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Food Flow - Reduce Food Waste, Gain Food Experiences

Food flow is a platform that helps deliver excess food to places in need and provides food experiences in return.

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Getting food to people before it goes waste. That is the simplest way to reduce food waste. The problem with catering companies, or anyone with a potential surplus of food, is that there is a cost involved in transporting the excess food where it is needed. Companies and governments sometimes offer tributary benefits to incentivize food-producing entities to get their unused surplus to shelters before it goes to waste. However, we want to offer a different approach. What if you involved the community, local commerce and individuals alike, in recognizing this is a big problem that requires all hands on deck? Our proposal is that anyone with a means of transportation can help transport excess food from a restaurant or catering company to a food shelter. People that do this will receive Flow points that they can redeem for food experiences. At scale, we can use dispatching algorithms popularized by players in the on-demand economy space to make it as seamless as possible to all parties involved.

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OUR User Research

Case Study: Food Runners, est 1987 San Francisco

We thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the space by taking a trip to a local food distributor, Food Runners and here’s what we found:
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Key Factors of the user experience are missing that is impacting user/volunteer engagement.
  • Low Volunteer Engagement:
    • 100 active users but 300 total
  • Communication Inefficiencies:
    • Food Runners app not working,
    • Only Communication is through email and phone
  • Logistics
    • No tabs on inventory -- Tracking Quantity
    • No optimized Timing of Pick-up and Drop-Off
    • Distribution locations can be more efficient
    • No documented history of deliveries

    • Food Flow Opportunities - Inspiration for Our Solution
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    • App has a more streamlined, and tight-knit form of communication for transfer across businesses to food carriers to food shelters.
    • Our app has a feature that will track the quantity of food to ensure there is effective transfer from each user This is critical so that we properly match the right amount of food with each of the 3 users depending on their capacity (business: amount of food to donate, carrier: amount of space in vehicle, shelter: amount of food needed)
    •  App has pick-up and drop-off selections to optimize for all 3 parties
    •  App will optimize locations to decrease time of travel and overall footprint.



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We want to extend our parnterships to the entire community to reach full engagement. We are looking to partner with three types:

1. Large Corporations with food waste catered initially to employees

2. Restaurant and Food Business Owners

3. Food Distributors, such as Food Runners

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Other Feedback: 

“What would be ideal is to develop a way to track the right amount of food that shelters will need and to have a real time features to track these deliveries.”

- Nancy, Volunteer Coordinate at Food Runners, San Francisco

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We will test our app with a few food distributors and users such as Food Runners since we have discussed our idea with them and conducted user research. Food Runners can benefit from a user-centered app like Food Flow - they have mentioned the lack of a food tracking system, charted deliveries, streamlined communication, and recurring user engagement. Allowing them to test our app will be extremely helpful for improving our idea and bringing it to the next level.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

- Guidance in establishing the campaign to get people using the platform. - Help identifying the people leading local commerce willing to sponsor this campaign

Tell us about your work experience:

Our team is comprised of individuals who have backgrounds in Computer Science, Architectural Design, Product Design, at Stanford, UC Berkeley, California College of the Arts. The team has experience in app development, user research, and urban planning.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

How far along is your idea?

  • It’s just been created! It’s existed for 1 day - 1 month

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

Food Flow saves food before it gets thrown out by businesses & restaurants by facilitating delivery to people in need. Let’s say tonight, Kokkari has excess food to feed 5 extra mouths. Our app shows the nearest shelter where you can deliver that extra food. In addition to "good samaritan" vibes, you can share it with your friends on social media and even win awesome culinary experiences!

How is your idea unique to the space?

Through our user research, we found that it's all about convenience and ease of use. What makes Food Flow special is the user experience - we want to make giving food as easy if not more attractive than throwing food away. We are ensuring there are incentives in place for each of the 3 parties involved. Current organizations only receive input through volunteerism, but we can gather even more traction and user engagement through our reward system.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

Relationships with restaurants, marketplaces, corporations are key to building the infrastructure to identify locations with excess food. These partnerships will help us develop the culinary experiences that will engage our food carriers. Building connections with various shelters in the community will help us create a large portfolio across the city to diversify locations for food delivery. Developing a portfolio of committed food carriers through our user experience will be critical.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

We will measure based on three metrics, social, food waste, and user engagement: - No. of active food carriers on the app - The growth of our user base across the three segments: businesses, food carriers, and shelters - No. of deliveries allows us to gauge food saved and measure active user engagement - Frequency of redeemed rewards and experiences will help measure the effectiveness of our reward system - Input from shelters showing # of people fed

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

We plan to continue the development of partnerships and our prototype: App Development- We are excited to transform the wireframes to a working app User Testing - We will do on-the-ground testing with the app and hope to flush the reward system with our 3 users: businesses, shelters, and potential food carriers Building Partnerships - We will establish our potential partnerships with businesses and shelters.


Join the conversation:

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Dear Luis and team,
Are you and any of your team members aware that your food flow model is already in existence in a software called ChowMatch? ChowMatch the software has been addressing food waste by tracking food donations, managing of volunteers, donors and recipients since 2013. In 2016, ChowMatch had recovered 1.2 million lbs of food and diverted to feeding programs throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties with the help of volunteers in the communities. The ChowMatch software was design to minimize food waste and maximize food donation. My inspiration came about as a SF Food Runner in 2008 when I realize that food waste was prevalent even among shelters. I did take my inspiration and founded Peninsula Food Runner a non profit organization servicing San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. We have no paid employees at the moment. My husband Tod created this software for me as a gift for me to pursue my passion in addressing food insecurities and food waste. You can visit us at to learn about our beginnings. ChowMatch is presently servicing over 200 cities nation wide and it is being used by both Food Banks and Food Rescue groups. If you are truly passionate about this issue of food insecurities and food waste and financial aspect is the least of your concern, and would like to share your skills with ChowMatch group, you are welcome to reach out to us. Thank you and best wishes to all of you on this competition.

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