Better Together: Yume

Did you know that food waste is one of the greatest contributors to the loss of fresh water on our planet?

As part of our 'Better Together' Series and to celebrate World Water Day we sat down with Katy Barfield from Yume Food, an incredible online marketplace helping to fight food waste across Australia.

Would you mind giving a short introduction of yourself for the folks across Australia? 

Hi, I'm Katy Barfield and Yume is an online marketplace for the sale of surplus food. Whilst that sounds so simple, it's been really tough to build and grow because the food industry operates within such an old system that is very set in its ways. Food waste has not been a priority for manufacturers and food growers because they focused on their A grade product; the product that they’ve got an avenue to market for. This avenue holds very thin margins in the food industry, so the slow-moving or obsolete items are just not seen as a priority. Surplus food or “unsaleable” food has always been a bit of a hot potato in a company and no one really wants to deal with them, because who wants to deal with clearance stock? Companies and businesses want to deal with the full-priced stock in order to hit their set targets and will do what they need to do from a KPI perspective.

I saw a huge need and this is how so Yume came to be. Before Yume, I was the founding CEO of SecondBite, which is a food rescue organisation founded in Victoria. When we just started out, it was a group of us picking up quality fresh fruit and veg at the end of trading hours from the Prahran Market and South Melbourne Market. Once the stock was collected, it was then taken down to the Sacred Heart Mission, or the Prahran Mission, all places where people would go to access fresh, nutritious food because they were struggling to put food on the table for themselves, their children, or their families.

I loved working with SecondBite and to see it grow to an incredible national organisation moving huge amounts of food to over a thousand community food programs. However, I realised that there was still an issue with food waste. The four major food rescue organisations, even today move only 1.33% of the total food waste in Australia and it costs $58 million every year to run those major four.

Whilst that's a lot of money, it's a massively needed service, so it's not a criticism or reflection on what they do as a mission, but what it does is highlight that food rescue isn't a solution for food waste.

So at SecondBite, you were dealing with the end game of food waste, but there's still the whole bottom part of the pyramid that no one ever sees. Kind of like an iceberg?

Food waste is like an iceberg, in paticular the commercial and industrial food space that Yume works in. So we're really focused on manufacturers and the primary producer level, which is where 55% of food waste occurs. That's before it even gets to a restaurant, your home or to the supermarket. It’s hard to believe that half of food stock is lost so early on in the process.

When you say food waste, it could be something as simple as misprints on product packaging?

Yes. There are a myriad of simple reasons a product may become unsellable. 
The product label may have a typo, a change in the recipe, a change to their marketing, a change to the packaging. It can even be that the export regulations have changed or there can be a slight mistake in the creation of the product,  which means it can't be sold to their main buyers any longer even though it's totally safe to eat.

For example; if a consignment of cream cheese has been manufactured with the purpose of being used for cheesecakes rather than for spreading on your cheese and smoked salmon bagel in the morning, the product has a different consistency. One is used for cooking and one is used to spread, and whilst we wouldn’t be able to necessarily taste the difference, if the consistency isn’t as it should be for its particular application, it would go to waste.

So it is easier to scrap than to repurpose it?

Some food suppliers just don't have a market for it, and to gather the resources to create a market for a one-off mistake or opportunistic purchases has no value to them, so they don't do it. It  will go to animal feed if it can, but failing that it will go to waste.

Tell us about a few highlights or achievements that you guys have accomplished in the past year?

When you've knocked on a door for quite a period of time, like a big industrial caterer, there'll be a moment in the sun where something's hit PR or there's been public awareness generated, or a story goes live on social - all of a sudden that door swings open. That's a real buzz because in there, you know, there's a treasure trove awaiting you and you've knocked on the door for long enough. Earlier, we would approach suppliers and they would claim their business didn’t generate any waste. Obviously we knew the waste was there as it is in every single company - but they just didn't want to talk about it. They were ashamed of it. From this, I think a highlight is the fact that not only are food suppliers now willing to talk about it, they're willing to come to the table with solutions.

There's definitely been a shift. We've been at this for over four years, but there's been a shift recently over the last 12 to 18 months. During COVID, there seems to be a heightened awareness about our impacts on the planet and about the amount of waste being produced. This is where we have seen the shift, which is a definite highlight. And then of course, for example, when you move a huge consignment of 270 tons of apricot juice that is destined for the ground, instead of it going in the ground, it actually goes through to multiple discount retailers and it sells. These are results that we are so excited by, because it's a win for the planet, it's a win for the supplier, it's a win for the buyer. There’s just no downside. 

Does Yume work with any distilleries?

