While hundreds of millions of people in the world face hunger, an incredible amount of food perishes or is landfilled. Whole Surplus is developing artificial intelligence for an ambitious aim: to improve operations of the companies in the sector and help those in need at the same time. The startup based in Turkey was ranked third in GGF’s clim@ competition this year.
A team of thirty food and technology industry specialists are working on holistic and digital solutions to global problems while already contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for climate action, the eradication of malnourishment and responsible consumption and production. Whole Surplus, based in Istanbul, connects suppliers and retailers with HoReCas (hotels, restaurants and cafes), recycling businesses and food banks to make the maximum out of unsold inventories.
The Turkish firm vowed to bend the linear food industry according to the principles of circular economy, so that waste is no longer at the exit point. Whole Surplus won the third prize at clim@ 2020 with its results and vision.
Its machine learning technology helps client companies to adapt operations, improve procurement and planning and prevent waste before it occurs. The online platform offers free services to nonprofits so they can obtain food donations.
More than one tenth of humanity is hungry, even though there is enough food to go around. Whole Surplus stepped in to create a multistakeholder network and create value in food recovery together with as much social, financial and environmental benefit as possible.
“I have grown up in my grandfathers’ farmhouse. From my early childhood years, I had the chance to observe the food waste problem,” Co-founder and Chief Executive Olcay Silahlı told Balkan Green Energy News.
As a brand manager in Unilever Food Solutions, where he took point in several food waste responsibility projects, he was delegated to the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin and attended the pre-launch event of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Several young leaders from various countries presented their innovative ideas to create a sustainable world. However, there was no one from Turkey. When I returned, I started working on what I can do to reach Sustainable Development Goals. I have chosen the food waste problem, which I have solid knowledge of, to reach the climate action goal and to create a social enterprise to show young people in the world it is possible to do a job that involves benefits for people and the world,” Silahlı asserted.
Machine learning in food recovery
Simply put, artificial intelligence compares a company’s incoming shipments and stockpiles and identifies surplus according to location, expiry dates and nutritive values. The food can be sold to another business at a discount or distributed to charities.
The platform matches the surplus food with the most valuable module in terms of financial, environmental and social gain and the most suitable partner. Donations can bring tax benefits.
Another option in the secondary marketplace is sending the food which would otherwise be landfilled, and at a cost, to buyers who process it to get animal feed. Representatives of Whole Surplus, a member of the EIT Food RisingFoodStars Association, note energy-rich leftovers can be utilized in biogas production if there is no alternative.
Benefits for all
In any case, what is waste on one side of the equation can mostly be used as a product elsewhere in the chain. In three years, more than 14,000 tons of food was saved and 580,000 people got donations. Whole Surplus points out its activity prevented 48,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
The company says its system saves time in process tracking and reporting for food suppliers and retailers and that it improves their waste management.
Co-founder and Chief Technological Officer and Arda Eren says he was involved in international, academic and social responsibility projects since his studies and that his plan was to create jobs that benefit communities.
After graduating computer science at the Istanbul Bilgi University, he designed and developed applications for various big companies in Turkey.
Global brands working with Whole Surplus
Whole Surplus operates in almost forty domestic locations and it wants to expand abroad by the end of next year, digitalize and reduce the workload.
The long-term plan is to conquer the region of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) by 2050. Feasibility and research studies are proceeding in cooperation with global partners in selected countries. The startup said its calculations improve as available datasets grow.
Metro Cash and Carry, Mondelez and HiPP are on board, among others.
The clim@ experience
“It was a great journey for us. We have worked hard for the finals and enjoyed it as well. The competition helped us in many ways. First, we are very happy and inspired by other finalists and their ambition to create a sustainable world. The prize helped us to reach more people and save more food during COVID-19 outbreak. Furthermore, we believe the mentorship and financial opportunities that are provided will facilitate our scale-up process,” CEO Silahlı said.
Clim@ was initiated by the Green for Growth Fund in 2018. Finance in Motion organizes the competition on behalf of the GGF.