According to the data of the Ministry of Agriculture in Croatia, as much as 399,611 tons of food or 97 kilograms per capita end up in the waste every year. It is generally estimated that 53 percent of food is discarded in households, in Croatia this share is even higher and reaches 77 percent. But few people know that tons of food go to waste due to unintentional or unfortunate mistakes on packaging or shipment declarations, which is why good and healthy food is rejected in the logistics chain before it even reaches store shelves.
It was on this problem that the Zagreb company VeeMee was founded three years ago, which only last year saved 750 tons of food so that it would not end up in the waste. Their ideas and efforts have been recognized by the large retail chains they work with, but also by official bodies such as the Ministry of Agriculture.
– About ten days ago, there was a problem with asparagus from Spain, which was packed in eight pieces in a “pušlek”, but the declaration stated that there were ten of them. This was noticed by the technologist before the asparagus was received in the store. Technologists are the first barrier to control goods coming from the EU in which there is a free flow of goods. They are independent experts and their opinion must be respected by traders, and the goods are rejected even if the number of asparagus in the package is wrong – says Marko Kozjak (33) from the company VeeMee, which he founded with Nikola Vido. So it would be with asparagus that would return to Spain and perish along the way.
– But we jumped in and repackaged the asparagus so that there were ten of them in the package, as it says on the declaration. The merchant then received them, and we even had an excess of asparagus that we diverted to a food outlet. Asparagus saved, the matter resolved, no food was thrown away – Marko is proud to recount what he is doing.
His work was also recognized in the Zicer business incubator, which proudly highlights the VeeMee project on its website.
And Marko explains in more detail how big the problem of food deterioration is in logistics.
– About 15 percent of rejected shipments are only because of the label because something is wrongly printed on it, and the producer/supplier from the Netherlands, Spain, or Italy does not know that. If the qoulity control rejects the goods because there is something wrong with the label , even if it is small, the ion must not be accepted into the store. In the store, everything has to be according to the PS and that is good for consumer protection. The technologists are doing a lion’s share of work and we can thank them for everything in the market. But what when mistakes are technical in nature and can be corrected by common sense? Well, the whole of Europe did not give a solution to that, and we figured out how to fix it – Marko tells us.
His job has the qualities of an intervention team, rising on call, day or night. He creates a solution in about 15 minutes, and if everyone agrees, he saves the thing, that is, the food from unnecessary throwing.
Marko personally saw such errors in the system while working as a manager in a large concern, he experienced, tasted, and smelled all the weaknesses of the system that detects errors. Because it’s okay for someone to find out that there are 8 asparagus in the package, and the declaration says 10, but Marko was the only one to offer a solution to simply rearrange the packages in Croatia with the consent of all parties involved, instead of returning to the producer in Spain. the producer did it (and the asparagus would have actually failed by then).
He also saved imported raspberries because the English name of raspberries remained on the declaration, there was no Croatian translation.
– The declaration left in English “raspberry”, instead of writing raspberry. We jumped in, pointed out to the manufacturer what was wrong with the declaration, and advised that it must be written in order for the goods to be received at the store. We had a case with three huge trucks of lemons that arrived in Slovenia. But the declaration said in Croatian that the country of origin was “Turkey”, instead of “Turkey” in Slovenian. They wanted to refuse three trucks of lemons, but we also advised the producer what to do with the declaration in order to be correct and the lemons were accepted – Marko explains what exactly he does and how he saves food from being thrown away.
Speaking about his experience so far, he says that as much as 70 percent of food in the store is thrown away because of such problems, because of the wrong euro pallet, the wrong box, the wrong LOT, the declaration, and most producers do not make intentional mistakes.
– In the other 30 percent, the problem is quality, but if you have something of the first class, it is rejected due to a few percent of the goods of the second class. Then, for example, we sort it out, sort the goods that are declared as second class and send them to food outlets, and what is third class goes to the production of fertilizers – Marko is proud. Their job is live goods that are returned to the store within 12 to 24 hours, instead of being thrown away.
