How important is food to you? According to Chris Regel of Winnow Solutions, the company behind the technological solution to food waste, “if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the United States and China. That’s because 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year”. The city of Bangkok, Asia’s upcoming foodie central, is awash with restaurants and all-you-can-eat buffets that throw away piles of uneaten food daily. Although there are initiatives tackling the problem as it re-surfaces everyday, few are actually targeting the problem upstream at the source: in the kitchen.

Chris, already succumbed by the value of food, joined Winnow Solutions at the beginning of the year as the company’s Business Development manager looking after Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Working with the chefs of Bangkok’s finest kitchens and luxury hotels such as the Millennium Hilton, Royal Orchid Sheraton and the So Sofitel, the company is also saving millions of dollars for its clients by working with chefs to not overproduce food. We sat down with Chris to find out more about the problem of food waste and the Winnow solution.

Credit hero image: Dan Gold; Featured image: Winnow Solutions

Credit: Winnow Solutions
What is the goal of Winnow Solutions?

Our goal is to connect commercial kitchens and create a movement of chefs to inspire others to believe that food is simply too valuable to waste. We develop digital tools to help chefs cut waste in half.

Credit: Winnow Solutions
Why did you join Winnow Solutions?

I first started seeing an issue with food waste when I was working in the kitchen of a Hotel in St Tropez, France, during my internship as a commis chef. I was the one peeling vegetables and cutting meat and could see the amount of waste that’s created in the kitchen. When I came across Winnow Solutions, I found that it was not only in line with my belief that food is too valuable to waste, but that the company had found the best way of tackling the issue by taking a technological approach. This makes the jobs of chefs easier, empowering them to have more visibility and control over their operations.

Chris Regel of Winnow Solutions (Credit: Winnow Solutions)
What’s the story behind Winnow Solutions?

Winnow Solutions started 5 years ago as the brainchild of two roommates (Marc and Kevin) who had studied an MBA together at INSEAD. After they finished their MBA, Marc went to work for McKinsey & Company and Kevin went into investment banking. During Mark’s time at McKinsey, he looked after a study on resource loss across the world, identifying the business opportunities for these issues. He discovered that addressing the issue of food waste ended up being the third most financially plausible business proposition for addressing resource loss, with energy efficiency in buildings being the first. Intense research led Winnow’s founders to believe that there was a huge opportunity where there weren’t a lot of solutions; in essence, Winnow could launch something globally without a lot of competition.

The issue of food waste is huge; each year, one third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted; that’s a 1 trillion dollar loss each year, and the hospitality industry alone contributes around 100 billion dollars to that. So there was an opportunity to not only do something good for the planet, but also a strong business case to join the fight against food waste. 5 years on, we’re in over 1,000 kitchens worldwide; our headquarters is in London and we have offices in Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore, US and Bangkok.

What difference can one brand like yourself alone make?

One brand alone can make a huge impact, as it’s not so much the brand but the people behind it that make up the brand. We are a diverse team of people from different backgrounds, some tech, some have worked in hospitality and others are just passionate foodies. That’s what makes the brand so good, it consists of a diverse background of people coming together around one belief.

Credit: Nick Karvounis
What are some of the key clients you work with in Thailand?

We’re operating in nearly 30 sites across Thailand, with hotels such as Royal Orchid Sheraton, So Sofitel, Millennium Hilton, Sofitel Sukhumvit, Dusit Thani Hua Hin and the Angsana Phuket. We also work with the Royal Bangkok Sports Club (RBSC).

Credit: Brook Lark
Do you feel the Thai market has been receptive to Winnow Solutions’s service proposition?

We have the largest presence in Thailand right now out of all the countries in Asia Pacific, most likely because of the many hotels in Thailand offering buffets; this is actually where you’ll find most of food waste occurring. Given that there is a huge opportunity for Winnow Solutions, we are able to help them be more responsible with their food waste and eliminate this as much as possible while also helping them save costs. Generally, across the board, we are usually able to reduce waste by 50% and that results in a 2-8% food cost percentage which saves a lot. In terms of ROI, our clients in the first year see anything between 200-1000% back.

Credit: Fabrizio Magoni
What other steps do you think Thailand is taking towards reducing waste?

Thailand actually has a plan in place to address the issue of food waste at a national level. Starting in 2019, Thailand will begin doing a baseline study to see how much food waste is occurring in the agriculture sector, commercial sector and consumer sector (households), which will be instigated by the Pollution Control Department of Thailand. And starting in 2020, they’ve planned to reduce the national food wasteage by 5% each year until 2030, essentially cutting food waste in half, which is in line with the UN sustainable development goal 12.3. It’s fantastic to see the Thai government take such a strong stance on the issue and hopefully more governments can replicate the work Thailand is doing.

How does the Winnow Solutions system work?

The Winnow system is quite simple, it’s a smart scale working off weight displacement connected via Bluetooth to a tablet that is then connected to our cloud-based server. Clients pay to borrow the equipment and receive the data that we manage.

Credit: Winnow Solutions

For a demo, click here.

In what way are chefs reducing food waste from the data Winnow provides them?

We firmly believe that what gets tracked, gets managed. The data collected each day reveals to chefs exactly what their wastage situation is down to the gram and the cent of each menu item. These areas of waste are pinpointed and adjustments to the operation can then be applied.

Credit: Winnow Solutions

For example, if the data was to show a certain menu item being wasted each day, a few kilograms at a time, two conclusions could be drawn, either there is simply too much being produced or the item is not to the guests taste preference. As a solution, a chef can adjust their production level, taking into account hotel occupancy and expected covers, to finetune their forecasting to prevent overproduction or if the chef believes the dish demand is low, they can then replace this for another, more to the taste preference of the guests.

Credit: Winnow Solutions
Which companies are addressing their food waste?

One of our largest clients is IKEA and we’re in half of their stores around the world. IKEA is committed to reducing food waste in half by 2020. Accor Hotels, another one of our clients is committed to reducing food waste by 30% by 2020. And the Marriott group is committed to reducing food waste by 50% by 2025. This has all been identified as their CSR objectives and we are just working with them to help them get there. We see more companies taking a stance on the issue of food waste and that is amazing to see.

Credit: Benjamin Ashton
What has been the impact of Winnow Solutions?

We have been able to save over 35,000 tonnes of CO2 from being produced, our clients 25 million dollars,andour social impact is that we’re saving one meal every 2 seconds. Food waste is receiving increased attention each day. As we’ve seen with single use plastics, if governments, corporations, and consumers can take a stand together and commit to making a change, there’s an opportunity for this impact to grow significantly more.

For more information on Winnow Solutions, please visit www.winnowsolutions.com.

Catherine Napalai Faulder
Catherine is Bangkok born and bred and knows the angles of the city and its people very personally. You'll often catch her writing about the upsides of Thainess, the richness and diversity of Bangkok's third cultures and the true meaning of wellness.