Tech company Winnow, with U.S. offices located in Iowa City, Iowa, has recently made headlines by being selected as a food waste innovator and recipient of the Zero Hunger|Zero Waste Kroger Foundation Grant. Within the U.S. alone, an estimated 63 million tons of food is wasted every year. Winnow aims to continue growing in the market, with hospitality being a key industry, as there has been a significant focus on companies to act sustainably, with food waste being a large contributing factor. Winnow is the technology company behind Winnow Vision, the artificial intelligence tool helping chefs cut food waste in half.
Finland-based Viking Line and Italy-based Costa Cruises are among those in the maritime hospitality industry who are part of this effort.
Viking Line has made a serious effort to reduce its food waste. In April 2019, the company joined forces with Winnow to undertake a project intended to reduce the food waste on its cruise vessel Mariella.
The majority of the meals served on the boat are prepared centrally in the same kitchen. For the duration of the project, the kitchen waste bins were equipped with scales to measure the actual amount of waste. With the help of computer software, the waste is categorized, weighed and recorded for statistical purposes. The computer-generated reports enable the monitoring of plate waste, trim waste and waste due to overproduction. In practice, for example, all the discarded food from the buffet lines is measured.
“We have managed to minimize food waste per passenger by an average of 40 per cent,” Janne Lindholm, restaurant manager for Viking Line, said in a recent statement announcing the findings. “This reduction was especially driven by an increase of efficiency in our kitchen procedures. We pay more attention to preparation amounts. As a concrete example, any potatoes boiled for lunches can also be used to prepare delicious side dishes for the dinner crowd.”
Winnow Vision works by taking photos of wasted food as it's thrown away and uses the images to train itself to recognize what has been discarded. Winnow’s systems have already reached and surpassed human levels of accuracy in identifying wasted foods. This means for clients, over time, these systems will enable their kitchens to automatically register food waste without any human interaction. Food will be thrown in the bin and the data will be captured automatically.
Viking Line restaurants are also developing, among other aspects, the presentation and serving size of their dishes as a means of reducing the plate waste. The buffet restaurant, for example, offers ready-made portions that enable passengers to select the exact amount that they want.
“None of the changes required us to compromise on the quality, freshness or availability of our food. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite,” Lindholm said. “When we utilize raw ingredients more efficiently, we avoid overproduction and there is more time left to focus on development work and customer service.”
The remaining food waste is used towards the production of biogas. In 2018, the biowaste collected from Viking XPRS, Viking Grace and Mariella was used to produce a total of 98,550 cubic meters of biogas, which equals, in terms of energy, altogether 111,300 liters of gasoline, Winnow officials said.
Winnow recently announced a $12 million Series B round of funding led by Ingka Group and Mustard Seed: the company’s largest raise to date. This follows a recent $8 million loan from The European Investment Bank (EIB). Combined, this means Winnow has raised a total of $20 million in the last month to enable expansion within the hospitality industry across global markets.
The series B round included high-profile investment from Ingka Group, a strategic partner to the IKEA franchisee system, Mustard Seed, Circularity Capital, D-Ax and The Ingenious Group.
Launched in a single staff restaurant in 2013, Winnow has been adopted by more than 1,000 sites globally, and is now operating in 40 countries with offices in London, Dubai, Singapore, Shanghai, Cluj-Napoca and Iowa City. In 2019, The Financial Times ranked the company as the 78th fastest of Europe’s Fastest Growing Companies.
With global clients already adopting Winnow Vision, from IKEA stores through to the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the demand by companies to drive down food waste in 2019 is increasing. Kitchens using Winnow tend to see a 40%-70% reduction in food waste within 6-12 months, driving food cost savings between 2%-8% in total, which helps improve profit margins, Winnow officials said.