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Episode 40 Transcript: A Splash of Hope Against Food Waste

This is the transcript for Episode 40.

Episode 40 Transcript: A Splash of Hope Against Food Waste

MOLLY WOOD (Voice Over):
Welcome to Everybody in the Pool, the podcast for the climate economy. We dive deep into the climate crisis and come up with solutions. I'm Molly Wood.

This week … a little break from energy to talk about food … specifically food WASTE … which … as a refresher … is just an appalling source of greenhouse gas emissions … especially in the United States.

Something like 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the US alone is wasted, according to the FDA. That’s not just because we throw food away, although that is part of it. It’s along the entire lifecycle … production … processing … distribution … retail … and then yes … household waste.

The problems with that are … many. First … it’s WASTE! People are hungry and food is WASTED. Retailers, producers, and growers lose out on up to $161 billion worth of food every year, and meanwhile people in this country actually DON’T have enough to eat.

It’s a waste of the resources that were used to produce the food in the first place … water … energy … human labor … wasted.

Plus … food is a particularly bad thing to have end up in landfill … the way it decomposes produces methane … which we’ve realized in recent years creates MUCH more warming than carbon dioxide … even if methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as CO2.

All right, so … there are a lot of efforts to combat food waste … and in 2023, federal agencies released a roadmap for cutting US food waste in half by 2030.

And new companies and processes and gadgets are emerging all the time to tackle the problem at various stages … including … my guest today …

Hello, my name is Jordan Schenck. I am the Chief Customer Officer at FlashFood. We are an app-based marketplace that takes food at the grocery store that's getting close to its best-buy date, potentially in surplus, and we help them sell it for 50% off. So it's the best deal that you can get in a grocery store.

So how did you arrive at FlashFood? You've had a pretty interesting journey to where you are now, and I would love to hear how you ended up there and why.

Yeah, I initially started on the board at FlashFood, actually, and prior to that was at a company of my own that I co-founded, also within the food space, and then prior to that was at Impossible Foods.

So my journey, I would say, over at least the past ten years has been focusing on as many ways as possible that I can shake up grocery retail.

Many years ago when Impossible Foods sort of first came across my desk, it became very apparent that, at least from my point of view, the bulk of problems within our system when it comes to nutrition, food, climate change, waste, or any other part of every single sector come to a head in a grocery store.

And that effectively became an obsession for me. I've dove into it from a number of different companies, whether it's in the CPG space and now back in the software space.

But life's purpose is to fix it, to make it better. This is not going away.

So tell me more about the grocery store thesis. What is it about the grocery store that is so central to doing things right or wrong?

Well, the grocery store thesis in and of itself is an experience that humanity effectively evolved into thousands and thousands of years ago, stemming from the marketplace.

It's hardwired in our DNA to enjoy, to experience, to shop, to be a part of food in these very physical and visceral settings.

And even in many ways, you look at the introduction of mobile shopping apps, and it's all the same experience replicated nine times over and over.

So for me, I was like, what do I know is true to human behavior that's interesting that will never, that will always be there? We're not going to eat AI-generated food, right?

We're not at the Fifth Element yet. We're getting close, but we're not quite there.

I could not love that reference more, by the way. Love it. Love that movie.

laughs We're not there yet.

The good parts of grocery are the wonderful parts. It's the human experience, it's the expression of culture, it's at the center of taste, senses—it's all of these wonderful things.

If you look at the pandemic, it was the place where people not only had to go, but it was where you spent your time for fun.

And even in this time when you're dealing with hyperinflation and we still don't have a lot of places we can spend money, people still go to the grocery store to peruse a beverage aisle because we are just in love with shiny treasures that we like to consume.

It's a magical and wonderful place.

It's also a place, as you know, that has an insane amount of complexity.

There are so many hands that touch it, so many businesses, and vendors that engage with it just to get one thing on the shelf. And there are tens of thousands of things in a grocery store.

Everything that has happened in this orchestration of getting everything into that store has, I would say, probably a lot more good than bad going into it right now.

Not by anyone's malice, but we've just grown and grown and grown and grown in these systems.

You spend a lot of time in the climate change space.

We know that a lot of decisions that we've made over the years in this system have gotten us to a place where we're wasting a ton.

