Contributing Author: Brian Frederick
A new artificial intelligence technology that can help businesses address food waste and save money is being released by tech company Winnow Solutions. Using machine learning, Winnow’s Vision AI device will help commercial kitchens track the financial and environmental costs of discarded food. With the data it collects, businesses and chefs can adjust food purchases to reduce waste.
“We see Winnow Vision as the next generation of waste analytics. It’s about building to a place where you just have a bin that tells you what’s being thrown away, and we can tell you how to maximize the value of that data to drive food waste down,” says Marc Zornes, CEO of Winnow, to Food Tank.
Winnow is a tech company based in London, England, with the mission of reducing food waste in restaurants, businesses, commercial kitchens, and beyond. Food waste does not only cost the environment, but most commercial kitchens lose between five and 15 percent of all food purchased. US$100 billion are spent on food waste in the hospitality industry as a whole every year. Zornes explains to Food Tank, “[Reducing food waste] is something that makes economic and environmental sense, and our product is something that we think has the potential to be a game changer in how the hospitality industry thinks about food waste.”
When food waste management technology was first developed, it did not use AI and relied on people manually inputting the type of food being tossed. “It takes time when you’re rolling out a food waste prevention technology to train the staff to make sure you are correctly recording food waste. And you’re spending a lot of time and energy thinking about compliance. Are they in fact entering the right data,” explains Zornes to Food Tank. “With the AI technology, you still have to make sure the staff is throwing food in one location and in the beginning, we need teams to help us identify what they’re throwing away so we can train the AI. Afterward, the AI takes over. And as Winnow Vision gets into more locations and it becomes more knowledgable, the time required to customize each site is going to go down. Kitchens are super busy places, so anytime you can make something faster, then that reduces the barrier of adoption of technology.”
IKEA and Emaar Hospitality Group were the first partners to test Winnow’s food waste technology, which has saved commercial kitchens more than US$30 million in food costs, an equivalent of 23 million meals saved from the trash. The new, AI-powered Winnow Vision technology system is already installed in over 75 kitchens and will continue to save millions of dollars and millions of pounds of food from the trash.
“I’m excited about Winnow Vision because hospitality businesses are thinking more about food waste than they ever have. At the same time, if you look at all the industry articles about what to do about food waste, all of them say waste analytics and tracking is important, but they also highlight that it’s labor intensive,” says Zornes to Food Tank. “And what Winnow Vision does is solve that problem. Our aspiration is to go from saving our clients US$30 million per year, which we are today, to US$1 billion over the next few years, by effectively creating an automated solution that can give you exactly what’s going into the bin. And I think that’s the real power of what this technology can do.”
The Winnow Vision AI technology already recognizes most food items but can learn the menu items specific to respective kitchens. A combination of human input and machine learning allows the system to improve its own recognition ability, so ultimately little to no human interaction will be required. At that point, food waste and unnecessary costs can be eliminated from the kitchen environment with minimal effort from the chef and kitchen team. The technology can also be applied to other parts of the food supply system. “Historically Winnow has worked in the hospitality space, but we’re now seeing real appetite from the supermarket space in both prepared foods and any foods that are not packaged,” says Zornes.
Zornes tells Food Tank, “I’m hoping people will see how AI can be used for good. In this case, this isn’t the chef robot that’s going to put a bunch of chefs out of a job, this is actually an AI tool that helps chefs make better decisions and do their jobs better and provide better service to their customers.”
Feature Image Courtesy of Winnow Solutions