We waste too much food. This applies to private households, but also to large canteens and kitchens. Valentin Belser and Jakob Breuninger have declared war on food waste with their start-up Delicious Data, which also supplies ERGO canteens. With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), less food should end up in the rubbish. In an interview, the two founders explain how this is supposed to work.
You founded a start-up that specifically ensures that less food ends up in the rubbish in canteens. How did you come up with it?
Valentin Belser: The idea for Delicious Data came to me at lunch in the university cafeteria: shortly before closing, there was still a large amount of freshly cooked food at the counter, but at the same time there were no more guests to eat it all. This is where we first became aware of the problem of waste in the catering industry.
What is your mission? Is it primarily about sustainability?
Jakob Breuninger: Food waste is a very big problem globally. Worldwide, about one third of all food is lost along the value chain. This is not only a waste of valuable resources, but also highly damaging to the climate. Because wasted food alone is responsible for eight per cent of global CO2 emissions.
Belser: With our software, we provide companies with a tool that they can use in the company canteen, in restaurant chains and also in large bakeries to make a contribution to counteracting climate change and at the same time optimise internal processes.
What specifically makes up your business model?
Belser: We founded Delicious Data with the aim of using advances in AI to increase sustainability in out-of-home catering.
Breuninger: To do this, we have developed a deep-learning algorithm that calculates a precise forecast for future sales from the history of customer data, planned meals and other external factors - such as weather, holiday periods or public holidays. This makes it possible to buy according to demand and plan production well accordingly. There is also the option of accurately recording food waste and visualising this data together in a dashboard. This creates additional transparency and makes it possible to optimise processes in concrete terms. Our system is now used at more than 250 locations.
Explain: How can AI help with the issue of food waste?
Breuninger: Our AI-based sales forecasts map very precisely and realistically which dishes the customers would like to have, so that the purchase and then the preparation of the dishes can already be optimised here. A dynamic calculation based on the grown database leads to very accurate forecasts that are also updated during the course of the day. In this way, overproduction can be minimised even in large canteens at the end of the value chain.
What exactly does Food Waste Tracking mean in this context?
Belser: In addition to forecasts, our tool also offers food waste monitoring. This enables users to precisely record food waste and to visualise and evaluate its development via a dashboard. This reveals further savings potential. In concrete terms, the size of the respective portions or the choice of assortment can then be considered during planning.
Breuninger: Practically, this feature is based on a web app in which the weighed waste is directly recorded and displayed in our analysis dashboard. So there is no need for any additional hardware or other IT integration from external systems. This feature is the result of our successful cooperation with ERGO Gourmet.
According to a study by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, 20 per cent of food in canteens and cafeterias ends up in the rubbish. How much of this could be avoided with AI support?
Belser: Quite a bit. The savings potential is made up of several factors that we can influence with our software. First of all, there is the planning accuracy, which we can optimise through the forecasts and which reduce food waste already in purchasing. Our experience shows that the planning accuracy is 40 per cent better. Secondly, the survey of food waste contributes to the fact that we have been able to reduce food waste at our customers by 30 per cent with further analyses.
What is the cooperation with ERGO Gourmet's company catering and what have you been able to achieve there so far?
Breuninger: At this point it is really interesting to look at the concrete figures that we have already been able to optimise for ERGO Gourmet: Because in the 6-month pilot phase alone, almost 7,000 meals could be saved. This corresponds to a climate impact of 8,651 kilograms less CO2 and 380,650 litres less fresh water wasted. We are pleased about this commitment to more sustainability and would like to take this opportunity to thank ERGO for the very good, cooperative partnership.
Which industries can you support with your AI concept?
Belser: We want to make a positive impact with our solution in all areas of the food value chain and support companies on the path to digital transformation. Wherever demand is uncertain and fluctuations cannot be optimally mapped and incorporated manually, AI offers opportunities to save resources. In this way, we can help not only canteens and cafeterias, but also bakeries, snack bars and system gastronomy.
What developments are in store for the future?
Breuninger: We are currently working on the intraday forecast, i.e. a forecast for the current day. This involves calculating over the course of the day how many goods will be needed and whether additional production will be necessary on site. This evaluation can be controlled with a simple "to-do" app, so that here, too, work processes are simplified and production takes place according to the calculated demand, which optimises the use of food.
Interview: Benjamin Esche