We're creating things in ways that have certain chemicals in them.

We're using old infrastructure to transport things places.

We throw away 40% of the food that goes into that store.

The whole thing is just, it's totally cuckoo.

There's a ton of good because it's beautiful, and it's the human experience.

There's a ton of bad because, as humans, we're not very organized and have historically never been that way.

And now we're in a situation where we've ballooned this out so far.


Which again brought me, like in the journey of everything, brought me to FlashFood because in many ways, as an operator in the food space, I found, you know, with my time with Impossible or even with my time with Sunwink, I was operating in a space of sort of creating more and more.

There was good and there's always good intention behind it, but it's still in that space of bringing more in when you and I both know that we overproduce 1,500 calories a day for every single living and breathing person on this planet.

Like, what is happening to where we continue to rev that cycle up, and yet more and more folks go hungry?

More and more folks can't afford food. Something is off, right? And that's just simple math.

I think your air mic sounds great. So I don't think you need to hold it. You can still talk with your hands.


Okay, so let's dig into FlashFood specifically and the problems that you're setting out to solve there.

I'll ask, of course, with a starting focus at least on climate.

Like, what are the climate impacts? You know, you talked about 40% of food being wasted.

We've dug into some of that on the show, but the more specific you can give us about all the ways that we have no idea how much food is a massive climate contributor.

Yes. And now you're making me wish that I had all of those statistics pulled up in front of me, because I pulled up some other statistics as I like stared at it.

But food, in terms of a climate contributor, there is the standard way, which is all of that food, depending on your statistic you look at, whether it's 32 to 40%, it's always in between, ends up in a landfill, right?

That's just what happens to it in that landfill.

We obviously deal with off-gassing, so you're just dealing with methane that's just going back into the atmosphere.

That's sort of like the most standard way to do it in terms of looking at the impact of food waste.

The other true impact of food waste though that I have in many ways found to be more interesting, it was even more interesting when I used to look at climate statistics for cattle when I was at Impossible Foods, is that the actual infrastructure that goes into producing that 40% that ends up in a landfill, like wasted water, wasted land, wasted CO2 emissions in transport, wasted labor—all of that waste is actually what we talk about when we talk about food waste.

It is actually the production that goes into it that we just willingly throw down the drain, which fundamentally is like multiples and multiples larger than even that of the entire cattle industry in and of itself, right?

You just think about the magnitude of it and the majority of what we see go down—not down the drain, more like to the landfill or what have you—is produce being your number one.

And that produce is an inherently resource-intensive process, water-intensive, land-intensive, packaging-intensive, transportation-heavy.

Most of our fruit does not come from the city that you live in.

There's so much that goes into that.

You've got produce, and then the next thing that follows it is usually meat in terms of size of waste, then dairy, bakery, etc.

It is the stuff that is heavily taxing on the system because it sits within the fresh infrastructure.

There is no LCA data out there that can accurately or even closely tell you what that is because it is insurmountable.

If you think of the number of inputs that would go into that lifecycle assessment, it's what the work of ReFED is really trying to do.

And you've got brilliant minds at MIT, and you've got these great people on it.

But no one could tell you exactly what that statistic is, other than it's the largest of them all, right?

And so that is what it is.

It's just a behemoth of impact.


You look at it on the other side, and this is where FlashFood comes in.

When we look at the problem, we really focus on, we understand, and you and I also understand as folks who have been in the climate space, like climate impact is the sort of outcome, but in reality, when we talk to our consumers and we talk to our retailers, like where the rubber really meets the road is regardless of the fact that we're seeing emissions issues, wasted energy issues, you also are seeing this sort of disproportionate amount of just general families fed.

So we look at it inherently through the caloric or nutrition opportunities that go in the trash, just outside of what happens to our environment.

Which in many ways, and I'm sure you've seen this more recently, so much of our environmental crisis is also deeply tied to the nutrition crisis that we see.

Just coming out of Capo and Davos this year, it was the first time I'd ever seen nutrition actually linked to climate change.

So that's becoming a much more popular dialogue because so much of this crisis perpetuates when you don't have systems set up to feed people well.

You often see that outcome in our children.

