and make more money, and we’re taking away the excuse for dumping tons of food every week,” he adds.
Since officially launching in 2017, Flashfood has worked on pilot projects with grocers such as Longo’s and Farm Boy; while those didn’t all result in long-term partnerships, the company has received numerous accolades (including Canadian Grocer’s Generation Next award, which Domingues won in 2017).
The founder admits there were hurdles to overcome. “Our biggest challenge initially was that some operators were looking at [Flashfood] as a threat, because they thought that it would make it look like they weren’t ordering optimally and moving product through efficiently,” he says. “But the reality is that this is such a difficult problem that no matter how good your ordering, shrink is always going to be an issue at grocery stores.”
While Domingues believes the Canadian grocery industry has been slower to embrace digital technology than in the United States—where Flashfood is currently doing trials with retailers such as Hy-Vee and Target—he does see that changing. In February, for instance, Flashfood announced a partnership with Loblaw, which included a rollout at 140 of Loblaw’s Maxi and Provigo stores in Quebec. Flashfood also announced it had received an investment from U.S. venture capital company General Catalyst, allowing it to grow from eight to 21 employees and expand its reach.
“We have an opportunity as a grocery industry to be the leading country in the world for dealing with food waste,” says Domingues. “We all have a responsibility to do better at solving this problem.”