Deals

Consumers are using this food-waste app to cut down their food spending

Too Good to Go users have formed a community around getting the best haul for the lowest price
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Andrew Adam Newman

· 4 min read

Of the many Facebook groups we (Erin here, hi!) have found ourselves in—a decade-old prom dress group, the now-defunct DeuxMoi group—the most intriguing and entertaining one is full of pictures of New York City food. There’s piles of focaccia from Eataly, soppressata pizza slices from Two Boots, and boxes of macarons from Maison Du Chocolat.

But what sets this apart from other NYC foodie groups is all that food has been secured through an app called Too Good to Go at “one-third” of the retail price, according to the company. The app is focused on preventing food waste by partnering with restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores to sell extra food to consumers in discounted “surprise bags.”

  • The app was founded in 2015 in Copenhagen and expanded to the US in 2020, with ~3 million users across cities including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Since then, it’s reached an audience far beyond those interested in its environmental mission, taking off with consumers eager to score the best haul at the cheapest price, especially as food prices soar.

Budget crunch

David Niles is a massage therapist from Brooklyn and one of the ~11,700 members of the Too Good to Go NYC Facebook group, where users share where they went and what they got. He’s bought over 1,100 bags through the app. Why? “Because I’m a cheap bastard,” he told us. “I normally don't eat out. So this has almost given me an excuse to be a consumer of food, which I don’t always like.”

Another member, Jane Kay, a Chelsea resident who works in financial services, told us living in the expensive Manhattan neighborhood meant her grocery bill for one to two people was around $800 to $1,000 a month. Since joining TGTG, she said her credit card bill is “several hundreds of dollars” lower.

“I noticed that I don’t really go grocery shopping as much now that I use Too Good to Go,” she said. “I just buy certain essentials from the supermarket now.”

  • Plus, with the app, she said she gets to try items like a vegan matcha ice cream that she’d be reluctant to buy full-price at the grocery store.

Barbara Alpert, a medical editor based in Brooklyn, is also a volunteer for nonprofit group Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, so she’s adamant about reducing food waste. She used to order from grocery services like Jokr, Gorillas, and Foodtown to get discounted produce, and is now a frequenter of Williamsburg’s Kellogg’s Diner to score three pints of soup for $4.99 via TGTG. The driving force for the ~100 bags she’s bought has been saving money and the surprise element.

“Once people start using the app, I think it tends to be more about saving money, and enjoying food from different vendors, which is not a terrible thing,” Alpert said. “It’s a retailing tool with a social-conscience arm.”

  • As a volunteer with community-based composting groups, Niles also said he was originally drawn to the app because of its mission. And while he continues to use it to save money, he thinks the app could do even more to reduce food waste.
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Good thing: While TGTG’s main priority is cutting food waste, discounts have “always been part of the reason  why this is so fun,” its US head of impact, Gaeleen Quinn, told us. That’s especially true now, when food prices are sky high.

“There’s always kind of an element of, yes, there is a great deal,” Quinn told us. “But I also feel good about what I’m doing and helping my community and having fun while I’m doing it. And of course, I mean, my wallet also appreciates it.”

  • Claire Oliverson, TGTG’s US head of marketing, also said the company is focusing on growing its partnerships with grocery stores, which tend to have the most waste.

Striking a balance: It’s not surprising—or a bad thing—that consumers have used the app for their own purposes, according to Karthikeya Easwar, associate teaching professor of marketing at Georgetown University. With social mission-based companies, he said consumers are typically drawn to a clear benefit for themselves (in the case of TGTG, that’s discounts and new experiences) alongside “ancillary” benefits like preventing food waste.

“There's a bit of a distinction between the goals of the company, and the needs of the consumer,” Easwar told us.

And if companies put more emphasis on the main benefit consumers are deriving from them, they could appeal to a wider audience, he noted. Kleenex, for instance, was created to remove cold cream, but is now widely used—and marketed as—a product for runny noses because that’s how consumers used it, Easwar noted.

“If you notice that people are using your product a certain way, or connecting to it emotionally in a way that you may not have expected, it often isn’t just prudent, but it’s opportunistic to lean into that.”

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