According to the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, around 14.8 billion dirhams worth of food is wasted in the UAE every year.
This week we interviewed Amna Elnour and Sabira Huda, 2 young environmental engineering graduates, just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey on a mission to tackle this very issue.
Recently voted “Most Sustainable Business Model” by NYUAD’s StartAD program, Bestby creates a direct channel between food suppliers and consumers by selling perfectly consumable items approaching their best by date at a discount.
Please can you tell us about Bestby, how you came up with the idea and where you are today with the initiative?
A huge contributor to food waste is the disposal of foods well before their best by date which otherwise can be salvaged. Bestby recognizes this issue and aims to create an online platform that creates a direct channel between food suppliers and consumers by selling perfectly consumable items approaching their best by date at a discount.
Around October last year, we knew we wanted to tackle the problem of food waste so we started to brainstorm different solutions to it. Once during a fateful visit to a supermarket, we learnt that food items that are unsold and nearing their expiry date is disposed of. This led to further brainstorming and researching the supply chain of the food industry and Bestby is the result of it.
Bestby is currently in its pre seed stage and we plan to launch our website as soon as we finalize our partnership agreements with our initial suppliers.
What was the response like from suppliers, supermarkets, investors and the general public?
We conducted a survey and have received around 400 responses, with an overwhelming majority saying if an option was present to buy items nearing their best-by dates, strictly with a discount, they’d be open to purchasing such items keeping in mind they’ll be consuming it in the duration before its expiry. In the case of supermarkets, we have caught their interest and currently are in talks with suppliers as they are incentivized by regaining potentially lost revenue and clearing out inventory space. Finally, for investors, our participation in the StartAD Incubation Program 2020 has given us the chance to meet and network with venture capitalists that have confirmed that our solution has a market and is attractive for investors if we run our initial phase (testing the concept) successfully.
How do you aim to change the mindsets of the consumers here?
We believe that the shocking numbers of food waste, its environmental impact, and its financial burdens will change the mindsets of consumers on its own. Bestby aims to inform consumers of this through our platform, social media pages, and newsletters while passing tips, tricks and recommendations of how to do their part to reduce waste in their homes.
Can you share with us any statistics on food waste from the UAE?
According to the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, around 14.8 billion dirhams worth of food is wasted in the UAE every year. This amounts from 3.27 Million tonnes of food waste, which translates to 6.2 Million tonnes of CO2-e every year.
In terms of individuals, it’s estimated that every person in the UAE wastes 197 kg of food every year!
Can you share some tips on how you shop smartly in order to prevent wasting food?
One of the most effective ways to reduce waste in our homes is by forecasting the groceries you’d need in daily/ weekly/ monthly intervals, by creating meal plans. Meals plan makes sure that you’re working backward by:
1. Planning meals
2. Estimating the items and their quantities required for the meals
3. Shopping for items of the same quantity
By simply creating a schedule leaves little room for inefficiencies that lead to food waste, it also keeps the homeowner aware of all the products already available at home.
It’s also important to love your leftovers! Always find a way to incorporate yesterday’s leftovers in today’s meal!
What currently happens to all the produce from the supermarkets that is about to go out of date or even expire on that day?
Usually, supermarkets minimize their food waste by using their perishable produce in their kitchen delis. They also have sales, discounts, and market days for non-perishable items. However, for the food that cannot be saved, oftentimes it is directly disposed of. In some circumstances, supermarkets form agreements with suppliers to take back these items that are manufactured in the UAE. In the case of imported foods that come from abroad, they do not have the same fate and are often thrown out.
There is some controversy on ‘expiration dates’ on food, how do you feel about this and should the consumer be better informed about what this means in order to mitigate food waste?
One of the biggest factors for food waste in the retail sector is bestby labels. Use by dates are not the same as Best by and not the same as expiry dates. Consumers need to understand that just because an item spent a longer time on the shelf, doesn’t mean it’s not good to eat.
You were recently voted “Most Sustainable Business Model” by NYUAD’s StartAD program, how did this feel?
It was very fulfilling and satisfying because our hard work paid off. We spent months researching the problem, contacting partners, and learning customer behaviour. This win validated our idea, and that there’s potential for it to grow and become a reality – if we continue to work as hard as we did.
You are both environmental engineers, how does this practice help do you think in the business model concept?
Being environmental engineers opened our eyes to the problem. We both took a course on waste management, and got a deep understanding of the magnitude of the problem of waste. A huge element in any business model is the problem to be addressed. And in our case, being environmental engineers as well as individuals looking to make a positive impact, food waste was a no brainer.
I hear you are also big foodies, even eating insects. There is a lot of talk about insects being the next big food trend and they are have less of an environmental impact, definitely compared to meat. Do you see this potentially happening? Would you buy them if on the supermarket shelves?
It is definitely a growing market! Crickets, for example, are 60% protein by weight – let’s say you eat 100 grams of cricket – 60 grams is pure protein. Similar portions of chicken will yield 31 grams, and beef will yield 43 grams. Having tried cricket powder and learning about its versatility (use it in your pizza dough, morning milkshakes, or garnishing your salad) Sabira is eager to find it in supermarkets, while Amna would rather stay away from it!
Can you share with us some of your daily sustainable living practices?
Amna is from Sudan and Sabira is from Bangladesh, so we stay in touch with our culture that promotes sustainable living. Living with our families, we have grown up with several sustainable practices.
Some of these practices include:
- Switching off the lights of any room not being utilized
- Only buying energy saving appliances
- Reusing jars and containers,
- Making sure to only purchase items with biodegradable packaging,
- Donating clothes and shoes long before they’re worn out or wasted, and if they are worn out, we repurpose them
- We never ever throw food away, we always find a use of it, we reincorporate leftovers in our meals, and in some cases we feed the animals around our neighbourhoods