Online grocery sales will likely double in the next two years and reach $243 billion in the U.S. alone by 2025, project industry researchers. Berlin-based home delivery provider Gorillas is among companies that is tapping into this market. In its two-year life, the startup has moved into nine countries and raised close to one billion dollars in funding.
Its ambition is to tackle food waste that happens in peoples’ homes—mounting to 61% of all tossed food, according to a 2021 United Nations study. Alexander Brunst, vice president of Sustainability and Public Affairs, Gorillas, discusses how the model works, including the role of technology, partnerships, and promotions.
He tells of the company’s strategies to cut its carbon footprint across 230 locations, notably how it’s achieved 100% carbon neutrality within its operations. And he peers into future intentions to involve partners in lowering footprint along the entire food supply chain.
Beginning with the food waste piece, Brunst says, “A lot of people prefer not to go out and manually buy food often. Rather they buy in bulk, and a lot ends up in the garbage because it wasn’t used. We are trying to change that behavioral pattern by allowing consumers to order what they want, when they want it, and avoid waste.”
The goal is to reduce all edible food waste to zero by 2023 (so far achieved at its 22 New York locations) and at the same time teach customers how they can help.
“If we can educate them to only buy what they need and avoid throwing food out we think we can have a huge impact on reducing waste in private households,” Brunst says.
Consumers engage through social media and through a tile on the company’s app, Gorillas Love Earth, with quizzes and quick reads on how to avoid food waste, or showing how much natural resources can be saved by eating plant-based foods rather than meats.
Gorillas offers mystery bags of what’s left at the end of the day at a discount. They are mainly perishables nearing the “best by” expiration date, listed on both the company’s app and the app of partner Too Good To Go.
What can’t be sold is usually donated.
“We support local initiatives; for example, in New York volunteers pick up food from our locations and distribute to local neighborhoods. This grass roots movement, called One Love Community, started during Covid and now has hundreds of volunteers who support networks to avoid food waste and help people in need,” Brunst says.
Most product is locally sourced, and “riders” deliver it on electric bikes, usually within a mile of where the order was placed and prepared to mitigate transportation-related greenhouse gases and move product fast.
Matching supply and demand is a balancing act, especially with fresh food sold on demand. It requires capturing data and adjusting orders through peak times (think Super Bowl and other special events) or through extreme weather where people typically buy differently.
Forecasting can be complicated due to these and other dynamic variables that have to be accounted for across hundreds of locations.
Key, Brunst says, has been leveraging data and technology, with math models informing decisions to avoid understocking and overstocking.
Now Gorillas is working to formalize a comprehensive environmental, social, and governance (ESG) program that considers more than food waste. Through a materiality assessment it decided to begin by prioritizing carbon emissions. But the first task was to learn its own carbon footprint— a project that began a year ago, working with a carbon accounting company.
Figuring out where to focus is a job.
“You have to be strategic and pragmatic and focus on major levers. For example, we chose not to focus on areas where we assumed our carbon footprint is lower than 5 percent initially because we wanted to understand the big pockets first, which for us are energy consumption, waste, and transportation,” Brunst says.
Gorillas is aiming for 100% renewable energy by mid-2023 and is now at just under 60%. With so many locations, there’s a lot to think about.
“We dug deep into energy contracts, which means often having to go to every location and look at the signed contract; understand energy that will be used; and then combine information for a companywide view,” Brunst says.
With the other two early focuses, packaging and transportation, some of the work is also underway—from the e-bikes and travel policies that encourage use of public transportation—to offering paper bags. Pilots with reusable packaging are in process to see if a more circular model [than recyclable paper] will work.
Not all emissions are within a company’s direct control. Going back to the energy scenario, some operations are housed in buildings owned by local landlords who make decisions for the entire property and switching to green energy may not be a choice. So, the plan is to offset with carbon credits from ClimatePartner who invests revenue from credits it sells in environmental projects.
Moritz Lehmkuhl, founder and CEO, ClimatePartner, speaks of buy-in from companies like Gorillas.
“The food industry has incredible potential to play a critical role in our environment. Reducing food waste is purported to be the number one solution to support climate action.
Gorillas had already taken an important step on that journey when they approached us, having done their corporate carbon footprint calculations. They wanted to offset their Scope 1 and 2 emissions [within their control] and, later, their upstream energy-related emissions. By purchasing carbon credits, they have offset 4,531 tons, reserving 3,300 tons for their offset next year.”
Gorillas is starting to look at how to work with suppliers along its supply chain.
“We are talking about gaining transparency on tens of thousands of products and working with suppliers to reduce their footprint. So, it’s more complex,” Brunst says.
“Ultimately the customer is at the heart of what we do, with a focus on helping them reduce their carbon footprint and avoid waste. Along with that we work to reduce our own footprint. And now we are beginning to encourage our suppliers to do the same. The supply whole chain needs to be involved for this to work,” he says.