I have an obsession: yellow stickers.
As any bargain hunter will tell you, there is a particular thrill to be had in a supermarket reduced-to-clear section. Rooting through yellow-label items like a truffle pig, beating other eagle-eyed shoppers to the best bargains, can be, by far, the most enjoyable part of my weekly shop.
Bread for 20p, mince for a couple of quid – if you time it right, the discounts can be substantial, which makes a yellow label obsession perhaps understandable.
But the benefits go beyond mere penny-pinching. The amount of food wasted in the developed world is a moral scandal and its impact on the environment is a disaster.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year. And according to WRAP, the UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme, each year the world economy loses US$984 billion a year due to food waste.
While buying up food otherwise destined for landfill is a tiny step in the global scheme of things, it’s a shift in the right direction for consumer behaviour. But it’s hard to know where, and when, to find the biggest bargains.
Yellow stickers, which are slapped on anything from a damaged tin of beans to over-ripe tomatoes, can appear on any food product, at any time. Some days, savvy shoppers will hit the jackpot. At other times, all the food is frustratingly full price. But what if you could remove the guesswork and know exactly what cut-priced food was on offer and where?
Cue Gander, the world’s first mobile app designed to empower consumers to reduce food waste and save money on their weekly food bill.
Launching Gander in the Channel Islands
Since first being rolled out across Morrisons Daily in the Channel Islands in July, the app has had nearly 8,000 downloads locally. Its regional success means Gander is now available to use in Iceland and Checkers Xpress in Jersey and Guernsey, as well as Le Cocq’s Stores in Alderney.
“There’s a very, very active user base in the Channel Islands. Maybe the small travel distances makes popping to the shops much easier, but there are islanders who use it consistently. In Morrisons Daily, 150 people will engage with products on the app per day, and most of these people will buy four or five reduced items”, explained the app’s founder, Ashley Osborne.
“The Channel Islands has a really high sell-through rate for reduced products. It could be that islanders are more conscientious consumers, or perhaps they just love a good deal”.
Jersey throws away an estimated 14,000 tonnes of food waste per year, with Guernsey households faring better at an estimated 4,200 tonnes of food waste in 2018, thanks to a huge overhaul of the government’s waste and recycling services.
Gander aims to make a difference to food waste by matching up reduced items with the islanders who want to buy it. It does this by displaying a shop’s reduced-to-clear food in real-time by linking with the store’s point-of-sale (POS) technology. As soon as a product is stickered in store, the item automatically appears on the mobile app, and once sold, it gets removed.
Food stores clear significantly more reduced produce, shoppers benefit from the lower retail prices, and a reduction in food waste benefits everyone. It’s a win-win.
A simple idea in theory – but in practice?
The idea is beautifully simple but getting it off the ground was anything but easy, Ashley explained. The former London city lawyer came up against a couple of dead-ends before the idea was successfully developed.
“I joined a big city law firm and worked in real estate finance, working really intense hours – that sort of corporate life. In terms of Gander, it was while working in London that I first recognised the issue. I finished work at 9pm, on a good day, and every single day I went to the M&S at Liverpool Street Station to buy food. Five minutes to closing time and the shelves would be awash with yellow stickers”, says Ashley, who is from Derbyshire and lived in the Isle of Man for four years.
‘It did get the grey matter thinking so I did some research and I thought there was an opportunity there, from a business perspective. Apps were everywhere at that point and I wondered if there was some way an app could be used to help solve the problem”.
Not having a technology background, however, meant Ashley wasn’t entirely sure how his idea could work in practice. So it was temporarily put on the back-burner while he quit his job in law to work in his family office in the Isle of Man. But the idea wasn’t put on hold for long.
“It was at that time that I read an article in The Sunday Times about the next 20 big things the next 20 years – one was food waste, CO2 emissions and climate change. I thought there was an opportunity to do something”.
In his head, the app went something like this: a food item gets a sticker, appears on the app, someone goes in to buy it. It sounds easy enough.
“I went to a developer in London thinking that this was going to be easy. But the company had already spent a lot of money developing an app that did something along similar lines, and they’d soon realised that supermarket staff weren’t interested in using it.
“If you add even a millisecond to the working process, supermarket staff won’t want to adopt it. So manually uploading items just wouldn’t work. The developer said the concept was great but connecting the product with the app was the difficulty. That took the wind out of my sails, to be honest”.
What Ashley needed was a fresh perspective, and he got just that from a local tech expert on the Isle of Man, who is now Ganders’s chief technology officer. He suggested connecting the app to a retailer’s POS system and, after bringing the idea to a forward-thinking POS provider, they realised the app was not just a possibility, it was achievable.
“We are conscious that food waste is one of today’s growing issues and a proportion of this is completely avoidable. For retailers, food waste can be a real issue if products are not sold before they reach their sell by date”.
It required a clever system with several moving parts, which was subsequently built and tested, before rolling out across 350 stores in Northern Ireland in 2019. The country, where the app has been downloaded more then 60,000 times, was chosen for its very large reliance on fresh food.
But a year in and according to data collected by Gander, the app has helped participating retailers sell 85%-100% of their yellow stickered food, and has helped shoppers save around 56% on their weekly shop.
“We are conscious that food waste is one of today’s growing issues and a proportion of this is completely avoidable. For retailers, food waste can be a real issue if products are not sold before they reach their sell by date. The Gander app solves the problem by attracting local shoppers who love a bargain which in turn helps retailers to significantly reduce their food waste”.
Gander around the world
In addition to its expansion the Channel Islands, Gander is now being considered by retailers in the Midlands and south of England. And Ashley’s ambition for the app extends as far as New Zealand and Australia, which use the same yellow sticker system as the UK.
“We don’t think the app is limited to UK or Channel Island stores. Food waste is a global issue and there are countries around the world where the app would be compatible. Somewhere like Japan, for example, has a lot of fresh fish in its stores, and our app could prevent so much waste going to landfill”.
And Ashley has been really impressed with how much the app has been embraced by islanders.
“Gander was downloaded onto almost 7,000 smartphones in just over one month which is truly amazing”.
It’s not clear whether islanders are a tight bunch or genuinely concerned about the environmental impact of food waste. But if you can save money and help save the planet, what’s not to love?
The Gander app can be downloaded now via the Apple or Android app stores – click here to find out more.
Feature image from freepik