The team from VeeMee has found their job in the Interzone between the manufacturer and the retailer, and they solve system errors.
They are angels advising manufacturers because they know in a letter what the procedure must look like for goods to enter stores and they literally navigate manufacturers so as not to get lost in the system. Since they started work three years ago, they have prevented the dumping of 2,000 tons of food and the release of 40 tons of CO2 into the air. To this should be added 400 kilograms of asparagus that they saved about ten days ago.
They also became partners of many retail chains.
– It is difficult for producers, they send food to other countries, and then things like this come back, it spoils and is thrown away. These are enormous amounts of CO2 emissions from trucks that drive back and forth across the continent, the damage is huge … Our job is to let the manufacturer know what mistake he made so that it does not happen again elsewhere. We become guardian angels who point out mistakes, advise how to correct, and signal what needs to be done – says Marko about the fact that their interventions are useful in many ways.
Marko notes that it’s actually great to have technologists who control everything before it gets to the shelves and is the first dam if anything goes wrong, even if it was a simple unintentional mistake on the declaration.
– And they do a great job and protect the consumer and make sure that everything is according to good standards that guarantee healthy and safe food. If there was no standardization, we would have much bigger problems and a lot more waste – says our interlocutor.
But Marko and Nikola had another desire that they developed for business. And that is to make sure their children know what they are eating. And this can only be done if the customer in the store gets information about where something is coming from and who produced it. So they created a platform on food traceability to the field.
The customer in the store simply scans the QR code of a product and everything about where it is from and who produced it and where is displayed on his mobile phone. He gets full information about what he is buying. If all the food whose traceability customers could track through the system developed by VeeMee were put into the trucks, they would string together as many as 1,111 18-ton trucks. Impressive, but Marko and Nikola have big plans because they are already breaking into other markets thanks to their system of preventing food waste in the logistics chain and traceability system.
They are looking high, at the German market where there are 80 million people. They prepare for it digitally and if they succeed, only the sky is their limit.
These efforts at VeeMee were also welcomed by the Ministry of Agriculture:
– Works on innovative digital solutions in agriculture, food production, and consumption and the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as all legal entities through its business solution and projects, which aim to improve sustainable food production and consumption from field to table, in any case, welcomes and supports.
However, they state that there are already numerous projects that prevent food waste and that Croatia achieves the UN goal of halving the amount of food wasted in the retail and consumer chain by 2030.
A lot has been done, the Food Donation Guide has been published and the ‘e-donation (e-doniranje)’ project has been launched.
– It is an IT system that facilitates and accelerates the redistribution of surplus food and enables better communication between donors and intermediaries. The joint efforts of all stakeholders in the food donation chain have resulted in a 30 percent increase in the cost of donated food in 2019 compared to 2018 and 48 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. Specifically, in 2020, 1,726,610 kilograms of food were donated, which is, compared to 2019, an increase of 13.8 percent – according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
A number of activities were launched to raise awareness of the problem of food waste, including the project under the slogan ‘Eat, share. Food is not a waste ‘.
– The first of the activities is the production of an animated film on this topic, and on the occasion of the International Food Waste Awareness Day, the ministry will organize a special professional gathering and event this year – they say in the ministry. There are also guides for the prevention of food waste in trade, catering, and institutional kitchens, and it is planned to conclude voluntary agreements for the prevention of food waste. A project of infrastructural equipment of intermediaries in the food donation chain and the food bank is also being prepared. Namely, by the end of the year it is planned to develop a support program for infrastructural equipment of intermediaries in the food donation chain and food bank, which should be financed from the EU Mechanism for Recovery and Resilience in the amount of 30 million kuna – announced the Ministry of Agriculture.
On the unique Internet Platform for Food Waste Prevention, they want to create a place for the exchange of good experiences and good practices and plan to launch it next year as well as share special awards for the most prominent examples of good practices in preventing food waste.
– The plan for 2022 also includes a support program for research work and innovative solutions that contribute to the prevention of food waste – the ministry also announced.
Author: Katarina Dimitrijević Hrnjkaš