'Too Good to Go' app aims to fight Chicago food waste by finding meal deals

The United States generates about 100 million tons of food waste every year.

So what can Chicago consumers, who live in a city known worldwide for its food and restaurants, do to help fight food waste? Well, there is an app for that.

Lutfiyya Muhammad is in for a surprise. She is on her way to pick up her order from Molly's Cupcakes, but she has no idea what she is going to get.


"It’s not dinner, but I’m sharing it with friends," Lutfiyya said.

She ordered a "surprise bag" from Molly's with the Too Good To Go food app.

"We provide a very easy solution for consumers and businesses to fight food waste together by connecting through our app. They buy surplus food at a 70 percent discount," said Gaeleen Quinn, of Too Good To Go.

There are just over 500 Chicago restaurants and grocery stores who list their surplus food for sale on the app.

Businesses like Sopraffina or Beatrix Market post a few slots daily. What goes in the bag is a surprise every day for both store managers and consumers.

"We decide based on what’s going to be leftover for the day. That’s what helps us reduce the waste," said Greg Moeller, general manager of Sopraffina.

"It was made that morning and I guarantee you people were paying full price for it probably 15 or 20 minutes prior to you picking it up," said Taryn Kelly, VP of Development for Sopraffina.

"They get it for $5. So the guest pays five and we give a $15 value so you get 66 percent off," said Kevin Trojanowski, of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.

While surprise bags from these two places have included a fresh frittatta for breakfast or a tasty roast turkey for lunch, there are three more types of surprise bags you can choose from when ordering from one of the grocery stores on the app, like Dom's Kitchen and Market.

"One is our market bag and the other one is our bakery bag," said Chris Vincent of Dom’s. "So in our market bag, is where you are going to get moreso dairy items that are close dated or dry shelf stable goods that are close dated. In our bakery bag however, that’s where we’ll get same-day expiring muffins, donuts, breads."

Dom's also offers a produce bag for consumers to choose from.

The Too Good To Go app started out in Denmark five years ago. It launched in Chicago last July.

"We’ve already saved more than 90,000 meals together which, if you think about it, that’s actually the equivalent in terms of CO2 to flying a thousand times around the world, Quinn said.

For some restaurants, they say the timing could not have been better.

"When we reopened, we were looking for somewhere to donate our excess food and we were having a hard time just because food pantries were overwhelmed with supplies and we couldn’t find somebody that would actually come to pick up the food from us. And Too Good To Go just showed up at the perfect time," Kelly said.

"We need a lot of technology to engage consumers in the fight against food waste, said Dr. Weslynne Ashton, associate professor environmental management at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Dr. Ashton is also part of the Recipe Project, a group of academic researchers working to better understand how food waste is generated and develop solutions that benefit the community.

"I think apps are a really important way to connect how consumers are currently accessing information with the behavior change that needs to happen to develop food waste solutions," Dr. Ashton said.

So what kind of surprise was in Lutfiyya's order from Molly's?

"Carrot cakes with cream cheese frosting," she said.

Since she started using the app in January, she said it’s pretty rare that she hasn’t been happy with what was in a surprise bag because she orders from places that she likes.

But when it does happen, she sends a text message to her friends and asks if anyone wants it.

Keep in mind when you order a meal on the app, you might be eating it a little later in the day than you usually do.

Too Good To Go is also starting to expand its reach into Chicago suburbs and you can download it for free.