Children are put at a disadvantage in their lives because of their system that is not putting forward whole foods on our plates.

And so those two are inherently linked in terms of the success of an economy with that of what ends up on their plates and that having a direct impact on what we see in climate change.

So it's like the third layer of it, right?

Yeah, there's a massive equity issue.

There's adaptation.

You know, there's like as climate effects become more severe, we will see crop loss.

You know, it's really everything.

We're already seeing crop loss.

I mean, you come out of last year alone, and the losses you saw in our peaches didn't exist last year.

I don't know if anyone wholly noticed that.

But that large portion of our peaches are produced in the South, and they didn't come to fruition last year due to various challenges.

And you see that same thing within berries out here as a very common one that we often see.

We often don't realize it because we still exist to some extent in this sort of hyperabundance, but we're already seeing it.

It's alive and well, and it's only a matter of time before it isn't just this one fruit or that one fruit.

You're going to start seeing within our lifetime a number of things that, like you walk into a grocery store and 25% of it just won't be there.

MOLLY WOOD (Voice Over):
Time for a quick break.

When we come back, yes, we are going to talk about SOLUTIONS.

I know we're getting down the rabbit hole of kind of a freaking bummer.

Before the break … a resource … you heard Jordan mention ReFED, which I urge you to check out.

It’s a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to quantifying food waste, moving money in the direction of solving it, and cataloging solution providers that help reduce waste.

It’s very cool, and you should check it out at r-e-f-e-d dot org.

Okay, back in a bit.

MOLLY WOOD (Voice Over):
Welcome back to Everybody in the Pool.

We're talking with Jordan Schenck, the Chief Customer Officer at FlashFood.

We've teased you long enough with this mention of 50 percent off groceries, so let's get into the solutions!

Yeah. Okay, let's talk solutions real quick.

We'll pull back from the brink a little bit.

So you were saying that you had been involved in startups that were creating something new and then thought, "Okay, wait a second, there's actually still this massive opportunity in just not wasting," which is so interesting because it's a huge parallel with the way we talk about energy to how energy efficiency is this really boring topic that no one really wants to think about, but it's like a four-to-one impact.

You take one little action, and you have four times the reductions than you would have by, I don't know, getting yourself an EV.


So then the question is, sorry, I asked a million.

Unfortunately, I'm like, "You're so fun. Let's just chat."

So the question is sort of what brought you to that realization and then to FlashFood.

I think that there's no, this is where it's like, there's no art and science, right?

There's no science that was like, "Okay, now I see this clear bit of information," because we know the information is super muddled.

It was more so just the instincts of it.

I think what was amazing about what we were able to do at Impossible in terms of starting this explosive movement in at least the financial sectors and then eventually in the consumer sectors around like, how do we create more?

How do we make the cheese meltier? How do we make the bacon crispier? How do we make the texture texturer?

That just exploded.

How do we make sure that we have enough fermentation capacity?

That ballooned and ballooned and ballooned, which was incredible in the context of finding solutions that eventually get close to mimicking animal farming.

What it made me realize as a human being was like, "Wow, we just created a lot moreness."

As I started my own business, like even seeing, I worked in the beverage space.

The beverage space couldn't be more hyper-competitive, more of a space of moreness.

It was almost like I went from moreness to even more of a moreness.

And then, like in many ways, as an individual, I fatigued myself with seeing all of that.

That was when I met Josh, who's the founder of FlashFood.

He told the earnest story of his similar story of seeing all this abundance go through and all these things go to waste.

And once you get under the hood of it and you really see the manufacturing, it's like, "Man, that's a bummer."

And then you layer it up to the very simple statistics, and the statistics have even gotten worse in terms of food accessibility in our country, even in this inflationary environment.

I was like, as a human, and then I became a mom.

As a mom, you naturally are like, "Even more so, like, this person needs to get set up for the future."

But we still can't seem to get it together to make sure that we aren't throwing stuff.

The whole thing was very human.

There was no data behind it.

Yeah, yep.

I know a founder who refers to waste as our "stupidest problem."

Waste is our stupidest problem. We should not be throwing away calories. That's bananas.

No pun intended.

No, it's just, it's one of those ones where you go like, "Oh, that's intellectual. Let's make it intellectual and talk about the why."

