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HeroGo steps up fight against ‘ugly’ food waste

UAE food waste
The online delivery service is cutting food waste by selling surplus produce discarded by supermarkets and hotels
  • Revenues up 55%  
  • Food waste contributes to 8% of emissions 
  • UAE aims to halve waste by 2030

HeroGo, an online delivery service for “ugly” or surplus produce, is planning to cut food waste beyond the UAE via partnerships with supermarkets and hotels, its founder reveals. 

“To have the biggest impact we need to be in multiple markets, so we’re in talks to expand in the near term,” HeroGo’s Daniel Solomon tells AGBI

“We’re looking across the Middle East and Africa at which countries have the highest volumes of food waste and the strongest agricultural systems to ensure we can go as local as possible and avoid the impacts of importation.” 

Since launching in 2021, HeroGo has worked with UAE farms and wholesalers to distribute boxes of surplus fresh fruit and vegetables to subscriber households, via its online delivery platform. 

It started offering corporate subscriptions this year, supplying boxes to multinationals including HSBC, TotalEnergies, Arla and Signa Group. 

HeroGo currently has 7,000 subscribers and recorded a 55 percent annual increase in revenues in January.

The company says to date it has achieved a saving of 142,340 kilograms of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) that would have been emitted had the produce gone to landfill, and 98 million litres of water – equivalent to 30 Olympic-sized swimming pools. 

HeroGo UAE food wasteHeroGo
Daniel Solomon, founder of HeroGo

Now, HeroGo wants to go further.

“Food waste is everywhere, so everywhere is an opportunity,” says Solomon, adding the company is close to signing several deals with brands it cannot yet name.

It is in talks with supermarkets to identify other food staples at risk of disposal and add those to its delivery service.

The company also plans to sell boxes to the hospitality, restaurant and catering industry to help the sector reduce its environmental impact.

By the end of this summer, HeroGo aims to diversify its offering beyond fresh fruit and vegetables to the dried and non-chilled food sector.

It will then look to expand to other segments, including dairy and frozen food, with the goal of listing at least 3,000 items on its platform, from a few hundred now. 

“There is so much surplus that goes unsold in supermarkets, either because the huge apple stacks remain untouched, or produce comes in and fails to meet the superficial standards of looking perfect, or because it’s seasonal produce, for Christmas, Eid or Ramadan,” says Solomon.

“And if it’s not sold after a few weeks it goes in the bin.” 

Referring to the UK practice of placing stickers on food reaching expiry and selling at a discount, he adds: “We’re not a great yellow sticker society in the UAE and we’re really missing a trick of creating that extra demand.” 

“Ugly food” is an established concept in the UK, US and Europe, where supermarkets habitually stock misshapen but fine-to-eat products at lower prices, to reduce waste.

It is less common in the Gulf, where high average incomes make consumers less likely to pick imperfect-looking or otherwise surplus food to cut costs. 

Emirates aims to halve food waste

In the UAE, 3 million tonnes of food is wasted each year – around a third of all food grown in the country – according to the UAE’s National Food Loss and Waste Initiative (Ne’ma).

The country aims to halve food waste by 2030 in line with United Nations goals. 

HeroGo agreed with Ne’ma in December to jointly explore ways of changing consumption patterns and reviewing the grocery ecosystem to tackle food waste, which the UN says accounts for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

HeroGo also works with the UAE Food Bank to distribute two meals per box sold to low-income workers and others in need. It says it has provided 50,000 meals to date.   

Research from the UN World Food Programme shows that acute food insecurity – when people lack access to food – has risen every year for the past four years to reach 258 million in 2022. 

With the war in Ukraine pushing up food prices and more recently India imposing a ban on exports of non-basmati white rice, prompting inflation fears, the situation is unlikely to change soon, according to Solomon.  

“Some of our targets are around making food more accessible to people. Our technologies allow us to procure and distribute food at a lower cost, passing on a 40 percent saving to customers. Sustainability doesn’t have to be costly,” he says. 

In the wealthy Gulf it is harder to persuade people to change their behaviour than in poorer countries like Egypt or Lebanon, Solomon adds.

Plus, hospitality – providing large meals, such as iftars – is deeply rooted in the culture. 

“We’re not saying people should stop having big dinners, but if we are cautious we could have a lower impact, for example by having a set menu rather than a buffet,” he says. 

New regulation would also help. In France, Solomon notes, supermarkets are penalised for throwing out food, and rules around expiry dates have been relaxed to push liability from seller to consumer. 

“The key is to make everyone aware there is a use for that surplus and we must work together to find it.”

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