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How the UAE has the chance to lead the world in reducing food waste by embracing technology

By Marc Zornes / CEO, Winnow 28/10/2018

Hotels are increasingly competing on the strength of their food and beverage (F&B) offer as the UAE is quickly becoming a landmark destination for foodie travellers. At the same time, food waste has been rising up the national agenda with waste from buffets a perennial problem. The good news is that digitisation is having a real impact in the hospitality space, and that the UAE is leading the industry to become more sustainable.

Food waste is a global problem. A third of all food produced - 1.3bn tonnes per year - ends up being wasted, and this costs the global economy nearly a trillion US dollars annually. If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after America and China.

Food waste has risen up the global agenda over the last few years as the problem has become better understood. In poor countries, around US$310bn worth of food is wasted. Inefficient supply chains, poor infrastructure and a lack of cold chains mean that much of the food leaving farms never makes it to consumers.

In rich countries we have broadly solved this problem with efficient logistics systems and digitised networks. However, we have created two new ones. At the farm, cosmetic standards and last-minute changes to orders mean that farmers are often forced to waste perfectly good food. At the consumer end, we waste food in our homes and restaurants. Consequently, rich countries waste more than double that of poor countries.

A global problem requires a global response, and UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 seeks to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. The third target under this goal is to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.

The UAE is well-placed to take the lead on this issue. Food waste costs the country an average of 13 billion dirhams per year. Recent research has found that restaurants are the main source of food waste in the UAE, contributing 32% of the total. This is followed closely by excess food cooked for celebrations, which accounts for 30%. There is a substantial opportunity here, and the hospitality sector is already coming together to make a difference.

Winnow was launched in the UK five years ago, a tech-for-good startup drawing on recent advances in the Internet of Things. It helps chefs run more profitable and sustainable kitchens by harnessing the power of data. The system comprises of a digital scale and connected tablet which is configured with the kitchen’s menu and ingredients. As a chef throws food away, the scale automatically captures its weight, and the chef identifies the dish on the touchscreen tablet. This data is analysed in the cloud, and the head chef and managers receive a report the next morning highlighting where improvements can be made to reduce waste.

It is an example of a business benefiting from the convergence of advances in cloud analytics, big data, and sensor technology. It is one of a growing number of companies looking to harness these advances to use resources more efficiently, manage infrastructure more intelligently, and deliver services more sustainably. Cities like Abu Dhabi are already pursuing programmes drawing on comparable technology in areas like transport, energy and green buildings, and the UAE was therefore the perfect place for Winnow.

Launched in the UAE in 2016, the startup now has has more than 70 units deployed in the country’s kitchens, working with Emaar, Rotana, Majid Al Futtaim, AccorHotels and Hilton. Results have been encouraging, with most kitchens reporting that food waste has been cut in half. The Hilton Dubai Jumeriah was able to cut food waste by 70%.

The UAE has taken a leadership position in the global fight against food waste. Recently the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) announced that UAE-based hospitality companies are ready to take on the challenge to reduce food waste, pledging to save one million meals by the end of 2018. This target will be increased to two million meals in 2019 and three million meals in 2020.

The UAE is leading the way where technology and sustainability are concerned. Savvy operators in the hospitality space are already reaping the rewards from using new digital tools to cut food waste and costs. We would challenge the rest of the sector to follow their lead and do the right thing for both their businesses and the planet.

Marc Zornes is CEO and co-founder of Winnow. Prior to launching Winnow, he was a top-ranked sustainability expert at the McKinsey Global Institute. Watch his TEDx talk on the opportunity food waste presents here.

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