On the up · 22 July 2015

Winnow: The tech startup helping hotels and restaurants tackle food waste

Winnow is on the cusp of reaching £2m in annual savings delivered to its customers

The issue of food waste has been an ongoing and systemic problem within the hospitality industry for many years, which is how Marc Zornes’ idea for Winnow came about. The business created a system which weighs food waste bins and records what is binned and why that is, in order to help hotels and restaurants order and prepare more effectively.

Since being thought up by Zornes and co-founder Kevin Duffy in 2013, the startup’s technology is now used in over 100 kitchens and is targeting a runrate of £1m in revenues per year by the end of 2015.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

My name is Marc Zornes and I am the founder and CEO of Winnow Solutions. I started Winnow because I saw a massive opportunity in solving the problem of food waste. I started my career at a large wholesale grocers, and food and sustainability have been my passion ever since. Before Winnow I co-authored the Global Institute report  called Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Materials, Food, and Water Needs, whilst working as a consultant at McKinsey. It was here that I discovered that there were very few companies working to solve the problem of food waste.

The problem we address is huge – every year the global industrialised hospitality sector wastes around £50bn worth of food. The modern commercial kitchen is an inefficient factory which is uneconomical and can waste as much as it generates in profit.

Winnow gives chefs the information they need to optimise their operations and drive down food waste. Our first product, the Winnow system, is a smart meter which connects commercial kitchens to cloud software allowing us to record and analyse exactly what is put in the bin. This gives chefs the information necessary to drive improvements in their production processes to cut food waste in half, saving money and reducing their environmental footprint at the same time.

 (2) How long have you been around for?

Just over two years. We launched in 2013 with a single Winnow system in a staff restaurant. Since then we’ve been deployed in over 150 kitchens and have saved our customers close to £2m in reduced annual food costs by reducing their food waste.

(3) How do you make money?

We operate a software as a service (SAAS) business model and our customers pay recurring license fee to access our cloud analytics and reporting platform. Investing in cutting waste is one of the most profitable areas for the hospitality sector and 95 per cent of our customers see payback within the first 12 months. On average, customers using the Winnow system see an increased food gross margin of between two to six percentage points, equivalent to around 40 per cent in pre-tax profits.

Marc Zornes works with hospitality companies to help them minimise food waste – which costs up to £2.5bn each year

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Although we are a technology company, it is the chefs and their teams who act upon the information to drive down waste. Being able to easily measure usage rates across kitchens is critical to the product’s success.

The Winnow system records everything thrown in the bin, and is unique in recording waste automatically as disposed. This gives users the visibility to measure the proportion of waste that has been allocated a value which is an important benchmark to ensure teams are actively using the product. By keeping teams actively involved we are able to cut food waste in half, on average, in the kitchens we work with.

 (5) What was key in terms of getting started?

At the beginning we were keen to test out different hypotheses and understand where we added the most value for our customers. Being close to our first customers and users was critical, helping us gather valuable feedback about how to evolve the product in a time efficient and cost effective way.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

We are just about to reach £2m in annual savings delivered to our customers which will be a huge milestone for us. This is validation for our overall proposition showing the market that we have a replicable and scalable product which has application across the hospitality sector. In parallel, we are also proud of the environmental impact and reduction in CO2 emissions that we have prevented so far.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

We learn and act quickly so setbacks tend to lead to improvements in our product, but early on, as you might expect, there was some trial and error. Our biggest learning has been that the chef in the kitchen is really the customer. Without their engagement and buy-in, driving down food waste becomes very challenging.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Helping solve the problem of food waste on a global scale, developing better tools to help chefs.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Solve a problem that you care about with a simple solution. “A problem that you care about” because you should expect challenging times in launching a new venture and you’ll be better able to persevere if you genuinely care about the problem you’re solving. “Simple solution” because starting a company pulls you in lots of different directions and keeping your solution simple helps maintain your focus.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

It has to be Elon Musk – he’s truly game changing. He’s challenging convention and finding ways of creating lasting, scalable global change by creating value for customers.It’s what we’re trying to do at Winnow in our own way.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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