A rapid rise up the food chain: how Flashfood is hitting major milestones while lowering the cost of food for consumers
- Toronto, Ontario
In Canada, close to 60% of all food produced is lost or wasted every year, with the retail industry responsible for 1.31 million tonnes of food waste annually. That food, when thrown out, will usually end up in a landfill where it rots and produces methane gas which contributes to atmospheric warming.
What's the solution? Enter Toronto-based Flashfood. Motivated to create a better world for future generations, this Canadian business is gaining attention across North America for its efforts to reduce retail food waste while enabling more affordable access to food for everyone.
Available on iOS and Android platforms, grocery retailers use the Flashfood app to notify shoppers of exclusive deals when certain foods are coming close to expiry. Shoppers make their purchase through the app, then pick up their order at the store.
To date, Flashfood has successfully diverted over 40 million pounds of food away from landfills, as well as helped put quality food in the hands of countless budget-conscious consumers, saving shoppers over $100 million on their grocery bills since launching in 2016. Meanwhile, as grocery partners reduce their carbon footprint using Flashfood, they also earn revenue on items that otherwise would be counted as a loss and contribute to their corporate sustainability goals.
In just a few short years, Flashfood has evolved from a simple start-up with a handful of locations in Ontario, to a network of more than 1,200 locations across 14 grocery partners in the US and Canada. The firm credits much of its success to its evolving support from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), which began in 2016.
Transitioning from start-up to scale-up
At the onset of Flashfood's relationship with NRC IRAP, the company was a 3-person start-up just beginning to get its feet on the ground. The firm approached the program, hoping to get some support to hire new employees to help accelerate the development of its food-waste-reduction app for grocery stores.
NRC IRAP provided funding through its Youth Employment Program enabling Flashfood to hire a team of new graduates, many of them top rising talent in software development, who would eventually go on to work for high-profile tech companies and start-ups across Canada and Silicon Valley. Some also returned to Flashfood as full-time employees.
In its earlier days, Flashfood had one singular app for both shoppers and grocery partners. Over several NRC IRAP-supported projects, and with expertise from its new hires, the firm was able to build out and split the platform into 2 separate apps (one specifically for shoppers, the other for grocers), launch both platforms for mobile and desktop, increase transaction throughput to support 180,000 users concurrently and consistently develop and commercialize the technology. Flashfood also refined its grocery app to ensure ease-of-use for grocery employees, enabling them to post deals via a simple product scan.
Originally, grocery partners were not aware how much food waste they were successfully reducing. In response, Flashfood developed a web dashboard including data analytics and automation, enabling grocers to track product performance in real time and monitor their own progress. The portal also collects shopper aggregate data, automates communications with shoppers based on their purchase patterns and ensures smooth inventory transition monitoring between Flashfood and merchants.
NRC IRAP has also supported Flashfood's efforts in machine learning. Currently, the company is developing dynamic pricing algorithms, with the goal of developing the tech to automatically dictate the ideal price point that will sell almost any product.
"This initiative we're doing is a bit more challenging to get right but it's one we couldn't have even gotten to without NRC IRAP," says Josh Domingues, CEO of Flashfood. "We're continuing to tinker with it and believe we can get to the point where we help grocery stores, no matter where they're located, to sell all their products based on specific price points, thereby helping them reduce more waste than ever before."
Evolving a second generation platform for the US market
In addition to funding support, NRC IRAP has provided ongoing advisory services to the Flashfood team, forging connections with governmental agencies and potential funding streams, as well as providing product enhancement recommendations to increase the platform's overall impact.
Most recently, support from NRC IRAP enabled Flashfood to scale its platform so it could begin doing business with US grocers.
"In the US, if you do transactions with supermarket chains requiring storage of customer and other data, you must be resilient where cybersecurity is concerned," says Mustafa Jaffer, Industrial Technology Advisor for NRC IRAP. "To penetrate that market, it was imperative that Flashfood strengthened its system to be more enterprise-ready, which required several coding changes and adding more key product features."
NRC IRAP recommended Flashfood integrate a tax module into the platform to accommodate multiple jurisdictions across the US and advised on implementing next-generation security and infrastructure elements to enable SOC 2 compliance, a recognized standard for ensuring the security of customer data. One specific enhancement involved adapting the platform to integrate single-store sign-on, so US grocery partners can identify and track employee postings about product information via the Flashfood app.
"Working with NRC IRAP on the second generation of the app was all about making the tech smoother, faster, cleaner, and easier to integrate—and that allowed us to build partnerships on the other side of the border much more quickly than if we'd done this entirely on our own," says Josh. "In fact, without NRC IRAP, we probably would have had to wait another 6-8 months to get into the US market, and we would certainly have missed out on some critical opportunities."
Continuing to "bring home the bacon"
Today, Flashfood is a multimillion-dollar business that has experienced immense growth in just a few short years. The firm recently doubled its employees to more than 70, has more than 1,200 grocery partners across North America, including household names like Loblaws, Provigo, Real Canadian Superstore, GIANT, No Frills, Stop & Shop, and more—and continues to evolve. In 2021, Flashfood successfully established partnerships with the Independent Grocers Alliance and Associated Wholesale Grocers, both organizations representing thousands of members across the US.
Throughout 2022, Flashfood will continue to focus on the US market and is planning to "move up the value stream" by focusing on food companies beyond grocery stores. Since January, company sales have increased meaningfully, the business has secured commitments from 2 US-based retail partners and Flashfood has onboarded its first partnership in California.
According to Josh, "Working with NRC IRAP has been like having an extension of our team because we come together on how we can tackle challenges, define what success is and determine the right level of support needed."
"NRC IRAP has been an incredible resource for Flashfood over the last 5 years, enabling us to hire more Canadians, feed more Canadian families and reduce food waste in an incredibly meaningful way. If not for NRC IRAP, we wouldn't have been able to scale to the point where we could experience this level of success."
In a world where concerns over food security and affordability are growing, the Flashfood application offers an innovation solution to this real-world problem.