Co-op and Caboodle: New digital platform aims to optimise surplus food redistribution

The Co-op and Microsoft have this week launched a new digital platform designed to connect food businesses such as supermarkets, restaurants, and factories with community groups and volunteers who redistribute surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.

Dubbed Caboodle, the not-for-profit platform aims to tackle the estimated 1.1 million tons of food that goes to waste across supermarkets, manufacturers, restaurants, cafes and other food businesses each year at a cost of around £4bn.

A host of initiatives designed to ensure that edible surplus food is redistributed to food banks, charities, and households in need has led to a trebling in the amount of food being redistributed since 2015. But according to the Co-op there is still an estimated 200,000 tons of edible surplus food a year that ends up going to waste, compared to 80,000 tons that is redistributed. This waste mountain leads to increased resource use, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and additional costs across the food supply chain.

The Caboodle platform aims to tackle the problem by streamlining the process by which charity and community groups can collect surplus food, creating a single place where food retailers and businesses across the hospitality sector can connect with volunteers and community groups in every city, town, and village in the UK, so as to help them share food when and where it is needed.

“The amount of good quality surplus food that’s not currently being redistributed is astounding,” said Shirine Khoury-Haq, Interim CEO of the Co-op. “We’re currently trialling caboodle in over 100 food stores and the results we’re seeing so far are incredible. We’ll be rolling it out across our entire estate next month and hope that all other retailers and businesses within hospitality will see the benefit too.

“The more organizations use Caboodle the simpler and more effective it will be for volunteers and community groups to gain access to good food.”

The platform, which is currently being trialled in Co-op’s food stores in Northern Ireland, Milton Keynes and London, goes live nationally next month across a further 2,500 food stores. Community groups and charities across the country are being invited to register and will be notified when Caboodle is operating in their area.

The Co-op said that for supermarkets, cafes, and restaurants, Caboodle will mean they can share their surplus food online daily in an easier and more cost-effective way, using live notifications to alert charities when more slots are available. Meanwhile, community groups will have the opportunity to book and schedule collection slots, receive live notifications when new slots are available, and gain access to volunteers easily via a digital noticeboard.

The new platform was welcomed by Estelle Herszenhorn, food lead at WRAP, who said it would help build on the “success story” that has seen levels of redistributed food increase drastically in recent years.

“320,000 tons of food was saved from going to waste between 2015 and 2020 worth £1bn, and providing the equivalent of 220 million meals,” she said. “But much more good food is still going to waste that could feed people. Innovations like Caboodle that can help overcome common barriers and ease redistribution of surplus food are really exciting and have the potential to make serious inroads into the 200,000 tons that WRAP estimates could still be redistributed.”

The trial of the platform has been undertaken with support from environmental charity Hubbub through its Community Fridge Network. “We’re pleased to be supporting the development of Caboodle by providing insight from communities and trialling the platform with our Milton Keynes Community Fridge,” said Alex Robinson CEO of Hubbub. “We’re passionate about supporting initiatives that help reduce food waste and have a positive impact on the environment.”

In related news, supermarket Lidl GB todayt announced the launch of a new ‘Good to Give’ trustmark, which aims to help diversify and increase food donations so that food banks can secure access to a range of products.

Shoppers looking to donate to food banks can from today find the Good to give trustmark on shelves across all Lidl GB stores with the signage highlighting selected long-life items that offer a greater variety of nutritional benefits and which can be dropped at food donation points located past the checkouts in Lidl stores. The items will then be collected regularly by local food banks and community projects.

Separately, McCain Foods this week provided an update revealing that it has donated the equivalent of one million meals since 2020 by working with leading food charity FareShare to distribute surplus products.

“As a family-run business, helping local communities has always been a priority for McCain and we’re immensely proud to have reached one million donations to FareShare,” said Mark Hodge, marketing director at McCain Foods. “It’s a huge achievement for our business and our teams who have worked tirelessly to get the products to those in need during the pandemic. However, we must also recognise just how many people were in need. As families now manage the rising cost of living , our focus remains on supporting thriving communities, a key part of which includes our close partnership with FareShare.”

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