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Rescuing restaurant leftovers – one meal at a time

It's often difficult for restaurant managers and owners to know how much food to prepare for any given day. All too often, lots of perfectly good food gets thrown in the bin. But a Finnish startup has a solution to the problem.

Video: Hello Darling Eatery owner Sam Ashcroft (on left) serves ResQ Club CEO Tuure Parkkinen a bowl of soup.
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Video: Yle

Finnish restaurants throw out an estimated one-fifth of the meals they produce, amounting to some 80 million kilograms of food that goes to waste every year, according to the Natural Resources Institute.

Thanks to a growing online service called ResQ Club, some 200 restaurants around Finland now sell their leftovers at discount rates - instead of just dumping them at the end of the day.

Yle News met with ResQ Club's CEO Tuure Parkkinen who says he saw business potential in all the waste and started the service in January.

With the help of GPS and a data connection, the app shows the user's location and displays which participating restaurants nearby are offering discounted goodies.

The application is available for both Android and iOS devices but there is a desktop version as well - which could attract customers without access to a pricey smartphone.

Once customers locate a meal they want to buy, after a few clicks and payment, they’re able to head to the restaurant to pick it up.

ResQ is busiest when restaurants and cafés are cleaning up after their lunch service - between the hours of 3 and 4 pm - when offers begin to pop up on the map in earnest.

Bargains to be found

Earlier this week ResQ restaurants featured things like Truffle Soup from the Epic Foods Pop-up restaurant on Mikonkatu for four euros per serving - normally priced at 7.90 euros.

Bistro Cumulus in Helsinki's Meilahti district regularly offer their "late breakfast" boxes (hotel breakfast buffet leftovers) - which typically includes a boiled egg, cheese, veggies, and more - along with a bag of rolls or buns for all of five euros. Parkkinen says the last time he bought one it fed three people.

Parkkinen spent several years of his youth in Tanzania and South Africa, and he says the experiences there - along with his parents - gave him an appreciation for the value of food.

But the young CEO says the decision to start a food rescue service wasn’t simply emotion-based.

"I wouldn’t establish a company purely on emotional grounds," Parkkinen says. "There was a clear gap - food waste is a hot topic, so I wanted to do something concrete that actually makes people’s lives better from the very start. And when you see the results immediately, I think that’s what has been one of the most encouraging things about building ResQ Club."

Expanding in Finland and abroad

Parkkinen says the exact commission restaurants pay to get on ResQ is private information, but he notes that the service attracts restaurateurs because of the potential to earn income for goods that otherwise would be thrown in the garbage.

The company launched in January of this year and now has around 200 participating restaurants in Finland, with about half in the capital region.

ResQ Club is also expanding internationally and rolled out in the Netherlands and Estonia a few weeks ago. It is also ramping up to begin operations in Sweden. The company has a core team of 14 employees in Finland, as well as about a dozen people working on setting up the service overseas and elsewhere in Finland, according to Parkkinen.

Tucked inside an inner yard on the leafy Helsinki pedestrian-only street Iso Roobertinkatu, the cosy cafe Hello Darling Eatery has been in business for a little over a year.

Hello Darling's owner Sam Ashcroft has been using ResQ since February to sell surplus bowls of soup at discounted prices. 

Ashcroft says he's careful about wasting food, but when there are leftovers he's able to sell more than half of them on ResQ.

"For us [ResQ] is good," Ashcroft says. "I don’t like throwing away food. It’s a good way to get people in the restaurant that wouldn’t otherwise come and it does create a smaller amount of revenue but a lot more than if you throw it to the trash."

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