Smart chef startup: how Marc Zornes made the subject of food waste palatable

Will this technology end kitchen nightmares? The Co-Founder of Winnow talks to Georgina Lavers about the smart meter helping chefs measure and manage food waste

“We believe that technology can transform the way that we make food,” says Marc Zornes, simply tapping a few buttons on a scale that sits above a large bin in the kitchens of Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre Hotel & Residences. 

Zornes and Co-Founder Kevin Duffy launched Winnow in 2013, and since then, the technology company that has developed a smart meter to help chefs measure and manage food waste has pulled in support from the former CEO of Whitbread, Alan Parker and River Cottage Gardens founder, Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall.

The premise is simple by today's touchscreen tablet standards. “We put technology into large kitchens to help them understand what’s being wasted, then feed that information directly back to staff, to be able to help drive behaviour change”, he says. Kitchen staff can go about their day in the usual manner but with just a few clicks they can track how and what food is wasted with real-time and regular reporting on transparent and measurable data. 

Zornes began his career at a large wholesale grocers before a consultancy position at McKinsey that led him to co-author such pertinent Global Institute reports as Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Materials, Food, and Water Needs. He and Duffy, who has held roles as diverse as Peace Corps volunteer in Romania and as a New York commodities investment banker, together developed an idea that enables customers to cook smarter and save three-eight per cent on food costs. 

After plates are cleared from a table he says, any leftover food is weighed and designated on a digital screen before it is thrown away. That information is then put back into the cloud, where the data is analysed and given back to the executive chef and the culinary team so they can identify where they are wasting food.

Globally around one third of food that is grown is wasted, which is, quite frankly a crazy number

Marc Zornes, Co-Founder of Winnow

The chef in residence at the Pullman gives a few recent examples – such as an overly generous portion of steak that was never finished was cut down in size, as were the servings of oatmeal which remained mostly untouched. Zornes believes that reducing food waste shouldn’t impact the customer experience, but instead influence the team in how they stage food, what they offer, and how menus are designed.

“Globally around one third of food that is grown is wasted, which is, quite frankly a crazy number,” he says. “And yet, there are still hundreds of millions of people who are malnourished. We throw away an estimated $US1trn to $US2.7trn annually, which is over 1 per cent of global GDP. In the UAE alone, it is around US$4bn a year.”

Zornes says it is a priority of the government to look at this issue, not just from an environmental or security perspective but from a competitiveness perspective, as the technology can reduce food costs.

The AccorHotels’ Planet 21 initiative aims to reduce food waste by 30 per cent before 2020 across their entire portfolio of hotel brands, consisting of over 4,000 hotels. Nishan Silva, General Manager at Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre Hotel & Residences, says that so far, the program has witnessed a reduction in food waste by almost 70 per cent in the initial months. “With such good results, AccorHotels are now looking to roll out the program gradually to all their UAE properties by 2018.”

Glimpsing the technology in use, it is clear that for the whole kitchen the change could not have come at a better time. Says executive chef Dwayne Krisko: "When we first installed the technology, the waste figures were really quite alarming. So it forced us to take a step back and really engage with our customer to think smarter, cook smarter, and serve smarter. Though the process is pretty simple, the results have been far from that."

Food wastage projects that go the extra mile

Selina Juul

As a Russian emigrant, Juul was horrified by the waste that she saw in Denmark’s supermarkets. Her organisation, Stop Spild Af Mad: ‘Stop Wasting Food’ – got low-cost supermarket chain Rema 1000 to substitute single item discounts in place of multiple item discounts, among other initiatives

ReFED

A data-driven guide for businesses, government, funders, and nonprofits to collectively reduce food waste at scale, ReFED’s aim is to cut US food waste in half by 2030

Culinary misfits

Started in Berlin, Culinary Misfits champions ‘ugly’ vegetables that won’t make it to supermarket stands by creating beautiful recipes from them

Hands for Hunger

By collecting excess and perishable foodstuffs from grocery stores, hotels, and other businesses in the Bahamas, Hands for Hunger aims to both improve food security and reduce waste, sending the food on to low-income residents of the community

Last minute market

Applying research by Professor Segrè, Director of the Food Science Department at the University of Bologna, Last Minute Market works with farmers, processing centres, grocery stores and other food sellers to reclaim food and donate it to charities