Have you ever had to throw away food and felt guilty afterward? Or cooked way too much pasta for a one-person dinner, put it back in the fridge and never looked at it again? There’s no doubt that food waste is a huge problem, but a startup from Iceland is there to solve it—for now, at a restaurant level. We spoke with Jillian Verbeurgt and Renata Bade Barajas, co-founders of GreenBytes, about how exactly it works.
Facing the problem
Jillian and Renata came to Iceland to study sustainable energy. Five years later, they are still in the country, but their professional interests have shifted when the idea to start GreenBytes came in the summer of 2019. “While we were doing our Masters, we both worked in restaurants and threw away lots and lots of food,” shares Renata. “It was such a shame. I came up with a little spreadsheet and asked everyone to write down what they threw away, but no one did it.” Renata put the idea on hold but realised that one could use algorithms to predict what’s going to be sold and figure out the right amount of food to order. A little later, she contacted Jillian and the work began.
Innovation behind the app
GreenBytes claims their app helps restaurants to organise their produce. “We allow them to keep track of their distributors, break down their menus, and track their stock,” explains Renata. “The biggest thing we do is predict what they’re going to sell in the future, and tell them what they should order based on what they’re going to sell. That’s where our algorithm comes in. It takes in past sales, weather and holidays, and predicts future sales.”
Can weather affect your restaurant sales? Indeed. “Imagine a hot day. Would you want a hot soup? Or a smoothie?” points out Renata. “On a nice day, I want to go out and sit on a patio and have someone cook food for me. I don’t necessarily want to be in my own kitchen,” adds Jillian.
The GreenBytes algorithm can look at thousands of patterns at once. To build it, Jillian used data from an Icelandic restaurant. “It’s all historical data from the restaurant. With its help, we can analyse the sales trends in the past, and try to make predictions about the future,” she shares.
GreenBytes did a case study at a local midsize restaurant in Iceland. “We saw that in a month we could reduce 251 kilos of food waste, which is approximately 628 kilos of CO2,” tells Renata. “For that particular restaurant, the economic benefit would be more than 8,000 euros, which is about 1 million ISK per month.”
Restaurants pay a monthly subscription to use the app. There are different packages for setup—the team also offers assistance with this—with the final price depending on how big the menu is.
On challenges and future plans
Jillian is originally from Canada and Renata from Mexico. They didn’t know anything about the Icelandic startup market before they embarked on their journey with GreenBytes. They confess that startup life does remind them of a roller coaster sometimes. “It is difficult,” agrees Renata. “I do think that if we were Icelandic, we would be a tiny bit further ahead than we are now. Even with sales or restaurants with older owners, it’s just easier and better to have first contact in Icelandic,” specifies Jillian, and immediately adds: “The people we’ve had interactions with and the programmes we’ve gone through were really nice. Everyone’s been super supportive, we’ve made really great connections, even great friends.”
Recently, GreenBytes has been nominated for Best Newcomer Award by Nordic Startup Awards. They’ve been bootstrapping for the past year and are currently raising a funding round.
In the next five years, GreenBytes will be going international, but first, the team wants to perfect the solution in Iceland. Jillian says: “It’s really important for us to get it right here before we fumble our way forward.” In the future, Jillian and Renata hope to make GreenBytes somehow transferable to bigger institutions, like grocery stores, and canteens.
“I would love to see a future where we optimise the entire food supply chain, because food waste doesn’t just happen in restaurants or houses, it happens from the second we start growing food,” concludes Renata. “If we can predict what people in Reykjavík are going to be eating, we can tell farmers how much food they need to grow.”
The future GreenBytes envisions does seem a bit brighter—I leave the interview inspired and will definitely think twice when buying too much food or throwing it away.
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