At Intown Sushi in Minneapolis' Midtown Global Market, customers in the know can get about $50 worth of food for $7 while reducing food waste.
The discount is available through the mobile app Too Good to Go, which expanded to the Twin Cities this fall. Users can buy "surprise bags" of surplus food at a third to half off the original price, a deal that is already showing benefits for dozens of local businesses.
Since the app debuted in the Twin Cities in mid-September, more than 5,700 meals that might have gone in the trash have gone into the hands of customers instead.
Intown Sushi is Too Good to Go's top seller in Minnesota, already providing more than 2,200 bags filled with a variety of rolls and bowls. In addition to its storefront, the business delivers packaged sushi to grocery stores and catered events. Before the app, the uneaten items from these catered services would get returned and thrown away, said owner Than Zaw.
"We have a lot of returns, 15% to 20% of the packaging is returned," Zaw said. "This really helps us."
Every day, the restaurant sells more than 20 bags of food from the previous morning. Zaw said their sushi has gone through the lab testing required by the state, and raw items are still fresh the day after being prepared.
Global company, local focus
Edible food makes up more than 11% of waste in Minnesota landfills, according to a 2021 study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. On a larger scale, the FDA estimates that one-third of food in the United States gets thrown away.
Too Good to Go spokesperson Sarah Soteroff said the company aims to reduce global food waste by focusing on the local level. By working directly with a city's businesses and consumers, she said, the impact is greater than waiting for systemic changes in the handling of excess food.
"We need a better mechanism for getting that surplus food, which is still perfectly edible, into the hands of people who are seeking lower-cost items," Soteroff said. "Too Good to Go is a very fantastic way to do that."
The app has also been useful for businesses that have smaller amounts of food waste, like Gigi's Cafe in south Minneapolis. The cafe typically sells one to two $6 surprise bags a day, each packed with $18 worth of pastries made in its bakery the day before.
Laura Stigen, general manager at Gigi's, said they plan to offer more food items through the app because it's worked well for the business. Their Too Good to Go bags usually sell immediately after being posted at 8 p.m., and the process has expanded their customer base.
"It's like a new person every day," Stigen said. "That's also the cool thing about it is that new people come through and they're like, 'Oh, my gosh, I didn't know you were here!' They'll grab a cup of coffee on their way out and say, 'I'll have to come check you out for brunch.' "
Because Gigi's strives to have zero waste, if there's an extra pastry or two after packing the surprise bags, Stigen will give them away to late-night customers. This is a strategy that Too Good to Go supports.
"We want to encourage if a business can donate that food and give it away to please do that," Soteroff said. "There are so many barriers to what can be donated, especially at the grocery level and the prepared food level, so it makes it really difficult, but it's egregious to see all this waste and have it just not go into people's stomachs."
Founded in Denmark in 2016 and now operating in 17 countries, Too Good to Go also has tips on their website and Instagram to preserve and reuse food items at home, from the best ways to store fruit to making cookies from stale bread. Although throwing out food has become normalized, Soteroff said reducing global food waste depends on the actions of individuals. (The free app can be downloaded in the App Store or Google Play; find more information at toogoodtogo.com.)
"The No. 1 thing you can do is just not throw out perfectly edible food," Soteroff said. "Every single person at every single level wastes food every day and multiple times a day. It's a really simple solution."
Jessy Rehmann is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune. Reach her at Jessy.Rehmann@startribune.com.