And it's almost like, but we shouldn't even have to make it intellectual because it's common sense.

When I look at the businesses that are in upcycling or are in the waste world, they're also ridiculous business opportunities because it's arbitrage.

It's stuff that's practically free that is now moving through some system with some price tag put on it that it would ultimately have not had and would have been a cost.

It's almost like common sense.

For me, I come in it as a marketer, right?

And I get really excited about, and I would say early brand person trained by nature.

I get very excited about making consumer demand around things that are seemingly unattractive or seemingly in the shadows.

In the early days of Impossible, when I first came into it, there were...

The market around that was like Gardein and all of these different products that didn't have this moment in culture.

And the ability to start to shape that was really exciting.

And I think waste is almost overdue for that same moment where we can bring it to the forefront of culture.

I compare it a lot to, I'm sure you've seen amazing comparables like Depop's resurgence of vintage fashion with a young generation that will not buy things at face value anymore gives me a ton of hope for what we can do within this same space.

As someone who's like, "Let's build a cultural moment around it, and that cultural moment is now because we've got finally the right things bubbling."


So tell me where that, before we talk more about the actual solution, where does the waste happen?

Where is the key arbitrage opportunity in grocery that you've identified?

It's in, I mean, for us, where FlashFood sits, we sit at the grocery level.

The way a grocer works is every day, they're oftentimes multiple times a day, looking at their inventory at the store level and pulling what's either nearing its best-buy date or at its day of sale because there are regulations in terms of when they can sell it, how long they can keep it on the shelf, and all the logistics.

Or they've received a—there's no more space in back of house.

They've received more inventory, and they've got to move it.

That is the food that we end up— instead of the grocer taking it to the back and it goes out to landfill, they'll take a picture of it or will work within their inventory systems, and they list it on our app.

So that's where the waste is coming from.

Everything we touch is what's happening at a store level.

I'm sure you've seen there are a lot of other solutions out there that see it at the supplier level, right?

"I didn't get my order of apples," or some of the others are like, "The produce isn't pretty enough to make it to the store."

There's a lot of other folks that are pulling it out of the equation.

We pull it at a store level.

And seriously, stores just throw it away?

I have to double-click on the idea that stuff goes out the back of a store on the sell-by date and goes to landfill.

It does.

Depending on when they interject, you'll see certain things in store programs like yellow sticker programs.

Oftentimes, you'll see them do hyper-discount programs.

You've experienced that, I'm sure, in the store.

It's one of those systems that you're not really aware of unless you're walking the aisles.

What's cool about FlashFood is that a grocer is able to take that same inventory and effectively run it through us.

Their brand image is preserved, and we ping it out to thousands upon thousands and thousands of people and let them know that, "Hey, your local Meijer just posted some amazing stuff."

So folks turn on, and it actually creates that sense of FOMO, ephemerality, because when it's gone on our platform, it's gone because the nature of it is that way.

But yes, to answer your question, that's where it goes.


It would otherwise get thrown away.


So the way I use this as a consumer is I sign up and see what retailers are on the platform in my area and get pinged that I can go down and get some bread real quick?

That's how you would use it.

Yeah. Okay, when did it launch?

Do consumers pay? How do you get paid?

It's a free app launched in Canada about seven, seven and a half or so years ago, all over Canada.

Came into the States on the better half of a couple of years ago.

We're mostly available in the Midwest, Northeast.

We are coming to California in just a few weeks, which is really exciting.

It's a completely free app.

Effectively, anything that is in your area is there.

We've got items listed for at least up to 50% off at a minimum.

You can oftentimes find even deeper discounts when you get onto the platform.

Everything you find, these incredible produce boxes that are oftentimes just the most food you've ever seen in a single produce box.

Typically, the grocers will build out a whole meal around it, or sometimes it'll be like 100 oranges for however many dollars.

Then you have a lot of meat, etc.

Depending on the retailer, we also accept SNAP and EBT on the platform.

Folks processing payments that way are able to do it, and we accept all payments otherwise.

You shop the app. You pick it up in your grocery store.

You can finish your shop in the grocery store, and you go from there.

It's all packaged up and ready for you to grab when you get into the store.


