It began with a simple conversation between two brothers (both students), Paul-Adrien and Christophe Menez. Christophe complained that he always forgot which supermarkets discount products that are close to their expiration date, while his brother always knew the “right” supermarket to go to. Indeed, this policy is not implemented by all supermarkets, which sometimes prefer to simply waste tonnes of food. In France, 600,000 tonnes of perishable food products are thrown away each year by supermarkets.
Together with their friend Nicolas Pieuchot, an IT student, they developed the concept of Zéro Gâchis (in English, "zero waste"): a website and an application which collects data on discounted fresh products and shares it with potential consumers. At the end of 2011, the website was launched: but how to convince supermarkets to engage with it? Negotiations with big chains like Carrefour are hard: it is difficult to get an appointment and when you are in the meeting, they barely listen to you. Therefore, the entrepreneurs decided to target the supermarkets under franchise like E. Leclerc or Intermarché supermarkets in Brittany. Meanwhile, Zéro Gâchis uses the “'Incubateur Produit en Bretagne”, which offers office space, technical support and training for researchers and professionals in Brittany. For Paul-Adrien, this business accelerator has facilitated the creation of the enterprise by giving access to relevant networks. Zéro Gâchis also won the “SFR Jeunes Talents Entrepreneurs 2012” (Young Entrepeneurship) award and received €2,000 for their start-up.
Since June 2012, consumers in Brittany can use the website: two supermarkets sent their data to Zéro Gâchis every day. Eventually, two other supermarkets, including one close to Paris, chose to join the concept. The team also negotiates a special “Zéro Gâchis” area in each of the participating supermarkets which enables consumers to find all the discounted fresh products in the same place. The results are impressive: the first supermarket partner has halved the amount of produce wasted. It means that dozens of tonnes of waste are avoided in each supermarket that takes part in the concept. It is a good deal for the supermarket, for the consumer and the planet.
A viable business model?
At the beginning, Paul-Adrien, Christophe and Nicolas were not sure that the business model would succeed. They did not know how it would work and if consumers would use it. For instance, they did not know how to charge the participating supermarkets. In March 2013, Zéro Gâchis joined “Le Camping” in Paris, the first French business incubator. With the help of their diverse network of mentors, they have developed the business model of Zéro Gâchis so that the start-up can become economically sustainable. The service remains completely free for the consumers: it is the supermarkets which pay a subscription every month. This will give Zéro Gâchis enough money to develop other services. Already, they have made some improvements: supermarkets can directly update the data on the website several times a day and an application for smartphones will be available soon.
Beyond utility: a common spirit
Starting a business is difficult: in addition to not being paid, you must work hard. Paul Adrien said that after reaching 90 working hours per week, he stopped counting how much time he spent on Zéro Gâchis. The fact that the service contributes to reducing food waste and spreading this practice gave them more motivation to work. In addition, they are building a community of people: for example, they receive messages from consumers who send data on which supermarkets do or do not implement discounts for products close to their sell-by-date. They decided then to include this data in future applications. They are also thinking of developing an app for supermarkets with fresh soup. Thus, this is more than making business: this is helping to build a sustainable society.