How an app plans to save $165 billion in food waste

by Kate Rosow Chrisman
December 28, 2014

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GRUMBL networks with new friends over food

As kids, we were taught to clean our plates and recycle whenever possible, but over $165 billion is still being tossed out the door annually in food waste ($92.4 billion of that is commercial, meaning it is is unopened, uneaten, and edible). Many estimates show that 30 percent of food grown in the US will be trashed, in part due to imperfections (a slightly crocked cucumber instead of a perfectly straight one) or because it’s close to its expiration date.

It’s a big issue – for grocers, for consumers, and for the environment (food waste creates methane in landfills, contributing to climate change). Holly Jade and Zach Damato, co-founders of the startup GRUMBL, knew there had to be a way to not only solve this problem, but to monetize it.

There’s no such thing as waste

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“There’s no such thing as waste in his mind,” CEO Jade said about her co-founder and COO of the company, Zach Damato. That motto is carried over into how the two think about “food waste,” which is excess food supply that is still deemed edible. Think about that – as a society, we call something waste that is actually edible. 

When the two of them teamed up to tackle food waste, they looked at the current state of the market. Damato had built a very successful food distribution company and knew the market inside and out. They also knew the challenges retailers face in trying to sell items at a discount – it can weaken their brand name and cause extra work for their staff. Because of the costs associated with selling almost-expired or slightly damaged goods, most stores simply don’t do it. Growing awareness of the problem has funneled some of that extra food waste to donation sites, such as food banks, but much still goes straight into landfills. 

Their solution is an app that requires no extra infrastructure on behalf of the grocer, but gives consumers access to “flash-sales” or GRUMBL in the company's lingo (heavily reduced prices on food).  “This is going to be the norm of what happens to the excess food inventory,” Jade said about their business model.

The app works for both the grocer and the consumer. The grocer, realizing she has some goods about to expire, snaps a quick picture of it, posting it to the app with the reduced price.  Consumers in the area are notified of a flash sale (users must enter in their location and distance willing to travel); if a customer chooses to buy a purchase, the transaction happens online. The name of the store is then unlocked; the consumer goes to the store (providing the grocer with extra foot traffic) and shows a code when he checks out. The store doesn’t have to move the goods to a special section and the consumer is guaranteed a super-low price. It’s a win-win.

“We want to make it even easier for them to be making money off of this inventory than it is for them to be just giving it away, donating it or tossing it,” said Jade. 

Beta Launch

GRUMBL is looking to launch with select grocers in a beta test, with the app’s release date scheduled for Earth Day 2015 (April 22nd). Interested Chicago grocers are encouraged to get in touch with the company (at [email protected]). 

Mission and Passion

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Jade and Damato are passionate about solving this issue, both for a sense of social mission and wanting to find a market-based solution to a growing problem. 

Their devotion to the cause is clear through their attitude towards bringing in revenue quickly and fundraising.  “We care way more about the impact of what we are doing than just making a quick buck,” said Jade.  It’s a company where mission is just as fundamental to their thinking as the bottom line.

So far, the team has been bootstrapping. (They are serious here – Jade and Damato slept in a car when attending the 30 under 30 Forbes event, even shared their last can of tuna for dinner one night, while all the other attendees slept comfortably in hotel beds). Accepting seed money isn’t just a question of which VC firm can provide the right expertise, its also finding who aligns with their mission. 

The team is ambitious. “I want GRUMBL to be the solution for food waste, not only in the US but internationally,” said Damato.

Pitching to companies and consumers sounds easy when the team explains it: “We need businesses that want to make money on their excess food and we need users who want to get a deal on their food.”

Their next pitch? GRUMBL was accepted as a semifinalists for the Purdue business plan competition where a $30k investment is up for grabs. 

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