Yume and SUEZ strategic partnership addressing food waste

A partnership to tackle commercial food waste in Australia is kicking some major goals by  selling high quality surplus food that might have otherwise gone to waste.

Yume, the leading online marketplace for high quality surplus food, teamed up with waste and recycling leader SUEZ, to offer food manufacturers an option to get a financial return on surplus products.

Katy Barfield, founder of Yume said that they were seeing powerful results using their technology to offer an innovative market for surplus food.

“Several multinational companies who are also SUEZ customers have now listed high quality surplus food on Yume and we are working with them to ensure those products find a new avenue to market and are consumed as intended. These companies join our network of over 500 food manufacturers, wholesalers and importers that list and sell quality stock through our online marketplace,” said Barfield.

The partnership with SUEZ has resulted in the sale of 450,285 kilograms of surplus food which has returned almost $700,000 to these businesses and we are expecting this number to grow as the market adjusts to the coronavirus impact.

These results add significantly to Yume’s growing impact. To date Yume has provided a new route to market for close to two million kgs of food returning over $6,000,000 to Australian businesses and farmers.

“One of the companies, Patties Foods, joined the war on waste and listed a surplus consignment of caramel slices. Yume identified a new avenue to market their caramel slices and sold the product to independent retailers and caterers all around Australia, getting them a great return.

“Importantly, our work together is having a positive impact on the planet. The partnership has saved water and carbon dioxide equivalent to saving the water of 519,560 showers and taking 195 cars off the road for a year and this is just the beginning,” Barfield added.

Justin Frank, chief customer officer at SUEZ Australia and New Zealand, said that the company is committed to working with customers to ensure as much waste as possible is recovered, recycled and treated.

“The benefits of the partnership assist SUEZ’s customers in reducing waste and achieving greater sustainability. Our partnership with Yume aligns with SUEZ’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – SDG 12 – by promoting responsible production and consumption” he said.

Barfield said that Yume is focused on delivering a commercial solution at the top of the food waste hierarchy: avoiding waste and reusing food wherever possible.

“This is an innovative partnership in the fight against commercial food waste, we are looking to prevent 4.1 million tonnes of surplus food from going to waste in Australia every year.

“In 2016-17, a massive 55 per cent of food waste was associated with Primary Production, Manufacturing and Wholesale sectors. 


“This food, produced by Australian farmers and manufacturers, is wasted even before it reaches supermarkets, restaurants or homes,” she said.

New way to get rid of excess food

Imagine a stack of pallets full of surplus food – 4.1 million tonnes worth. And imagine you could stack those pallets on top of each other one at a time. Now, imagine that once stacked, these pallets would reach all the way from Earth to the International Space Station – 14 times over. That is how much commercial food waste there is every year in Australia alone. Remember, that is only commercial food waste, and doesn’t include household waste, which makes up another 34 per cent.

It’s a staggering statistic that still amazes Katy Barfield, who set up the Yume marketplace because she knew that there must be a better way of utilising surplus commercial food waste than throwing it away. It is not Barfield’s first foray into food waste recovery having started food rescue organisation SecondBite back in 2006. Although the organisation does a great job, Barfield soon realised that SecondBite, along with other food rescue organisations OzHarvest, Foodbank and Fareshare, only managed to move less than two per cent of that 4.1 million tonnes.

Barfield knew there had to be a better way. Therefore, Yume was born. The interactive website offers a platform where food and beverage manufacturers and processors, who would usually throw away production runs for a variety of reasons – wrong labelling, batch over-runs, cancelled orders – can put it on the site to be sold to interested third parties. When the idea was first mooted, Barfield thought it sounded pretty simple.

READ MORE: Australian food waste bill hits $10.1bn

“It is the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire career,” she said at a speech she gave at the Waste & Recycling Expo held in Sydney recently. “Because when I came up with the idea of doing this – whereby big brands and farmers could put this stuff onto the platform – and put it up for sale to a new cohort of new suppliers, people told me I was mad. They said, ‘no one will go for that. You’re cuckoo. Bonkers. Think you better start again’. Their reasoning was, ‘who was going to buy products unseen off an online platform?’”

