Winnow Sense: tackling global food waste one plate at a time

Professional chef in kitchen

UK-based small and medium sized enterprise (SME) commercialise Innovate UK Smart Grant funded Winnow Sense to solve plate waste in the hospitality industry.

About the project

When considering climate change, food waste wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing to pop into your mind. Travel, fuel consumption, and renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels are likely to be higher up the list, yet air travel accounts for only 2% of global emissions. On the other hand, food waste accounts for up to 10%, but technological solutions for this wholly global issue aren’t as developed or spoken about in the media.

Marc Zornes, one of the founders of Winnow, has been very passionate about food from a young age. Through learning family recipes and the creative aspects of cooking, he developed a strong understanding of the respect we should have for food and carried these values throughout his career. In 1 of his recent roles with a business and economic research institute, he learned that food waste was 1 of the most impactful ways to reduce climate change. Something which wasn’t being tackled.

The organisation

Winnow was founded on the belief that food is too valuable to waste, and aims to capture the value of food, helping reduce food waste in the hospitality industry.

Food waste occurs at various points depending on several influencing factors; in developing economies there is a tendency for spoilage where there are not correct facilities to store the food. However, in developed economies food waste happens further down the supply chain. This is due to over-purchasing and overproduction; meaning we are buying more than we can consume and the rest is thrown away.

Winnow’s flagship overproduction product, Winnow Vision, uses artificial intelligence to identify food as it’s thrown in the bin, where overproduction means food has not made it to the customer’s plate. Chefs can then use Winnow’s data to help them make better decisions about how much to produce and when.

Now used in almost 2,000 locations, Winnow’s products can save around 36 million meals a year, equating to 61,000 tons of carbon emissions, but Winnow haven’t stopped there.

The challenge

In their determination to tackle food waste, Winnow recognised the opportunity to go one step further and address the challenge of plate waste. This particular issue alone costs the hospitality industry $34 billion per year globally and accounts for 34% of total food waste.

Building on previous work, they identified that in a canteen or buffet setting, the waste issue is exacerbated by the customer taking more food than they were able to consume. This represents a different problem to overproduction waste in the kitchen, as there are many more stakeholders in this scenario than when trying to influence a small group of chefs.

Winnow Vision can identify over 600 food items, however identifying plate waste, which is normally an amalgamation of items which have been partially eaten, is more challenging. By identifying this gap in the market, Winnow have been able to build on their existing product and create stronger solutions.

The product

Developed with the help of Innovate UK Smart grant funding, Winnow Sense, increases control over recording food waste with minimal impact on the day-to-day running of a commercial kitchen.

The system captures the weight and image of plate waste as it is being thrown away, without any need for human interaction. This development was fundamental as, unlike the previous product, Winnow Sense can be placed in ‘back of house’ operations or in the dining area.

Chefs receive images and data of the waste but, more importantly, every day they receive the weight of what was thrown away. This information can then be analysed, and insights applied to:

  • menu engineering
  • portion control
  • customer signage

Sasha Maisel, Project Manager said:

With Winnow Sense, we’re now able to offer our customers an easy way to understand food waste across the whole of their kitchen operations.

From inventory and spoilage, production, overproduction, and now plate waste. This gives them game-changing data to make educated choices about their menus, improving their customer satisfaction and decreasing their food waste, and costs.

Impacts of the project

The Global Food Security programme report outlines that reducing waste is a key challenge that would benefit from internet of things. This refers to the collective network of connected devices and the technology that facilitates communication between devices and the cloud, as well as between the devises themselves.

Aligning with the government’s 25-year environment plan has successfully brought the project to this commercial stage of its journey. The plan aims to cut the greenhouse gas intensity of food and drink consumed in the UK by one fifth and, per capita, UK food waste by 2025. The UK also aims to meet an even more ambitious UN target, halving per capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030.

The Innovate UK Smart grant funded project has allowed for the acceleration to market of Winnow Sense alongside their existing product line. Winnow have found almost 60% of their customer base is international and rolling out Winnow Sense outside the UK has allowed them to tackle food waste on a global scale.

In a post-COVID-19 world, the hospitality sector is facing challenges relating to rising food costs, which Winnow Sense can help overcome. Benefits include reducing plate waste by more than 30% and improving site revenue and profitability by decreasing overhead costs.

Through this innovation, Winnow have also partnered with London School of Economics (LSE) to perform a study into the impact of different communication interventions on plate waste. As a direct result of this, Winnow have produced a communications piece as an additional kit they can pass on to customers seeking further reductions in food waste. This has been particularly helpful in encouraging people in the workplace to speak out on, and address, their domestic impact on the environment. More about the LSE study.

Delivering better outcomes

Innovate UK Smart Grants help SMEs, like Winnow, and their partners, to accelerate development of their innovation, and bring their product to market.

If you’ve identified a challenge in your sector or industry and have a world-class, genuinely new idea on how you can solve it, Smart funding at Innovate UK could help.

You can find out more about whether Smart is the right funding mechanism for your project in our latest blog, Exactly who are Smart grants for.

Find out more

Keep up to date with the latest Winnow news on LinkedIn
View the current Innovate UK funding opportunities
Visit the Innovate UK Business Connect website
Visit the Innovate UK Business Growth website

Top image:  Credit: Winnow Solutions

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.