Every so often, we unintentionally discover something truly valuable; either as a complete accident (think Penicillin) or as a byproduct of intended actions. It is no coincidence that entrepreneurs addressing inefficiencies at various nodes throughout the food system often end up addressing wasted food. Such is the case with Konstantin Zvereff, CEO and Co-Founder of BlueCart, a procurement platform for buyers and suppliers that is helping to digitize an industry and enable lean operation models for thousands of food businesses. ReFED had the opportunity to speak with Konstantin Zvereff about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in the burgeoning ecosystem of food waste solutions.
ReFED: How often did you think about food waste five years ago?
KZ: We didn’t, we thought we would waste less in terms of return orders, thought we would reduce emissions.
ReFED: How often do you think about food waste today?
KZ: Food waste will make or break the company.
Like several of the nearly 450 innovators in ReFED’s Food Waste Innovator Database, BlueCart’s origin story didn’t involve food waste. The company started as a grad school project seven years ago to address inefficiencies in inventory management. In the early 2010’s, before NRDC published the landmark Wasted report, food waste and wasted food were not yet permanent fixtures in most of our lexicons.
ReFED: Why did BlueCart start thinking about food waste?
KZ: We sampled over 12,000 users and non-users to compare metrics (not specifically about food waste) and discovered that users waste 52% less food. This got the entire company really excited – we aren’t working to digitize an industry anymore; we’re working to create a more sustainable world. We went back to users and asked why they were wasting less food - BlueCart enables lean operational models and helps avoid perishability.
KZ: We realized there is more to this – we know we aren’t subject matter experts in food waste, we know that we ourselves cannot solve this food waste issue, but we do have a community of 30,000 businesses. Why don’t we create a two-month program and follow three chefs across the U.S. - onboard yourself, enjoy, we will track your metrics, you share strategies. We asked the community to share strategies on a weekly basis and went from thousands of impressions to millions of impressions.
ReFED: Do you know how big of an impact you’ve made so far?
KZ: We do not have that data, but feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg. Based on a survey we ran, BlueCart users are wasting 52% less food than nonusers on average. We have plans to actively track data on food waste reduction – and make that data available.
KZ: It is important to hire people who are aggressive learners who come in with the willingness to learn as much as possible every day. And we exercise extreme empathy. Making sure to understand our clients’ needs without knowing the answer is invaluable. We listen and understand, and based on that address the problem they have, not the problem we think they have.
ReFED: If you had to pick one way to address food waste, what would you do or encourage others to do?
KZ: Pay attention to your own data. Your own data speaks volumes of what you can do. If you look at how much food you actually waste, you will start to be really sensitive. It’s one of these data points that can move the needle across the entire industry. You can make more money and operate in a much more sustainable way.
ReFED: How has BlueCart implemented this thinking?
KZ: We are collecting and circling market data back to users in real time to notify them that they’re buying more than their peers during disruptions in service, whether for major events or severe weather, effectively crowdsourcing user data for the user benefit.
ReFED: Looking forward, who is a likely candidate to buy or acquire BlueCart?
KZ: When you realize the opportunity is to affect an entire industry – it is difficult to quantify – it would have to be someone who understands the vision and would have to be willing to further the mission. Selling BlueCart feels like giving up in some way and I need to be confident that it will move forward. We have an opportunity to really make a significant impact on a massive scale.
Food waste may seem like a fleeting or narrow investment category to some, but there are incredible cross-sector applications for many of the logistics, processes, algorithms and more that have been developed in the name of food waste or applied to solve the issue. Companies addressing food waste have already been picked up and invested in by major tech firms, food manufacturers, and big-name venture capitalists. Food waste management, along with related categories such as inventory management and loss prevention have started acquiring real estate amongst better known investment categories. Regardless of the initial aim, we consider BlueCart, and all of ReFED’s food waste innovators, a step in the right direction to cut food waste in half by 2030.