The issue of food waste is overwhelming, with up to 1.3 billion tons of food wasted annually, according to the United Nations. Equally as problematic, of course, is the issue of food scarcity or food security which affects millions in the US. Soon after starting at Sloan in 2013, Emily Malina MBA ’15 and Ricky Ashenfelter MBA ’15 decided that they wanted to tackle this problem in a way that could benefit businesses while improving food supply chain efficiencies and solving a major social problem.
Their cleverly named solution, Spoiler Alert, is a smartphone app and online marketplace that finds uses—in real time—for healthy surplus food and valuable organic waste. The app provides businesses the ability to cut down on waste management costs and also provides a secondary market for them to sell or donate that food, while in turn allowing food recovery non-profits to claim it.
At the beginning of the year, the alpha pilot of the app launched and currently 10 organizations are taking advantage of the technology, including the Greater Boston Food Bank. They are using their technology to make the relationships that already exist more efficient and are also working to bring in businesses that don’t currently donate surplus product. “There are certain types of food that are harder to get for donations than others,” says Malina. “These are usually very high-quality foods with higher nutritional content like meat and dairy and fresh produce and we’re fortunate that through our pilot, those are the categories that we were able to focus on by working with a meat manufacturer and a produce distributor.”
While continuing to tweak the app and bring in new users, Ashenfelter and Malina are also focused on building out a web version of the software for desktop users. The website, on top of offering all of the same features as the app—posting, claiming, and tracking food use—will also offer analytics about the food exchange process and food waste, allowing the businesses to monitor and adjust their procurement strategies. “We want to help food businesses save money,” says Ashenfelter, “and the data and analytical capabilities stemming from our platform can have hugely powerful implications for an industry with notoriously low margins.”
Both Ashenfelter and Malina will be graduating in a couple of weeks and they are thrilled to be doing exactly what they set out to do when they entered the program. “I knew I wanted to have a real impact in a for-profit business way on a real-world issue, says Malina. “And to make a big impact in an industry where new business models, like the sharing economy, and technology have not been applied before. With Spoiler Alert, we’ve taken on an issue that is significant, hits home with the social and environmental side of things, and it also has a real financial impact for a lot of businesses out there.”
Read more about Spoiler Alert from the Sloan Newsroom.