I assume you take a cut and the grocery store gets a cut of food that they, like you said earlier, would otherwise not be selling.

Yeah, so it must not be, other than I would imagine the labor involved in going at the store level, it doesn't feel like it would be a hard sell for the stores.

It's not in many ways because it's a software function.

I think the biggest thing like any new technology in any space, like the education is, "How do we rethink our day in terms of where food goes in the store?"

Instead of in the morning taking the produce or whatever to the back to go out the back, we scan it in and pull it up to the FlashFood zone.

So that's sort of the area that we spend a lot of time on, helping with that training side of it because it is different.

As a business, from a tech standpoint, we have our consumer-facing product, which is what you engage with on the app.

Then we also have our retailer tech, which is how we engage with their handhelds or inventory management systems.

And that all connects back to the backend of our product.

So there's a bit of stuff that goes on there, but by nature, we're a software company that layers on top of what they've already got going.


And then I feel like I could hear someone asking me, in service of the equity question, "Why couldn't that food be donated?"

It's my understanding it can't, right? Because of expiration dates being what they are?


So there's the food that's donated, and then there's the food that's the "day of" food.

Typically, the food where we come in is that food that's very much so at the end of its time.

Oftentimes, what you'll find is food will move through a lot of layers before it gets back into the donation system.

We work closely as well with various banks and every place we go to assure that even at the end of life in our fridge, we're getting that back out as much as possible.

So we, you know, as a business, focus on assuring that we're zero food left in the fridge.

But yeah, to your point, there's the time issue, the type issue, and the sort of gaps in distribution that you often see from a food collection standpoint in donations because trucks, for the most part, aren't there every day within the context of a grocery store.

Those distribution systems haven't quite caught up yet.


Then talk to me about the decision, the store-level solution versus a supplier.

Why go store-level versus supplier?

Store-level right now for us has been where the innovation has happened, I would say.

I don't think there's a world in the long future where we wouldn't look at ways to engage with a supplier, but for us, building a grocery out has been most important because, again, a part of where the rubber meets the road for our mission.

I think a lot of the folks that work at the company are like, "How do we move the grocery industry along with us to sort of see this vision of families fed and no waste out there?"

So that's been our positioning since the beginning.

There's just a vastness of opportunity.

There are 50,000 retailers in the States alone, just in terms of where to go.

That's not even including the hundreds of thousands of doors that come with that sort of reality.

For us, there's a lot of opportunity that we could really dig into.

I think the other part of it is when you go—like a lot of our business—how do you get to speed and scale?

FlashFood didn't have to fully build a distribution network.

When you start getting into supplier side, you're becoming a grocery, whether it's a digital grocery or in and of itself.

For us, it was really about how do we leverage the systems that exist now so that speed is on our side versus having to think about it as a true-to-its-form digital grocery store.

We wanted to be able to create something that could move as quickly as possible to solve the problem.

So that's the—yeah.

Yeah, that's a huge point, the fact that the distribution already exists.

People just go to their local store to get stuff that they might already be there for anyway.

With the recognition that these stores are your customers, is the grocery industry historically resistant?

I mean, I know that there's a lot of power in how things have always been done.

I think that grocers, and you've seen it in some of the largest, like the Krogers of the world—zero hunger, zero waste.

Albertsons has been very forward on it.

Obviously, there's the relationship there.

A number of others have made it a part of the corporate mission to focus on food redistribution and zero waste, which has been great to see.

I would even say more so these broader commitments have happened in the past five years, starting right before the pandemic and the pandemic really accelerating that with everything that we saw.

Great grocery businesses are very margin-thin.

So they always have an eye on opportunities to bring money back to the bottom line.

I mean, they're big businesses, they move a lot, but they're moving a lot of stuff that, like I said earlier, there's a lot of logistics that go into it.

There's a lot of speed that needs to happen with it.

There's a lot of, we're still figuring out even how to properly plan the show, which is where we end up with waste.

So they're on board.

I mean, it's a win-win and a win.

They're on board.

It is.

But like with anything, it just comes down to how our business works in terms of where do we sit in the sum total priorities for a retailer.

I think what's been great about even us coming in at this point and the partners we've worked with is there's a tremendous amount of interest for the product.

