The public waste agency of Flanders (OVAM) published a new ‘Food loss and biomass (residual) streams Circular 2021-2025’ action plan in mid-2020. One of the objectives of the action plan by 2025 is for the entire chain to aim for a 30% reduction in food losses compared to 2015 through prevention, reuse and selective collection. In 2015, food loss amounted to 907,000 tons. To reduce this by 30% by 2025 would mean a reduction of 272,000 tonnes (excluding economic growth). Food waste innovators like Foresightee are playing an important role in reducing food losses with their new initiatives. 

“Nothing is more difficult than predicting the future market demand for a particular product. Retailers and suppliers struggle with this on a daily basis,” according to the Fresh Food Logistics study by VIL (for a strong Logistics Flanders). Every second, 50,800 kilograms of food disappear into the rubbish bin worldwide,” says CEO Judith Ketelslegers, who founded Foresightee along with CTO Mahmoud Sohrabi. “That's a third of the production. Food waste has multiple causes, but miscalculations alone cost European retail and wholesale businesses €2.6 billion annually.” And this is exactly what Foresightee wants to provide a solution for. “Our mission is to prevent food waste based on technology.”

Why exactly did you start Foresightee?

There is already a lot going on in the field of combatting food waste. I noticed that there are already many solutions that focus on what to do with surpluses or waste: reuse, recycle, etc. 
The most environmentally friendly way, however, which is at the top of ‘Lansink's Ladder’, is ‘preventing waste’. It's exactly that step which is sometimes overlooked. That's the gap we want to address. Preventing waste is not only the most environmentally friendly way, but also the cheapest. Companies like to hear that, because it contributes to their profitability that way too.

So, what exactly does Foresightee do?

Foresightee predicts the purchase of fresh produce. These forecasts help the food industry to better align their purchases with demand. A supermarket should be able to estimate how much it will sell. If is underestimates, the shelves will be empty. If it overestimates, a lot of produce ends up in the bin. That's what we want to avoid. 

What technology have you developed for this?

We have developed a technology based on machine learning to do sales forecasting. Our algorithms predict fresh produce sales. Our initial business focus was retail. But last year in April, the retail market was in turmoil because of corona and there was no time to invest in supply chain improvement. That’s when we started looking at other food companies such as producers, suppliers and (corporate) catering.

What did you call on VITO for?

We are often asked by retailers how much more our tool contributes compared to the tools they are already using. They wanted ‘proof and evidence’. To give an innovation a chance of success, you have to be able to translate what it means for the customer. This is what makes it interesting to validate the value of our machine learning tool. We received subsidies from OVAM to investigate this, which is how we ended up with VITO. VITO has the expertise to do this thoroughly and independently. 

At the moment, we're looking for retailers and other food companies to participate in this. On the basis of their data, VITO will investigate the economic and environmental benefits of our software. On the one hand, VITO will calculate how much they can grow their turnover margins through a more efficient purchasing policy based on the more reliable forecasts thanks to our solution. On the other, VITO will calculate how much they contribute to lower CO2 emissions that way. Because if less food is thrown away, less food needs to be produced, resulting in lower CO2 emissions.

What added value does VITO offer in this respect?

VITO is a very useful sounding board for us. With their transparent, independent approach, we'll be looking together at what's working and what's not, what we can do differently/better, etc. Now it's up to us to find companies, hopefully soon, that are open to this innovation and want to make their data available. Unfortunately, that’s not easy in corona times. 

What is your ambition?

At the moment, our focus is on Belgium, but we're going to expand to Europe. In July, we'll be starting the European project ‘LOWINFOOD’. This is a consortium of 27 partners in 12 European countries: startups, knowledge institutions and companies are working together on innovations to reduce food waste. The project is funded by the European Horizon 2020 program. 

We're quite proud to be the only Belgian company to participate in this project. Along with a university, we will investigate how to improve our TRL (technology readings level). We want to go from where we roughly are now, level 5, to 7 or 8. In July, for example, we're going to launch a pilot project at an Italian retailer. We're exploring how we can scale up our technology and adapt it to different types of stores, how staff will interact with it, etc.

Why is becoming more sustainable so important? 

As far as I'm concerned, as a company you have no other choice. In any industry, especially the food industry. A third of the food we produce today disappears into the rubbish bin, as it were. If we carry on like this, we won't have enough land, fresh water or clean air to produce food for 10 billion people by 2050. Our food production is threatening to take more from the planet than it can handle. It's high time we did something about that. In fact, solving a large part of the problem is a no-brainer: it’s not throwing food away. 

Expedition Circular
As a circular startup, Foresightee joined the accelerator programme Expedition Circular, a unique collaboration between Start it @KBC, VITO, Agoria and Sirris, in response to an open call from Flanders Circular. The pilot project lasted a year and is a crucial first step in building an ecosystem to support circular entrepreneurs and drive the circular economy. An innovative circular model is not a standard R&D project: it requires a structured process approach, which goes far beyond the product, and which entrepreneurs need to test quickly and adjust continuously.

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