How IKEA co-workers teamed up with Winnow to halve their global food waste

Posted by Marc Zornes, Founder / 20-Sep-2022

IKEA Food waste winnow technology

Today we are delighted to announce that Ingka Group, the largest IKEA retailer, today announces it has reduced food waste by 54% in its IKEA stores. A significant milestone in the fight against food waste, the Swedish multinational is the first major corporation to meet the Sustainable Development Goal to halve food loss and waste by 2030. Winnow recognises the achievements of the thousands of co-workers around the world who have made this result possible. Their commitment, combined with the right measurement tools, provides a blueprint for other major food businesses to follow. 

Watch how IKEA UK uses Winnow Vision to automate food waste management with Artificial Intelligence.

Food waste management is an age-old problem for the foodservice industry. Winnow's data shows that a typical kitchen will waste around 5-15% of the food they purchase, primarily owing to overproduction, with 70% of food waste by value happening even before the food reaches the customer. The reason being food waste is challenging to measure, and we often ask our culinary teams to make complex forecasting decisions with imperfect information. 


How it all started - IKEA's food waste reduction journey. 

IKEA has led the fight against food waste for a decade. In 2012 the company launched People and Planet Positive, a strategy for the business to align around a shared sustainability vision targeting consumers in their homes and the entire supply chain. 

Eliminating waste has always been front and centre. Indeed, the company’s founder Ingvar Kamprad once described waste as "A mortal sin for IKEA". Culturally, the business has always looked for ways to improve efficiencies to pass on savings to its customers. Whilst waste was well understood within the furniture side of the company, in 2014, they recognised a data gap in their food business.   

In early 2015, Winnow was installed in two pilot sites in England to ascertain whether food waste could be reduced by equipping co-workers with digital measurement tools and analytics. 

The pilot program proved that not only could food waste be reduced significantly, but there was a noticeable improvement in profitability in the kitchen. What's more, co-workers reported a sense of pride in working together as a team solving the problem of food waste in their kitchens. 


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Preparing to scale - How IKEA set a global ambition to tackle food waste

With the proof of concept established, IKEA began to do what it does exceptionally well as an organisation - Scale. Together we launched the Waste Watcher project, which aimed to scale food waste reduction technology worldwide. First, they build awareness for the project by engaging with co-workers.

In summer 2017, IKEA launched its ‘Food is precious’ campaign, striving to change how we think about food. The campaign also announced a public target to cut food waste in half with an ambitious timeline.

By the end of 2017, Winnow launched in the UK, Sweden, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. Slovakia, France, China and India would soon follow after. Thousands of IKEA co-workers were onboarded onto the Waste Watcher program from all corners of the world. 


Collaborating to bring Artificial Intelligence into IKEA’s kitchens

Working with IKEA UK, Winnow began developing a new approach to measuring food waste based on Artificial Intelligence. The project involved a prototype built by Winnow's technical team tested in a real IKEA kitchen.

Co-workers across IKEA's UK stores tested the new approach offering valuable feedback to Winnow, helping us shape the new product. Using the same technology found in driverless cars, Winnow Vision 'learns to see' food that is thrown away, helping teams reduce waste faster with less effort.  

In 2019 we launched Winnow Vision at IKEA UK's flagship store in Greenwich, where we showed the world the impact this new technology could have and the role IKEA co-workers played in its development. 

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Fighting food waste throughout the pandemic and beyond 

In 2020, IKEA selected Winnow as its chosen technology partner to scale globally with. As the world reopened following COVID-19 lockdowns, IKEA regrouped and reset to halve food waste by December 2022 in line with its ambition to become climate positive by 2030

Over the last year, Winnow and IKEA scaled Winnow's Vision AI to 30 countries, from Japan to Canada. A global movement was built, and we saw food waste reduced on a massive scale. 

What we’ve learned from scaling a food waste solution to 30 countries 

Scaling organisational change is hard for any large business. Market priorities and team structures differ, as do attitudes towards sustainability. Culture also plays an important role when trying to create a shared vision. Winnow's implementation method involves close collaboration between project teams of both organisations. Together we defined five key factors for a successful global implementation. 

  1. Effective governance and planning driven by leadership.
    IKEA mobilised a dedicated project team 100% focussed on food waste reduction and tasked with coordinating with local markets in partnership with Winnow's implementation team. 

  2. Clear internal communication on the food waste goal. 
    IKEA defined their goal to reduce food waste weight by 50% vs their corporate baseline, which Winnow helped benchmark. IKEA brought this goal to life for co-workers with fun videos, animations and regular newsletters communicating progress against the target. 

  3. Deploying a definitive measurement tool across all operations. 
    As the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed. A reliable methodology helps guard against greenwashing claims by giving an auditable data trail. The AI component of Winnow Vision validates data and ensures reliability. 

  4. Giving co-workers the autonomy to make changes using Winnow data. IKEA kitchen co-workers are experts in their understanding of their operations. IKEA created an open culture giving teams the space to explore waste in their operations. They also gave explicit permission for individuals to make changes based on Winnow data, empowering food waste reduction to occur. 

  5. Emphasis on best practices, quick tips, and self-serve learning is vital to scale.
    It was clear that co-workers had a real desire to share their experiences with each other. The IKEA project team created videos of co-workers sharing tips and sent them to all IKEA kitchen teams. 


IKEA’s milestone has implications for the global hospitality and foodservice industry

By the end of 2021, we reached our goal with food waste cut by 50% across INGKA stores. This is a significant milestone - the first time a truly global business has managed to halve food waste. While we are proud of our technology's role in achieving this, the recognition belongs to the co-workers who helped build it and then adopted it. 

The implications of this should be far-reaching. The UN sustainable development goal 12.3 sets out a global target to halve per capita food loss and waste by 2030. With up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions arising from food waste, it's essential that we solve this problem quickly. Global businesses have a vital role to play in solving climate change. 

Notably, IKEA set an ambitious time frame rather than map their goal to a 2030 timeline. Other Winnow users are beginning to announce similar targets, such as the catering company ISS (2027) and Red Carnation Hotels (2025). We applaud ambitious timelines and the drive to scale. 

If we are to halve food waste per capita by 2030, we need companies to follow the "Target, Measure, Act" methodology set forth by the World Resources Institute. With food waste prevention being such a profitable investment, there's no better time to act. 

Food waste is a truly global problem. IKEA has proved that food waste can be halved at a global scale by engaging teams' hearts and minds and equipping kitchens with the right tools. Their achievement will hopefully inspire other businesses to take action and shift organisational focus and priorities to add food waste to the agenda.  

Over the coming weeks, Winnow will be launching a series of events, e-books and blogs sharing best practices we've learned working with IKEA. Stay tuned for more updates. 


Watch how IKEA UK uses Winnow Vision to automate food waste management with Artificial Intelligence.

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