We work with a lot of brewers which is pretty cool. Craft brewers are able to substitute out their ingredients really easily and, in the past, we have provided them with peach paste, fruit or anything of that nature. For example, we have had our blackberries used in Two Birds Brewing's recipes, and peach paste used in one of Byron Bay Brewery’s Summer brews naming the beer ‘Son of a Peach’, because it was really hard to get out of the drums. One person's trash can really be another person's treasure and all of these outputs or by-products actually can be used as input for something else.

So many distillers seem to be doing weird and interesting stuff, do you think Yume would be a good avenue to try out new fruit or grains?

They should definitely get on the platform and have a look because there's so much opportunity; there's fruit, grains and at the moment we've got ongoing by-products from certain manufacturing processes such as bran, which we believe can be used during the brewing process. 

We’re sure there are many, but what have been the key challenges? Are people & businesses still reluctant to admit they create waste?

People are becoming more and more open to admitting they create waste, so that's a good thing. Some people say that they have no need for depositing their waste to a business like us. That’s why we aim for the believers: people and businesses ready to dive in. There's no point in making a knuckles bleed banging on doors, or they're never going to open because you're spending time missing opportunities somewhere else. COVID was a huge challenge, because 40% of our customer base disappeared overnight when hospitality shut down, you know, much the same as I’m sure CAPI did. All of a sudden, the environment we worked in was cut off literally overnight, like the flick of a switch. Bye. See ya. And the troubling part was knowing there was food everywhere, stuck in all of these commercial kitchens, stuck in all the events, reefers and cold stores.

It was the perfect storm and a complete nightmare for food waste, which had us trying to pivot as it created a very stressful change to how we operated. Then, alongside this, we were all working remotely which, for a close-knit team, was extremely difficult. 

This was definitely the hardest thing Yume has faced as a company for a really long time. And then the other one before that would be when you’re really close in a capital raise and the money's just about to drop and everything is on track and it looks absolutely bloody fantastic. You’ve got the plan and you can see the future and then it falls over, and then you've got to scrap around and try and bring it all back together, keep the team motivated, find the money from somewhere, going on the smell of an oily rag.

What does it mean to be Australian to you?

Whilst I was born in England, being Australian to me means to have this sheer smorgasbord of landscape and experiences - I feel so spoiled. I've never found anywhere else in the world where the rainforest meets the ocean, and there’s a desert, and then I can be skiing, and then I can be on a beach, and I can do all of that within 365 days and I don't even need to really leave my state – it’s nuts. So to be Australian is to be in the lucky country, quite literally, especially now, especially now more than ever

Who are some local heroes or brands that inspire you?

Joost Bakker is someone in the food waste space that I really believe puts his money where his mouth is. He’s built some incredible structures in Federation Square, Melbourne. He talks about this tirelessly in the circuits. From a food waste perspective, he's the real deal.

On a personal level, people like Jane Tewson from Igniting Change lives, breathes and embodies humility, all the while having some of the most intense and extraordinary connections globally than anyone I've ever met in my life. She is such a woman of service and works to highlight the  stories of everyday heroes; the people that have fought through some extraordinary hardships, some of those courageous people that we walk past on the street don't even notice.

They’re some of the most courageous people that walk amongst us and we overlook them. I love seeing the beauty and the strength where sometimes we don't look for it and I think that's really powerful. I love Who Gives A Crap. They’ve really broken the mainstream. I have it at home, we have it in our office bathrooms, it's kind of everywhere, I just love that. Most people wouldn’t be bothered to work with developing a product like toilet paper, but they’ve made it fun, current and they’ve made a bloody good business out of it.  

What are some of your favourite bars and restaurants in Melbourne?

I'm spoiled in some respects of where I live because I live over in the West, which a lot of people might not think of as being spoiled, but I do. I live near Williamstown and Yarraville, and there's such a heart of a community there and we've got some absolute gems. So Sebastian's down on Williamstown beach, has such a great vista and is really good for lunch especially on a sunny afternoon. The kids are in the water, I'll have a glass of wine or a G&T, and my kids will drink a CAPI believe it or not. Being 6km from my house, it is easy to ride the bike down and sit there all afternoon, and in the mornings I walk down the beach with my dog and get a coffee from  d'Asporto kiosk, they do a great coffee. When I go out with the kids, we go to d'Asporto, which again is grown by the same people, but it's in Yarraville.

Their pizza is incredible and it's hard to beat really, really bloody good pizza. They've got great passata and everything is very traditional and run by an Italian family. For a special treat I like to go to the upstairs area at Stokehouse; it is special. Their signature dish, the John Dory there with pipi’s and caviar is my go-to dish, I love it and it's pretty cool up there.