Given economic and sustainability drivers, food waste should be a priority for operators. Yet often the issue is relegated to a box-ticking exercise. Ingka, IKEA’s largest retailer, has halved food waste worldwide saving $58 million since 2017. They prove that a global foodservice business can drive significant benefit. In this article we share a blueprint for the rest of the industry to follow.

With food inflation at a 60-year high and Australians reportedly paying upwards of $12 for a single lettuce, cost control is paramount. Combined with rapidly rising energy costs, cost-conscious consumers and labour challenges, there has never been a more important time to run a kitchen with maximum efficiency. Even ignoring the environmental impact, managing and reducing food waste should be a top priority for every operator today.

This kind of existential crisis for our industry is exactly why I founded Winnow in 2013. We develop Artificial intelligence tools to help chefs measure and reduce food waste. Partnering with the likes of ISS, Compass Group, IKEA and Hilton, our tools are trusted by tens of thousands of chefs around the world.

Working in over 1,700 locations around the world, we know that somewhere between 5-15 per cent of the food a kitchen purchases ends up being wasted. It is hard to measure, and without digital tools teams tend to underestimate the true level of waste. Our data shows that food waste can be cut in half, leading to food purchasing cost savings of anywhere between 2 – 8 per cent.

In the current context, who could afford to pass up such an opportunity? However, the truth is, food waste is still often not taken as seriously as the business case clearly demands.

Perhaps one reason for the lack of prominence in the boardroom has been the lack of a major foodservice business demonstrating that meaningful reductions can be achieved at scale. As the saying goes, “A problem is only a problem when it has a solution.”

Well, as of September 2022, we have proof of a scaled solution. At NYC Climate Week IKEA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Pflug announced that Ingka, the largest IKEA retailer, had cut food waste in half globally. IKEA, also one of the world’s biggest restaurant chains serving over half a billion people per year, was able to save 20m meals from the trash since 2017 whilst driving significant cost savings across the business.

IKEA reduced food waste by 50 per cent, a team effort that can be replicated across our industry

This achievement results from the commitment of more than 20,000 IKEA food co-workers, who were trained to use Winnow’s AI technology in their daily routines and fully engaged with the company goal.

But the milestone is meaningful not only for IKEA and the team behind the success, but to the entire foodservice industry at large who now have a blueprint to follow.

Speaking after the event, IKEA’s Lorena Lourido Gomez, Global Food Manager, Ingka Group said, “Together with our co-workers, partners and our customers we are determined to play our part, and as a global food player serving more than 560 million people every year, we want to show what’s possible and I really hope that by sharing our learnings we can inspire and encourage others to join us on this journey.”

What we’ve learned from scaling a food waste solution to 30 countries

Scaling organisational change is hard for any large business. Market priorities and team structures differ, as do attitudes towards sustainability. Culture also plays an important role when trying to create a shared vision. Together we defined five key factors for a successful global implementation.

  1. Effective governance and planning driven by leadership.

IKEA mobilised a dedicated project team 100% focused on food waste reduction and tasked with coordinating with local markets in partnership with Winnow’s implementation team.

  1. Clear internal communication on the food waste goal.

IKEA defined their goal to reduce food waste weight by 50 per cent versus their corporate baseline, which Winnow helped benchmark. IKEA brought this goal to life for co-workers with fun videos, animations and regular newsletters communicating progress against the target.

  1. Deploying a definitive measurement tool across all operations.

As the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed. A reliable methodology helps guard against greenwashing claims by leaving an auditable data trail. The AI component of Winnow Vision validates data and ensures reliability.

  1. Giving co-workers the autonomy to make changes using Winnow data.

IKEA kitchen co-workers are experts in their understanding of their operations. IKEA created an open culture, giving teams the space to explore waste in their operations. They also gave explicit permission for individuals to make changes based on Winnow data, empowering food waste reduction to occur.

  1. An emphasis on best practices, quick tips, and self-driven learning is vital to scale.

It was clear that co-workers had a real desire to share their experiences with each other. The IKEA project team created videos of co-workers sharing tips and sent them to all IKEA kitchen teams.

IKEA’s milestone has implications for the global hospitality and foodservice industry

This is a significant milestone – the first time a truly global business has managed to halve food waste. While we are proud of our technology’s role in achieving this, the recognition belongs to the co-workers who helped build it and then adopted it.

The business case is clear. With food price inflation on a collision course with a cost of living crisis facing consumers, we must make food waste reduction a top strategic priority. IKEA’s example shows that massive cost reductions can be achieved at scale whilst making a significant contribution to decarbonization efforts.

The implications of this achievement should be far-reaching. The UN sustainable development goal 12.3 sets out a global target to halve per capita food loss and waste by 2030. With up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions arising from food waste, it’s essential that we solve this problem quickly. Global businesses have a vital role to play in solving climate change.

From both a commercial and climate perspective, the time to act is now.

About Winnow

Winnow develops Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to help large hospitality businesses like hotels, contract caterers, casinos and cruise ships to run more profitable and sustainable kitchens by cutting food waste in half. For more information about their solutions as well as useful guides, e-books and case studies visit