It was a fair point at the time. In theory, the idea was great. Who wouldn’t support an initiative where food waste was lessened – it sounded like a win-win. The manufacturers and food processors get money for products that they would have to pay to get rid of, and third-party vendors get a quality product they can on-sell or utilise. However, Barfield also knew that, especially with some of the bigger name manufacturers, branding is more important than being seen to be eco-friendly. Barfield and her team found a way around it.

“Suppliers can white label their product on our platform,” she said. “You might not know who the brand is, or the history of the brand, but you will have all the history of the product you are receiving. It might say “quality cream cheese from South Australia”. They have to show you the certificates of analysis, so you know it is absolutely edible, and has passed food safety standards. It is quite hard to be a supplier on the Yume platform because we do need to protect everybody in the process including the people who sit on the other side, the buyers.”

And you would be surprised who has turned up on the site to buy produce. Accor is one company that has bought food via the platform, plus a number of industrial catering companies. Barfield admits it wasn’t easy to convince the bigger brands to come on board.

Once she gave them guarantees that the items would not appear on any of the major retailers, they began to list items on the site.

And what sort of dent has the site made on the food waste mountain? There is still a long way to go, but with more than 400 suppliers and 2,500 buyers registered on Yume, Barfield is confident that the site will only grow. Then there’s the environmental impact.
“The amount of embodied water we’ve moved through the platform is more than 86 million litres. That’s nearly 2500 tonnes of CO2 that hasn’t been released into the atmosphere,” she said. “There has been a trifold growth for Yume in the past 12 months.”

Sometimes it takes some lateral thinking to get rid of a product. Barfield cited an example involving cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s where the company had 7.5 tonnes of dried fruit that was at risk of being dumped. It came about because the company changed one of its cereal recipes and no longer needed the dried fruit. Kellogg’s specialises in making cereals for the mass market, and therefore didn’t have a ready market for left over ingredients.

“They put the dried fruit onto the Yume platform and that product sold within 48 hours to a whole raft of other, smaller manufacturers who could use that in the manufacturing process. It was a win-win-win,” said Barfield.

And just because it is a platform for foods doesn’t mean those who buy from the site aren’t thinking outside the square on how to move on similar products and find an end use for them in the marketplace.

“A lot of the companies we work with ask us if we could try and find a solution away from the norm,” said Barfield. “One of my personal favourites was about a substance called Maltitol, which is an artificial sweetener.

“We were asked to help find a home for it and we weren’t too sure. However, it was eventually sold to a pharmaceutical company that used it in coating some of its pills to make them easier to swallow. It was 14 tonnes worth of product that would have been wasted if it hadn’t found a home.”

One aspect that Barfield is pushing, and she thinks needs to be amplified, is that just because a product appears on the site, it doesn’t mean it is not of high quality. Yume recently facilitated the selling of some top-branded salmon to an industrial caterer because the salmon missed its delivery window by a day. Because it missed the delivery, it no longer met the requirement to have a shelf life of 10 days. However, it was still top quality and was consumed well before it’s use-by date.

One issue that Barfield had to think about was the impact of those that already supply to some of these areas. After all, if you’re a regular supplier to an aged care facility, but the chef who is in charge of the kitchen decides to buy cheaper food from Yume, where does that leave the regular supplier?

“We have thought about that. We knew that when we went into the market we had to think about what we were displacing. There is always some displacement that happens,” she said. “Yume is what I would call an opportunistic marketplace. You couldn’t rely on it to supply all your needs because it is part of an irregular supply chain. You can’t hop onto the platform and buy your entire shopping basket from Yume every week because the nature of surplus is that it changes all the time – sometimes hourly.”

Barfield said that Australia is leading the world with this technology and that the country needs to get more people wrapped around it and talking about it. She also believes that the government could do its bit to reduce food waste.

“The biggest change that can happen is to engage with the government,” she said. “The government is the largest procurer of food in the country – if you think about defence, education, aged care, health care, corrections facilities. That is taxpayers money that goes to fund the food for these institutions. Day in, day out, three times a day. If they just mandated that a certain percentage of product that was surplus had to be bought through a platform like Yume, we would significantly impact the amount of food currently going to waste. We would return more money to Australian farmers and manufactures. We would save taxpayers money.”