A lot of it is on the speed at which we can scale to meet them, to bring that data in, and to build the products to ingest them, which is a good problem to have.

It's a tiring problem to have, definitely.

We're just coming out to the West Coast in just a few weeks.

It almost feels like it's been a million miles away.

I'm based out West, so I've been lonely without my FlashFood zone out here for a bit.

I'm getting very, very excited for that moment.

Yeah, I mean, now we can turn to the consumer and as somebody who is an avowed deal queen—talk about the opposite of a green premium.

There is no reason for anybody to care about waste, equity, methane from landfills.

You're just getting a screaming deal on food.

And that's the value proposition, right?

I think so much of—and this is probably me coming at it from having been a marketer in that space—is that over the years, the promise of green, right?

"It's gonna save the world, it's gonna get there, it's gonna be affordable."

The McDonald's straw isn't gonna melt inside of your milkshake.

All of these very real promises have been met with these truths that consumers have now that haven't been as true as they once were.

I think consumers have gotten a lot smarter with what it is.

The space is a lot more crowded, and nobody has beaten commodity goods.

What is so cool about FlashFood, and I often say this, but you can't say it—you can say it to folks like you and I having a conversation, and I'm sure folks that are listening—there is nothing out there in tech that is beating a commodity good in food.

We're still thinking that we can launch products that cost more than grass-fed beef.

That is not how you change the world.


You change the world when you are able to fill the plates of all of your low, fixed, and middle-income families first and foremost.

Not the 4% of people that choose to do it and also happen to know what a cold plunge is, you know?

Oh my God, the Venn diagram of climate-conscious consumers to cold plunge has to be almost a circle.

It's a circle.

Yeah, that hurts.

Now to be fair, 4%, you better do your jobs. You better adopt.

That is your job.

Otherwise, you're a climate criminal because you make it cheaper for everybody.

But also make it cheaper for everybody now.

It's for everyone now.

So I think that, to me, as someone in the space who's growing something, felt incredibly rewarding.

Because it's also very hard for me to sell promises that are years and years and years out versus let's talk about the here and now.

And the here and now is you get the feeling of abundance.

So many customers on our platform haven't experienced that abundance of food in a really long time.

Let alone the dignity of being able to walk into a regular grocery store and pick up your groceries.

That value proposition is extremely sticky for at least, I know myself and others at the organization who do the work.

But it's very cool to be in the space where impact is the outcome, but also where we hear these stories of people feeding their kids great food.

They saved $1,600 last year, and they fixed their roof.

They bought their kids a few more school supplies.

It's these simple trade-offs.

To me, that's the true reward of impact.

Because no one will ever see the sum total of climate.

It's a giant, amorphous thing that we're all trying our best to figure out.

We're fighting on Twitter about whoever's jet is in current violation of what-have-you or X, excuse me.

But like, we won't know.

But what is cool about this is you do know because the mom of three not only could she buy the full week's worth of groceries for $15, but she also got to buy some dragon fruit because her kids have never tried dragon fruit.

She would have never taken the risk to spend $6 on a dragon fruit outright.

But it was a dollar on the FlashFood app, and she was able to grab it and see the fun and experience of that.

That's the fun stuff.

That's amazing.

That is the perfect place to end this, Jordan.

Where can people find FlashFood?

You can definitely find FlashFood in the Midwest.

You can find FlashFood in and around the New York City, Connecticut, Philly, Massachusetts areas.

And you will soon be able to find FlashFood in Northern California in just a few short weeks.

If you're in Canada, we're all over Canada, and you can find us there.

But there's so much more to come, and that's exciting. Exciting times.

MOLLY WOOD (Voice Over):
Sometimes the simplest solutions are in fact … the simplest solutions.

I'm always talking about LESS on this show.

I love this idea that instead of creating MORE NEW THINGS to solve our problems, we can start by just throwing away LESS and USING more of what we have.

Making sure everyone has enough cheese before we go off and invent a whole new mousetrap.

That's it for this episode of Everybody in the Pool. Thank you so much for listening.

Email me your thoughts and suggestions to in at everybody in the pool dot com.

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Thanks for all you do, fellow swimmers. See you next week.

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