Katy Barfield is Australia’s leading food waste warrior and instead of just talking about the issues, she has dedicated the past 10 years to doing something about it. As the Founding CEO of food rescue organisation SecondBite, she led the organisation through a period of intense growth and expansion on an unprecedented scale, from collecting around 600kg of fresh produce in 2005 to redistributing over two million kilograms in 2012, to community food programs in Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland and NSW.
In 2013, Katy went on to launch Australia’s first wholesale fruit and veg business, Spade and Barrow, that continues to provide farmers with an avenue to sell produce that the supermarkets deem to be ‘imperfect’.
Determined to find a way to let everyone be part of the food waste solution, Katy recently launched her new venture, The Yume App, a new, digital food rescue tool that enables restaurants and cafes to either sell their surplus food or donate it to Yume’s partner food charities in real time. With 250 restaurants and cafes already on board and over 5000 hungry ‘Yumembers,’ Yume is on track for success.
Katy holds a Master of Arts and is a Graduate of Stanford University’s Executive Program in Social Entrepreneurship. Katy is also a member of the SecondBite Board and a Trustee of the SecondBite Future Trust.
An idea is just an idea until you bring it to life. I also think that surrounding yourself with a passionate, smart and supportive team is vital to success.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
I launched Yume in June 2015 as a mobile app that allows chefs and restaurant owners to either sell or donate their surplus food (rather than throwing it away). Recently, the Yume team and I have moved further up the food chain to launch Yume Wholesale, an online marketplace that connects producers with surplus produce to restaurants who want to buy it.
Put simply, Yume Wholesale connects buyers and sellers. At Yume HQ we call it the eBay of surplus food!
As the founding CEO of SecondBite, I became very aware that our food system is broken. I was also very concerned that such a small percentage of food actually makes it to food rescue organisations and was keen to understand why and develop a solution. Considerable waste is generated from hospitality venues – cafes, restaurants, hotels, caterers and higher up the food chain from manufacturers, wholesalers, primary producers and distributors. There are many reasons for this waste – for hospitality venues it is the small amounts of sandwiches, specials or breakfast items that remain unsold after service. It may not sound like much, but there is a multiplier effect. In fact, manufacturing and hospitality are responsible for 1.4million tonnes of food waste every year in Australia. If we can persuade each hospitality venue to put just 1kg of food on the App rather than in the bin we would prevent 40tonnes from going to waste every day – without putting a single van on the road.
Higher up the food chain there are many reasons large quantities of food goes to waste; export consignments that are unfulfilled, miscoded barcodes, mislabelling, over production, short shelf life etc etc.
We live on a planet with finite resources and it concerns me greatly that we discard such enormous amounts of our most precious resource ‘food’. In fact, globally we send 1.3 trillion kgs of food to landfill every year!
Can you please explain your business model?
Yume takes a 12 per cent commission for any produce sold on the platform, but nothing for produce that is donated to community food programs or food rescue organisations.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
The natural evolution of Yume was to go further up the food chain to access large quantities via the Yume Wholesale platform model. It is a digital marketplace that connects food distributors, manufacturers and wholesalers with large quantities of surplus produce to caterers, restaurants, convenience stores and food businesses who want to buy it! Yume’s platform provides an alternative to heavily discounting, turning over to animal feed or throwing away perfectly good produce.
How do you make ideas happen?
I act on them! An idea is just an idea until you bring it to life. I also think that surrounding yourself with a passionate, smart and supportive team is vital to success.
What role have mentors played in your business life?
I don’t have specific mentors for specific areas in my life, rather I have many varied friendships with a diverse group of people from whom I learn daily. Advice and learning can be found anywhere and everywhere. Some of the greatest lessons and advice I received whilst starting SecondBite came from the people we served. They told me what a good food rescue organisations should look like and how they would prefer to receive support. And they were right!
What does your typical day look like?
Manic! I have two small sons aged 6 and 4 and so my house is always noisy and chaotic!
It normally starts with one of them jumping on my head at around 6am then it’s a military operation to get everyone showered, dressed, fed and out the door for drop offs and an 8am start at work. I make a point of trying to drop off my youngest at childcare 3 days a week minimum. Then into the office to catch up with the team and plan the day, answer emails, take meetings and drive the business forward. I try to leave by 6pm when possible, so I can be home for dinner and to put my children to bed. Then I usually jump back online for an hour or so once they are asleep. The day always finishes with me reading something, last night I read some really good articles in HBR about creating positive team cultures!
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Start-ups are hard and challenging and go through distinct phases. The first is unstructured with everyone pitching in and thinking on their feet. Usually there are very little resources to achieve what sometimes feels like the impossible. There are terrific highs when something works and tremendous lows when you realise something doesn’t and isn’t going to work. The key is communication and building a team of people who share the vision and mission of the organisation. You really need the ‘why’ in the early days and honest, open communication with your team.
Phase 2 is the fast growth phase when the money starts coming in. You can invest in resources, write and execute a structured strategy, set meaningful longer term KPI’s and secure larger contracts and credibility (this is the fun phase and my personal favourite!).
Phase 3 is consolidation. This is where governance, policies, procedures and risk management all play a much bigger part, after all, there is now much more to lose! This can be a dangerous time for businesses and CEO’s, as retaining the hands on contact with customers and vibrant, joyful culture that has led to success can start to erode as companies grow and expand interstate. I have seen all too often great organisations with vibrant, supportive cultures who are in touch with their customers changing needs begin to stumble as they forget to tend to and nurture the key elements that brought them success in the first place.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
I think the importance of retaining a healthy, happy, supportive culture as mentioned above. I cannot stress how key this is. Companies are made up of people and you are only as strong as your team!
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
It’s an incredible time for startups in Australia especially those in the food space. I love what Foodora are doing in the food delivery space, and I’m a big fan of Neighbour Flavour, a new app that connects home cooks with people that want to buy their food!
What about internationally?
I am watching French food waste app, OptiMiam (which has a similar business model to Yume) very closely! Earlier this year the French government passed a legislation that forbids supermarkets from throwing out surplus food and I will be interested to see what impact this has on the success of the app. I am also following Olio, an English app that allows neighbours and small food businesses to post items from their personal or commercial fridges for sale or donation – nice work guys!
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I think every business owner should strive to use their business as a vehicle to create social change. I’m not saying that every business needs to be a social enterprise where social impact is a core part of the business but there are so many ways business owners can engage in a social issue and be part of the solution, whether it’s via philanthropy, by donating part of your office space to social businesses, by investing in or mentoring a budding social enterprise or by encouraging your employees to volunteer for a particular cause – the options really are endless!
Is there a particular charity or social enterprise you support?
I will always be an admirer of food rescue charities because I know first-hand how hard they work to feed people in need. We supported four of Melbourne’s main food rescue charities (Foodbank, Secondbite, OzHarvest and FareShare) in our recent Yume Hour event by dividing all the funds raised between each of them.
Can you name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
All of the above! As a small, social enterprise we are constantly trying to do big things with a small team so we are definitely interested in talking to people who might be interested in working with us.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
How can we encourage more start-ups to build social return on investment into their business model?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?