Easy to program YuMi cobot complements novelty ice-cream outlet

It can be hard to make a dollar in the retail world. Overheads can be high, margins small, good staff not easy to find, and with the online presence of Amazon, Alibaba and a myriad of other smaller players, competition is fierce.

But people will always need food. And while a recent report from Brick Meets Click has found that online grocery shopping makes up 5.5 per cent of total spend in the category in the US (closely mirrored here in Australia) and is growing, people still like to eat out. And there is still compulsion buying at your favourite fast food outlet, or ice cream store.

Again, competition is fierce so as well as varying the products that are on offer, but also vary the shopping experience, too. This is something digital and robotics solutions company Niska thought when it mooted the idea of opening an ice-cream store in Melbourne’s CBD. Its solutions are aimed at the retail industry, which is why it decided on a novel approach – robots serving customers. The idea of robots serving people has been the purview of science fiction since the genre was invented, however now it is coming to fruition. Although the concept is all Niska’s, the company needed help to bring its idea alive. Enter ABB, who among other things, specialises in robotics.

John Rieusset leads ABB’s business activities in the food and beverage industry. He is also the marketing manager for ABB’s Robotics and Motion businesses. The YuMi robot is known as Tony and adds the toppings to the ice cream, and serves them to customers. A key aspect of Niska’s operation is ABB’s YuMi robot – or cobot as they prefer to call it – which is a popular model that is being used in factories throughout the world.

While the aesthetic side of what the robot looks like in store are a novelty – and Niska are first to admit that is part of the reason for opening the outlet – Rieusset said that the practical aspects of YuMi were the main selling point.

“In terms of deploying YuMi, one of the key aspects as to why Niska was interested was the fact it could be redeployed to do different tasks and it’s very easy to program,” he said. “The robot has what is called a lead-through programming functionality whereby you don’t need a traditional robotics programmer. You basically lead the robot through the motions; you take its arms and you manoeuvre it to do the tasks you want. It records those motions and then it effectively plays it back. It is something that even a child could grasp.”

When new technologies start emerging – even ones that have been mooted for decades – there is usually a backlash from those most affected. In the case of cobots, it is those who work in some aspects of the retail environment. However, Rieusset believes that any thoughts of the demise of the retail worker are premature.

“For this particular concept it is effectively a novelty. In terms of a commercial concept, it’s not something that is necessarily something that is going to work in every retail environment,” he said. “Where we would see robots being introduced in a retail environment would be more in the back room activities. For example, some of the large fast food chains. They are very systematic in their processes. If you go behind of the big burger chains they have everything set up in modules and it like a production line and that’s where we would see robots becoming more involved in that food services industry. It is likely that robots will be introduced at the point of sale, but it’s not going to replace every point of sale job in every aspect of the food industry. That is unlikely.”

Labour savings
A key ingredient as to why some companies – especially in the supply chain – have adopted robotics is the cost savings on labour. What is the return on investment for putting something like a YuMi robot to work?

“The ROI for a YuMi robot can be as little as six months for some picking and packing applications,” he said. “It is a no brainer to introduce a robot, for example, in the picking and packing of sweets. We have a YuMi robot installed at a company in Finland. It is integrated into the production line and it is involved in the picking and packing process.”

Which begs the question; is there a perception that robotics as a solution are seen as expensive?

“I would say that was true,” said Rieusset. “It’s really a case of educating end users that robots can be introduced into their processes. It’s a case of increasing the maturity and understanding generally out in industry as to where that can occur. It’s not only about increasing throughput on production lines – some of the processes are highly repetitive, which creates issues of OH&S risk in businesses. Being able to introduce those robots into the environment is also about de-risking the business in other areas.”

Rieusset also points out that ABB and its ABB Authorised Value Providers have a nationwide network of service engineers that are available if the robots need servicing. He also said that even though robots do have a function in the Niska store, humans do still have a role to play.

“The three robots at the store are involved in the ordering and serving process of the ice cream,” he said. “Niska also has a human staff member within the store that guide people through the ordering process. It’s not as if you walk in and are greeted by robots and you’re left alone to place your order. There is a human element. The robots were introduced to that ice cream store concept just as much as a novelty as anything else.”

YuMi collaborative robots can be deployed into a lot of industries besides the food and beverage sector, including electronics, medical and pharmaceutical.