When Jessica Pautsch got a call about half a million mislabelled granola bars about to be composted, the CEO and co-founder of MeshExchange sprung into action. Pautsch convinced the company to donate the bars instead, rerouting them to local food banks and programs supporting B.C.’s wildfire evacuees.
Whether it’s cosmetically imperfect fruit, damaged packaging, out-dated branding or the rounded ends of cheese logs that can’t be turned into slices, mountains of perfectly good food go to waste in Canada. “This kind of waste is a daily occurrence in the food business simply because disposal is an easier and cheaper option than re-routing it,” says Pautsch. “We want to change that.”
Enter FoodMesh. Developed by MeshExchange, the app allows processors, farmers, restaurants and other food businesses to list surplus food they’d like to donate or sell at discounted prices. From there, the platform’s matching algorithm notifies the best possible recipients from a network of vetted businesses and non-profit organizations.
The online tool takes the headache out of finding a home for surplus products, helps companies avoid costly disposal fees and gives non-profits access to more donations with less work — all while diverting more food waste from the landfill.
FoodMesh is free to use; MeshExchange charges a nominal exchange fee on any sales brokered. Meanwhile, suppliers can control exactly who sees their posting.
However, getting traction for their concept took a lot of work. Pautsch faced the challenges of signing up a critical mass of members, changing attitudes around food waste and debunking the myth that donating food could create liability issues.
For support, she turned to Bioenterprise. The agri-tech business accelerator provided funding to develop the app, while its extensive network of contacts helped FoodMesh build a roster of 140 food suppliers and non-profit recipients. Bioenterprise also helped with marketing efforts and provided ongoing coaching.
“They have been absolutely phenomenal,” says Pautsch. “We’re really fortunate to be working with them.”
The winner of a Canada Clean50 sustainability award, FoodMesh has seen impressive results since launching in September 2017. By mid-November, the initiative had rescued more than 200,000 kilograms of food, provided more than 330,000 meals and created more than $1.3 million in savings for its users.
And that’s just in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. In the next two years, Pautsch and her team plan to expand FoodMesh into Ontario and three U.S. cities, using their unique brand of matchmaking to reduce more waste, save more money and feed more people.