Instock has opened its doors a few weeks ago in The Hague. As I’ve been cycling past everyday during the setting up phase, the promotion poster hanging on the windows intrigued me. It said: “Den Haag, are you ready to rescue food?” – just to arouse curiosity. And it worked. For days, I’ve been trying to guess which concept could hide behind this appeal. A charity? A supermarket? A community initiative? A local farmers’ collective?
In fact, Instock is much more than a restaurant; it is a whole new business concept. The story behind it is equally interesting: 4 colleagues who used to work for the international retailer Ahold came up with the idea. Confident enough in their innovative and pioneering project, they decided to present it for the Best Idea of Young Ahold contest. And they obviously won.
So, what is Instock all about?
Having a “foundation” status and being support by Albert Heijn (supermarket owned by the retailer Ahold), Instock’s main goal is to address the unsustainable food surplus from not only supermarkets, but also producers and consumers. The founders have developed several activities in order to raise public awareness of this pressing issue. The restaurants – at the moment 2 in Amsterdam, 1 in The Hague, 1 trendy food truck and soon 1 in Utrecht – lie at the heart of the project and offer a real immersion into rescuing food.
Everyday, Instock’s workers go around the city with their Bakfiets to pick up the free food surplus from Albert Heijn supermarkets and other producers for specific products such as meat or fish. Don’t get me wrong here, food surplus doesn’t mean expired products. For supermarkets, it means products bought in too large quantities e.g. special editions produced for a specific period of the year. For producers, it means extra production, or flawed fruits and vegetables.
Once back with all the consumables, the chefs come into play. The challenge is not to know in advance what the “harvest of the day” contains, forcing the cooks to be creative and invent a new menu everyday. With simple and basic ingredients, they create a true gourmet menu based on family meal recipes. When I had dinner there, the menu included a carrot soup for starter, a first course with smoked mackerel filets and pickled vegetables, a second course with rabbit legs and greens, and a banana bread for dessert – all with a fancy and artistic twist! What’s more, the open kitchen allows the clients to observe how and what with the cooks are working.
This whole transparency conveys a comforting feeling: by paying more attention to our own “stock management” and using the products smartly, it is possible to redo the same at home. The benefit is two-fold: saving food and money!
The founders identified and picked up on societal the trend to eat more sustainable. Thus, they developed extra activities to enrich their initial idea. A cookbook – in other words an comprehensive collecting of conserving methods and smart tips to make the most of our “own stock” – is available for sale in all the restaurants, most bookstores and Albert Heijn supermarkets in The Netherlands. If reading is not your cup of tea, the same tips are taught during the Masterclasses taking place in the restaurants. Typical topics consist of “pickle, fermenting and freezing”, or “curing, smoking, drying, confit in fat”. For 3 hours, and for such a reasonable price, a chef shares his/her best tips & tricks with the participants who get to practise and taste lots of good food.
An increased awareness of food waste throughout Europe
The awareness-raising campaigns to address the food waste issue have expanded all over Europe and beyond in the past few years. I still remember very well an advertising campaign from the French supermarket chain Intermarché. With eye-catching TV commercials and unusual posters in the stores, the brand intended to promote “Ugly fruits & vegetables” by selling these 30% cheaper. It was a huge success and the commercials have even been translated into English.
In the UK, Love Food Hate Waste has developed a website providing factual statistics about food waste in the country. Lots of tips about food portions, recipes, storage are available both on the website and the dedicated app for smartphone. The charity is getting closer to citizens, especially the younger generation, through an excellent social media strategy – it counts an impressive number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and Pinterest. It also teamed up with Wrap, another NGO from the UK, to release striking and powerful promotional visuals.
Even though these campaigns did not invert the trend, people are now more alert about the stakes related to extra production and are more willing to change their consumption habits.