Zero Percent is an online food donation marketplace that helps businesses move surplus, edible food to nearby soup kitchens and shelters, reducing both hunger and waste. They were part of our second accelerator class in 2014. Zero Percent recently launched SnackPass, an app that provides delicious, nutritious snacks from a variety of local restaurants. We recently caught up with Rajesh Karmani, CEO and Founder, to learn more about SnackPass and the future of the company.
Tell us the story behind Zero Percent.
In 2012, I was a graduate student in computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I frequently visited a bagel shop between my home and my grad school office, where they baked everything fresh each morning. I learned that the shop could never perfectly predict how much food they would sell each day and always ended up with excess bagels. The shop owner Marc wanted to donate the extra food to a local nonprofit, but it was difficult for him to find out which nonprofit would need the food and how he could deliver it. I knew that technology marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist could effectively match supply and demand, so I thought, “Why wasn’t there an online food donation marketplace?” During a hackathon event hosted by the UIUC computer science department, I created Zero Percent.
What are some of the challenges you face building a food tech business and how have you overcome them?
The first big challenge was to understand the variables involved in matching excess food with a need in the community. Secondly, we needed to figure out how to rescue food in a large city like Chicago with its driving, parking, construction and congestion challenges. When designing the app, we made sure to map out accessible routes for food delivery. Reliability and safety is also very important for our partners, so we hired trained and certified food rescue drivers. We specifically leased refrigerated vehicles, which preserved perishable and prepared food for longer and allowed us to deliver to food desert neighborhoods on the South and West Side. Since launching the app, Zero Percent has rescued more than 1.2 million meals (at a cost of $0.30/meal) from 120+ partners and delivered them to nearly 150 charities. The biggest challenge we face today is how to fund the ongoing logistics of safe and reliable food rescue.
How does your newly launched “SnackPass” allow people to snack with a purpose?
We created SnackPass to support the ongoing costs of reliable and safe food rescue. SnackPass provides fresh and delicious snacks, drinks and treats at local, socially conscious restaurant partners. These partner restaurants have committed to reduce food waste and are providing these perks to SnackPass members who also support the mission of eliminating food waste. For $10 a month, members get 5 snacks of their choosing from a growing community of restaurants in Chicago. What’s cool is that every $10 helps Zero Percent deliver 30 meals to local charities. My hope is that SnackPass enables Zero Percent to have a 10X bigger impact by investing in more refrigerated vans and training additional food rescue drivers. With SnackPass, I believe we can build a community of socially conscious people committed to delicious, fresh food and tackling food waste.
What is your vision for Zero Percent? How will you continue to make an impact in eliminating food waste?
Transportation is the #1 barrier to donating excess food and reducing food waste, according to Food Waste Reduction Alliance. Though a retailer may want to donate food 10-14 times a week, it is only able to donate 3-5 times. More than $22B worth of edible, prepared or perishable food goes to waste every year in the United States alone. If we recover even half of it, we can eliminate hunger in Chicago and in US. My vision is to the build the infrastructure for safe and efficient redistribution of surplus prepared and perishable food from restaurants, food service (events, catering, corporate and institutional dining) and grocers to local charities. My hope is that more restaurants, grocery stores, businesses and institution will choose to donate excess food using the Zero Percent app. As Zero Percent grows, we will not only work to eliminate hunger and food waste in our communities, but will also provide nutrition, dignity and care to the neighbors we serve.
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