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Episode 79: Food Waste Is A Nexus Issue

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In this week’s NothingWasted! episode, we chat with Andrew Shakman, CEO & co-founder of Leanpath.

Leanpath’s mission is to make food waste prevention and measurement everyday practice in the world’s kitchens. The company pioneered automated food waste tracking technology in 2004 and provides a complete food-waste-prevention solution to thousands of kitchens around the world.

We spoke with Andrew about the power of data to decrease food waste, the impact of COVID-19 on food service and more. Here is a quick look at our conversation:

Waste360: Could you talk about how you ended up founding Leanpath?

Shakman: I originally thought I would be in the entertainment world; I was interested in storytelling as a way to create social change. And when the Internet came along, I realized that might be the future of storytelling. I ended up working with food and beverage brands to help them with their online consumer marketing, and that was my first exposure to food in the context of technology.

After the first dotcom bubble burst, I knew that I wanted to be doing something that had an enduring impact on the world and was looking for what that would be. It was a bit of luck that I had learned about the food-waste problem, which I really saw as an economic problem; that people were wasting money. Anything inefficient and wasteful has always gotten under my skin. And, at the time (2004), I realized that food-service operators were in the middle of a squeeze where they were having their margins damaged — so I thought food-waste solutions could have significant benefits especially in this environment. So we ended up founding Leanpath.

Waste360: What was the crux of your idea at the time?

Shakman: We thought, what if we could take the principles of management science from manufacturing (like Six Sigma) and bring those into kitchens in a lightweight manner…might we be able to significantly reduce food waste? So we took the understanding of the economic problem, plus the understanding of the opportunity for a new kind of intervention, and that led us to this approach that began with measurement.

It was a tough go at the beginning and not entirely intuitive to people; it was a new concept in food. But we were able to show how data-driven discovery drives process improvements. We ended up doing a lot of educational work to help people understand these issues, and through that, I actually became much more tuned in to the environmental and social consequences of food waste. 

Waste360: Can you talk about how you help people understand the economics of food waste and make that concept concrete for people?

Shakman: If you want anyone to change anything, you’ve got to make sure they understand you’ve got their best interests at heart, and that you really understand them. Otherwise no one’s going to follow you on that change path. So I come at this from a very pragmatic point of view, which is that if your business isn’t running properly, you’re not going to be able to keep running that business. And we have to change businesses from the inside out to sustain them.

Our role is to be a pragmatic partner to clients—recognizing where is the operational excellence opportunity, where is the food productivity opportunity, how can we save gross margin? Because this is a no-brainer. Not putting food in the garbage is not putting money in the garbage.

Waste360: I’ve heard you describe food waste as a “nexus issue.” What do you mean by that?

Shakman: When you start looking at food waste, you realize it works on almost all of these other problems in sustainability — climate, water, and energy. So you go “wow, this isn’t just a waste issue.” Of course, it’s also a sourcing issue. So it’s an issue that is a nexus. That’s the thing that excites me so much.

Waste360: Are you seeing more companies using food waste as a feedstock?

Shakman: There is a lot of interest in upcycling, especially at the ingredient level, which is really exciting to see. And I see that as a significant change. Downstream, there is of course composting and anaerobic digestion, both of which seem to have ongoing, enduring interest.   

#NothingWastedPodcast

Read transcript here.

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