Alexander Holzknecht has turned the fight against food waste into a business. He has saved more than 15,000 tons of food from being destroyed since he launched the German national subsidiary of Motatos, which started in 2020.
Motatos is an online supermarket from Sweden that markets surplus products from the food industry, i.e. food that has almost expired or has packaging and labeling errors. "We market everything that supermarkets and discounters don't want and would therefore have ended up in the garbage," says Holzknecht.
And right now, business is better than ever. "We are currently very popular," says Holzknecht WELT AM SONNTAG and reports a 79 percent increase in sales in the first half of 2022. However, it is questionable whether the new customers come to Motatos primarily because of the company's purpose. Because the sorted goods are sold with high discounts, the company itself advertises with a 20 to 80 percent discount depending on the product and category.
The reason is therefore much more likely to be the high inflation. Holzknecht also suspects that the sharp rise in food prices in regular retail is fueling his business. "Until now we were the 'Oh, that's cool and important' provider," says the 39-year-old. "Meanwhile we are developing in the direction of basic suppliers."
Everyday shopping is becoming more expensive. This puts consumers under pressure. Those who distribute food cheaply or even free of charge also feel this: the food rescuers and food banks. Holzknecht confirms that customer behavior has changed significantly in recent months. "Coke, energy drinks, chips and chocolate used to be the first items in the shopping cart, but now they are staple foods such as pasta or rice, but also chopped tomatoes, cans of tuna or UHT milk."
There is no shortage of food in Germany. After all, around twelve million tons are thrown away every year, as figures from the Thünen Institute show. Much of it would still be edible. But many dealers shy away from passing it on.
The best-before date is also to blame. They often take products off the shelf shortly before they expire, worrying that one of them will slip through and end up sticking. Holzknecht von Motatos is calm at this point. He only sells goods that are almost past their best-before date – and his customers know that.
Lidl recently protects expensive groceries with an anti-theft device. Rising food prices seem to have prompted the discounter to do so. In addition to meat, butter is also provided with a special seal.
Source: WORLD / Nele Würzbach
The country manager registers how, unlike in the past, searches are being made less for specific brands and more for category terms on the homepage. The shopping baskets are also getting bigger. An average order adds up to 48 euros – last year it was ten euros less.
However, the prices are also increasing at Motatos. "In relation to that, we can still offer our products much more cheaply than in regular shops," says Holzknecht. Nevertheless, the price increase does not leave the online platform untouched.
Holzknecht is not bothered by the fact that the focus is shifting away from the topic of sustainability and towards needs-based purchases. "The effect is the same in the end." And the potential is still huge. According to EU calculations, global food waste is responsible for around ten percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore one of the drivers of the climate crisis.
In Germany, almost two million of the twelve million tons of food thrown away do not even make it to the shops and therefore not to the consumer. "We close this gap in the food supply chain," says Holzknecht.
However, this only applies to the so-called dry ranges. Motatos does not offer fresh products such as fruit and vegetables, which alone account for around a third of food waste, but also baked goods, bread, meat and dairy products. "It's a completely different business and anything but easy," says Holzknecht. The warehousing alone is much more complex. However, he does not want to rule out that the company could also take care of such ranges in the future. "Customers are looking for it," he says.
Motatos is not the only provider operating in this market. Others are called Rettergut, Dörrwerk or Sirplus. Too Good To Go (TGTG) is also one of them; the company is also experiencing growing demand in view of the sharp rise in retail prices. However, the company has a completely different business model than Motatos.
TGTG uses an app to market leftover snacks and meals, for example from bakeries, hotels and restaurants. They each pack so-called magic bags – i.e. surprise bags, the contents of which the collectors do not know beforehand. The boxed food is only a third of the regular price. Baked goods, sushi, sandwiches or bowls worth twelve to 15 euros are usually available for three to five euros. The bags are to be picked up by the app user himself.
According to Wolfgang Hennen, Managing Director of Too Good To Go Germany, the number of servings has increased from 20,000 to 30,000 per day throughout Germany in the past six months – i.e. since the start of the Ukraine war. "The bags are often sold out within minutes," reports the manager. Around eight million users are currently registered with TGTG, compared to 6.7 million in 2021.
The company puts the number of partner companies in Germany at around 15,000 in more than 900 cities, including Edeka and the organic food chain Denn's, Nordsee and Starbucks, the snack providers Backwerk and Ditsch, plus Accor Hotels and, since the end of August, the Aral gas station chain.
Even if Motatos and Co. offer the groceries with strong price reductions - for many people even that is too much. The “Tafeln” in the country feel this. "The demand for support has been increasing continuously since the beginning of the year," says Jochen Brühl, Chairman of Tafel Deutschland. On average, 50 percent more people than usual are currently coming, a total of more than two million. Above all, the unemployed, low earners and pensioners are dependent on donations.
In addition, there is a completely new inflow: refugees from the Ukraine come to almost all the panels, he says. And whether it stays with these groups, the coming months should show. "In the cold months, many people will consider whether they should heat or eat," warns Brühl. "The state must not put its citizens in such a situation."
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