"We wanted to create something great, with the unsold goods at the end of the day."
In the transition towards circular cities, experience sharing is key. No two solutions will be the same, but the value gained from these experiences can be huge. This is the aim of The Wasted City book. CITIES Foundation shares a series of extensive interviews that cast a light on inspiring initiatives which are breaking the linear model. First up, Instock – a chain of restaurants in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, that is tackling food waste head on. Selma Seddik, co-founder Instock, shares with us the story behind this alternative set of restaurants.
To start off, can you tell me what Instock does?
We now have three restaurants: in Amsterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht. We try to reduce food waste and create more awareness around the issue, because it’s a massive problem! Worldwide, we throw away roughly one third of everything we produce. That’s why we collaborate with Albert Heijn: one of the largest supermarket chains in the Netherlands. We collect fruits, vegetables, and bread from supermarkets and we receive meat and fish from producers. Every day, we cook a different three- or four-course menu with the ‘harvest of the day’. Our chefs are really creative. In a nutshell, that’s how we work.
How big is your organization?
For now I think we have 100 people working for us.
Yep! There are also a lot of students and people who work part-time, but Instock is growing.
Can you describe your collaborative network?
We are a foundation, but we work as a social enterprise. We are sponsored by Albert Heijn; every time we opened a new restaurant, they invested in it. But: we do have to break-even at least. Our main supplier is also Albert Heijn. Supermarkets have a big variety of fruits and vegetables in their assortment, and that actually suits running a restaurant a lot better than sourcing from for example farmers. A homogenous stream of products from farmers suits production better. A good example of this are the soups of Kromkommer. Next to Albert Heijn, we work together with a lot of other suppliers such as Moyee Coffee, Hilton Meats and Intertaste. Other partners range from NGO’s like The Youth Food Movement to other food surplus entrepreneurs like the Verspillingsfabriek.
How did you first connect to Albert Heijn?
Bart, Freke Merel and I knew each other from work at Albert Heijn. We enrolled in an innovation competition: the Best Idea of Young Ahold. After my studies, I started working in the sustainability department of the Ahold; after that I worked in the Albert Heijn itself. We wanted to create something great with the unsold goods at the end of the day. It is great that we won the competition, since it gave us the opportunity to start with Instock. We started with a small pop-up restaurant and gradually expanded.
What is your internal reporting mechanism. How do you make self-assessments and figure out what to do next?
Right now, we run the foundation with three people. Bart is responsible for operations and most of the employees, Freke runs the marketing and communication department and I’m in charge of products and finance. However, we realize new projects as a team. We are a flat organization and have a clear division of our end responsibilities. We work with fixed meetings every week. Every Monday morning, we kick off the day with the three of us. We look at all of the management information we get: for example the revenue streams, costs of labor, amount of rescued crates, and social media feedback. The website of Iens is also important to us – there we can check online reviews from guests. Apart from the fact that we want to innovate with nice products such as Pieper Bier – beer made from surplus potatoes – we also made the cook book Instock Cooking. We were just so proud to show what our chefs are doing daily in our restaurants! We try to become a better organization every day and we do what we like and what we believe in.
Do you know how many customers you serve per year?
I would like to say on aerage 80 people per location. That can be for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
So how much time do you have to prepare. . . or at what point do you know what food you are going to be picking up?
A year ago, we still picked up the food with our electrical rescue car at different supermarkets in the area. Since we grew bigger, we also decided to make our logistics more effective. Nowadays, we collect all our fruits and vegetables at the distribution center of Albert Heijn: the place where the returns of the stores are collected. We have been expanding the amount of participating stores, too. Currently, we rescue so much food that our chef can order categories of vegetables and fruit daily. Meat and fish are picked up twice a week at packaging locations.
You are obviously involved in the food industry, are there any other sectors of the economy that you think you influence?
Difficult to say. All our employees wear Pure Waste, clothing made of recycled cotton. With every T-shirt, we save 2700 liters of water. We buy green energy and try to make sustainable decisions as much as possible. But these are just small efforts to influence a whole sector. More people need to make those sustainable choices.
Do you see yourselves as a niche solution or do you think the idea can spread to a much wider region?
With three restaurants we are a niche solution indeed, but I think the idea of restaurants can be copied if you work together with a retailer. I also we believe that with our products – such as the Pieper beer – we can expand our reach to other bars, restaurants and people’s homes.
Do you have an idea of how big you would like to grow to?
Yep. We decided not to open more restaurants for now, because we want to create more impact and save more kilos. With our restaurants we have rescued more than 250.000 of kilos, but there is way more waste. Our current new direction is that, with our scaled logistics, we want to offer fruits and vegetables to other restaurants and caterers. We sort the products and we deliver them at their doorstep. A lot more restaurants and caterers are needed to create a solution for all food waste in the Netherlands. I think it is great that we have the examples of three restaurants and the experience of how to work with food surplus. For customers it is also something new and it takes time for people to get used to that.
In the future, do you think you would somehow provide your model for other people to use?
Yep, we could sell them surplus, that would be great.
What do you think could help you the most in your process of growth right now?
Well, it is great that we work together with a big company, but it also is a challenge to align 200 stores and all the employees of all these stores. We are trying to do this as good as possible. It is also a challenge to match supply and demand as good as possible. We never know exactly what we receive.
Has there been a major obstacle in your growth so far?
You always go two steps forward and one step backwards. That is just a little bit how it goes. Everything looks difficult in the beginning. But when you do it, it becomes easy! I think that is our approach to it. In the beginning people were like, “It is not possible, you have issues with quality assurance, it will be too expensive logistically.” But yeah, we did it. We tried it and it turned out to be fine. And now it is also important that we structure the organization. Because it is growing so fast, you need to be really clear on the processes.
Great, and you already touched on this a little bit, but is there anything you want to add about how you imagine your company in the future?
Yep, I really hope that we can become a best practice or an example how restaurants or other caterers can also use surplus. That is really the only way that you can increase your impact. There is so much food waste – we would have to open a chain of the size of McDonalds in order to solve the issue of food waste. That is not what we intend to do! It would be amazing if we could become more like a wholesaler, because then you can really increase the impact.
Subscribe to CITIES Foundation newsletter to hear more about their latest projects and our partners! Send an e-mail to email@example.com and they will keep you updated.
The interview was first published here.