Interview: Iseult Ward, FoodCloud

Continuing our interview series, ‘Changing the world one click at a time’, we chatted with Iseult Ward, co-founder of FoodCloud, an Irish social enterprise providing a technology solution that connects food businesses to local charities so that they can donate surplus food.

FoodCloud has grown rapidly since its inception and has redistributed over 50 million meals to over 7,000 charities all over Ireland and the UK. Iseult Ward shares their achievements to date and the vision for the future.

How did it all begin? What inspired you to create FoodCloud?

In February 2012 while studying Business and Economics at Trinity, I met Aoibheann O’Brien at a college event. We got talking about how much food is wasted and how little is happening in Ireland to address it. While internationally, in the UK and Europe, there are networks of food banks that were dealing with the problem, there was only one registered food bank in this country at the time.  

Aoibheann and I had a shared determination to do something about the mountain of food waste in Ireland every year. We arranged for the surplus food from a farmers' market to be redistributed to a local charity. That initiative kick-started FoodCloud which has, in turn, led to a food revolution involving a growing movement of retailers, farmers, and distributors who are keen to tackle food waste at their individual level. This revolution also includes community groups and charities who are fighting food waste by working with and excelling at using surplus food.  Companies upload information regarding surplus foods to the FoodCloud app, which sends out a message to charities that the food is available for collection. 

Foodcloud has developed a hugely successful social enterprise network, which already stretches across Ireland and the UK.

Tell me more about your cause. What societal needs are you addressing?

FoodCloud's vision is for a world where no good food goes to waste.

Our mission is to redistribute surplus food in order to reduce food waste, increase social inclusion and inspire communities to take local actions that can create global change.

Within one community, a business is throwing away perfectly good food while there’s a charity just around the corner that’s struggling to feed people in need. This is a global problem with 30% of food produced going to waste. Excessive food production is utilising scarce natural resources and contributing to climate change. At the same time, 1 in 10 people is experiencing food poverty. The UN stated that if global food waste was reduced by 25% we would have enough food to feed all those who are malnourished. 

What’s your vision for FoodCloud? What’s next?

Our aim is for Ireland to become a global leader in developing solutions for surplus food redistribution from an ever-growing network of sources. Our online platform is capable of redistributing food from hundreds of retail outlets. Now, we also have a solution for the rest of the food supply chain – including manufacturers and distributors and farmers. 

Our population is set to grow to 9 billion people by 2050. We need to find solutions that will enable people to access the food they need, sustainably and equitably. Surplus food redistribution and food waste reduction across the supply chain has to be part of this strategy for 2050. 

What greatest challenge have you faced so far, and how did you overcome it?

When we first started, donating surplus food to charities wasn’t common practice in Ireland.  There was a lot for us to learn about what works and what doesn’t. We relied on the businesses and charities that signed up in the early days to give honest feedback and work closely with us while we developed and perfected the model. 

There are some particular challenges around social entrepreneurship, not in terms of business operations, but that the whole concept may not be well-understood. Messaging to explain what social enterprises are, and how they operate needs to be included in our communication. Our goals and objectives have more of a social focus than a financial focus.

Give us an example of the most significant impact your venture made on someone? 

Our aim is to help reduce the cost of food for charities allowing them to reinvest their food savings back into their services. To date, we have saved our charity partners over €68.1 billion. One of our partner charities has managed to save up to €25,000 per annum on food. 

What are the biggest industry changes you’ve noticed between starting and now? If the situation better or worse?

FoodCloud has three warehouses in Dublin, Cork, and Galway. These are referred to as the FoodCloud Hubs. Brexit has had an impact on food traveling into the hubs as we believe that businesses have tightened up supply chains and may be stockpiling. Retailers are introducing food waste policies and initiatives which is reducing the amount of food that is available to charities but reducing food waste ultimately. 

What can we do individually and collectively to help drive positive change?

On an individual level, we can all try harder to reduce household food waste as the majority of food waste is domestic. 

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

Traditionally, food banks are big warehouses housing large volumes of food which are then redistributed to charities. The whole idea of using technology for virtual food banking (‘delegated distribution’) to connect the source of food directly to the local charity is quite new.

What part of your work brings you the most joy?

It’s great to see the positive impact we have made, even on such a small scale. It is this that has really inspired us to do more. We are also very proud of the team that has joined us on our journey. What started as an idea with two people, has now become a movement with over 50 staff based in Cork, Galway, Dublin, and London.

Would you like us to include any call to action at the end of the article? Please provide the details on links, hashtags or any info you would like to share.

We are always looking to work with more food industry partners at every level of the supply chain. If you are a producer, manufacturer, or wholesaler with surplus food and you would like to contact FoodCloud Hubs business engagement team, please email: food@foodcloud.ie

If you are a charity and you would like to learn more about FoodCloud, please email:support@foodcloud.ie .

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