Sustainability Report

Convenience stores take action against food waste

Too Good to Go helps c-stores reduce waste and boost their bottom line.
a Circle K Employee hands over a Surprise bag
Circle K employee hands over a Too Good to Go Surprise Bag

According to a 2022 report from Second Harvest Canada, 45% of 127,000 potential business food donors are left with a surplus. Yet only 4% of Canada’s surplus food gets rescued or redistributed. The rest ends up in landfall, where it rots and spews methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Not only does such waste reflect poorly on stores because of the negative environmental impact, but many Canadians are struggling to put food on the table.

Some c-store players have stepped up to reduce food waste, in a way that helps cash-strapped customers and boosts the bottom-line.

Circle K recently finished a pilot at select locations in Montreal with Too Good to Go Canada, which operates an app that invites consumers to purchase “Surprise Bags” of food nearing the end of their lifecycle. Bags can be bought at different price points, depending on the original value of the food inside.

Sam Kashi from Too Good to Go standing with arms crossed in front of a window
Sam Kashani

“We’re really happy with these preliminary results,” says Sam Kashani, country director at Too Good to Go Canada.

He notes Circle K Surprise Bags rated higher than the app’s average bag rating.  Surprise Bags can include everything from baked goods, wraps and pastries to snacks and grocery essentials, like canned goods and condiments. “Couche-Tard has ensured each bag has a good variety and value,” says Kashani of its stellar rating.

The Montreal pilot comes after Couche-Tard successfully partnered with Too Good to Go at stores in Norway in 2017, and then four years later in Denmark (where the app was founded in 2015). Since then, almost 500,000 meals have been redeemed by customers in the Scandinavian countries, the company reports.

“Collaborations with Too Good to Go, and companies like it in other markets, have turned out really well,” says Helena Winberg, Couche-Tard’s director of global sustainability. “We want food that we sell to get to a customer who can eat it, because that’s what it was prepared for in the first place.”

Food rescue initiatives also support those feeling the pinch of inflation. “We’re enabling people to buy food at a lower price,” Winberg notes.

7-Eleven Canada has also been piloting Too Good to Go at select Vancouver and Toronto stores. “Our pilot has already saved food with nearly 7,000 Surprise Bags,” says Kashani. The initiative has had such a positive impact, the partnership is set to expand nationwide around the end of April.

 “Consumer demand is a primary motivator in the move toward an increase of convenience stores with sustainable practices,” says Kashani. “We also know that food waste is widespread at the convenience level, and providing them with an effective, simple means to reduce the cost and waste typical for most stores is hugely beneficial.”

Carl from Carl's Convenience outside
Carl Gernhaelder of Carl's Convenience

That includes for independents like Carl’s Convenience in Oakville, Ont., a roughly 400-sq.-ft store which carries grocery items like milk, eggs and bread in addition to the usual staples. Owner Carl Gernhaelder is a chef, who previously worked at Rabba Fine Foods, and prepares deviled eggs, salads and homemade beef stew fresh for his store. 

Carl’s Convenience has been on the app for about a year and a half, charging $5 for $15 worth (or more) of food nearing their “best before” date.

“When we first teamed up, there was so much excess, I did three bags a day for about two or three months, saving all this food from potentially being wasted,” he says. “Now I do one or two bags a day.”

“It helps me regulate the store and keep everything fresh,” adds Gernhaelder.

Rather than throw out expired milk, for example, as he sometimes had to do, “I can put that milk in a Surprise Bag. Some people’s eyes light up when they see that is in the bag.” The same for bananas. “I could sell a whole whack of bananas, then the rest would sit for days. Now when they get really yellow, they go in the bags, and I no longer lose money on them. It has allowed me to carry a lot more fruit and vegetables.”

Under his arrangement, Too Good to Go takes a cut of roughly $1.25 per $5 bag and Carl’s Convenience pays about $50 a month to be on the app. He gets his payout quarterly. “It’s usually around $150 to $200,” he says.

It’s a financial incentive to go along with the feel-good factor of saving food from going to waste.

C-store IQ Sustainability Chart

This an extract from the 2023 Sustainability Report originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of Convenience Store News Canada.

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