Co-op and Microsoft found food redistribution platform Caboodle to reduce food waste

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5 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland

Co-op and Microsoft have teamed up to launch a new digital platform called Caboodle, which aims to prevent tonnes of edible food from being thrown away.

Caboodle is a not-for-profit online service which allows supermarkets, cafés and restaurants to redistribute surplus food with community groups and volunteers in every city, town and village in the UK.

The technology and engineering business consultancy BJSS and marketing agency Team ITG helped Co-op and Microsoft create the platform.

It is estimated that 1.1 million tonnes of food is wasted across supermarkets, restaurants, cafés and manufacturers each year.

From this wasted amount, only 80,000 tonnes of edible food is shared through charities and community groups, despite surplus food redistribution having trebled between 2015 to 2021.

Caboodle is being trialled in more than 100 Co-op stores in Northern Ireland, London and Milton Keynes, and will continue to go live in a further 2,500 stores according to Shirine Khoury-Haq, Interim CEO of the Co-op.

“The results we’re seeing so far are incredible”, she said. “We’ll be rolling it out across our entire estate next month and hope that all other retailers and businesses within hospitality will see the benefit too.  

“The more organisations use Caboodle the simpler and more effective it will be for volunteers and community groups to gain access to good food.”

Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK commented: “One of the best things about Caboodle is not just the impact it will have, but also that it came from a chance conversation between a Microsoft employee and a Co-op store manager about how to stop good food going to waste.

Low code development using the Microsoft Power Platform, means anyone can turn great ideas into real solutions.”

Community groups located outside the trial areas can apply to be notified when the platform starts operating in their area.

A range of charities and community groups can apply, including food banks, family support networks, schools and youth clubs.

The digital service will use live notifications to alert charities of when supermarkets cafés and restaurants have food that is ready to share.

Community groups can book and schedule slots and be notified when new slots are ready. They will also be able to find new volunteers through a digital noticeboard.

Volunteers can also easily sign up by entering their postcode into Caboodle to find a group close by they would like to work with.

Estelle Herszenhorn, food lead at waste charity WRAP said: “Surplus food redistribution has been a success story over recent years. 320,000 tonnes of food was saved from going to waste between 2015 and 2020 worth £1 billion, and providing the equivalent of 220 million meals. But much more good food is still going to waste that could feed people.

“Innovations like Caboodle that can help to overcome common barriers and ease redistribution of surplus food are really exciting and have the potential to make serious inroads into the 200,000 tonnes that WRAP estimates could still be redistributed.”

The digital platform trials are being supported by environmental charity Hubbub through its Community Fridge Network – where surplus food is shared for free at over 280 spaces across the UK. These hubs are stocked by local businesses with goods that can’t be sold in time such as fresh produce from local gardeners or household donations.

Alex Robinson CEO of Hubbub said: “We’re pleased to be supporting the development of Caboodle by providing insight from communities and trialling the platform with our Milton Keynes Community Fridge. We’re passionate about supporting initiatives that help to reduce food waste and have a positive impact on the environment.”

In comparison to already existing surplus food distribution systems, community groups don’t need to rush booking collection slots with Caboodle. There will be an indefinite availability, according to Co-op, and groups will be able to skip days or weeks, subject to demand.

The Felix Project is one charity already testing out the platform. “We know it will make a real difference to others like ourselves”, said Richard Smith, Deputy Head of Food Supply at The Felix Project. “The process for us is just easier and unlike other systems it works in a way that allows us to notify stores if we can’t make our collection slots – offering the slot to another group nearby saving food from going to waste at a time when so many are in need of it.”

The need for such technology is growing. Research from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows an increase in the use of food banks and community food providers.

Several reports published this week reveal the cost of food is “a major future concern” for 76% Britons as the number of food bank users has increased from 9% in March 2021 to 15% in March 2022.

The FSA has recommended that food bank and community group volunteers receive “additional advice and support” on how to manage donations and store, prepare and distribute items, so as to reduce the risk of wasting more food.

Moving forward, the Government department has also said it will help businesses to make food donations more “straightforward”, to ensure surplus food is redistributed safely and effectively.

Professor Susan Jebb, FSA Chair said: “In the face of the immediate pressures on people struggling to buy food, food banks are playing a vital role in our communities. We are urgently working with industry and other major donors, and food bank charities, to look at what more we can do together to ensure that food which is safe to eat can be redistributed to people who can benefit from this support.”

“Food banks can be a trusted lifeline in the short term, but governments and regulators must also look more widely at other ways to enable people to reliably access safe and healthy food in the long term.”

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