Helping buffet kitchens curb food waste by peeking into their bins

By Vanessa Liu, first published in The Straits Times, 14 Dec 2020

The Sunday Times talks to Mr Rayner Loi, 26, co-founder and chief executive of Lumitics, a local technology start-up that developed Insight, a smart food waste tracker. The device is used by hotels, airlines and large commercial kitchens to trace how much and what type of food is thrown away so that they can take steps to reduce waste

How did the idea of the Insight tracker come about?

I was at a buffet line when I noticed the staff serving up trays of freshly prepared food 20 minutes before it closed. I was puzzled. Why were they preparing fresh food minutes before closing? It hit me that the hotels and buffet restaurants are probably the ones contributing quite a bit to Singapore's food waste problem.

Upon some research, I realised that there was a lot of work done in food waste recycling and food redistribution to those in need, but almost none in preventing food waste from being generated in the first place, at least in the Asia-Pacific.

I saw an opportunity and started Lumitics to help kitchens better manage their food waste.

The tracker took about a year or so to develop and was officially launched last year. To date, we've raised about $1 million from Enterprise Singapore, Temasek Foundation, travel and hospitality venture capital fund Velocity Ventures, as well as a syndicate of hospitality industry veterans.

Tell us more about how the Insight tracker helps to reduce waste.

Most kitchens today don't measure their food waste and this lack of visibility often prevents executive chefs from taking any meaningful steps to reduce it.

Our Insight food waste tracker uses a sensor that weighs what is thrown onto the device's tray. A camera also takes a photo and uses artificial intelligence to identify the food items, after which the contents in the tray are emptied into the kitchen's bin.

The data collected acts as a feedback loop to help chefs understand what and how much is being thrown out at each lunch service. Over time, we can analyse the data to identify food waste trends and give the chefs actionable insights to minimise food waste.

On average, our solution has helped our clients reduce up to 40 per cent of their food waste. We have about 20 clients, including hotels and airlines.

Where do you think the biggest amount of food waste is generated?

We often talk about reducing food waste at the consumer level, but there are many more opportunities to reduce food waste before we even come to the consumer's plate.

We need to focus on businesses because they are in a better position to really make an impact given their scale of operations. If they reduce food waste by just 10 per cent to 20 per cent on an annual basis, that is a reduction of thousands of tonnes of food waste.

What's next for Lumitics?

We believe that in the post-Covid-19 world, sustainability and tackling food waste will be all the more important for brands, because in the recovery phase, no hotel or airline can afford to be wasteful.

Sustainability reporting is also becoming a trend as brands and listed companies are held to greater accountability for their actions. Hotels, airlines and cruise lines now have to take sustainability and food waste seriously.

We hope to introduce our solution to more markets in the Asia-Pacific region and treble our impact next year.

The Sunday Times and DBS are partnering in a six-part series to delve into Singapore’s growing food waste problem and its cost to families, businesses and the environment. #TowardsZeroFoodWaste

More on this topic: Unsold but not unwanted food: what do supermarkets in Singapore do with these?

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