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One-on-one with Tekeya’s Co-founder

One-on-one with Tekeya’s Co-founder

ArabFinance: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 10% to 20% of Egypt’s wheat is lost in its traditional flat storage units, with further losses along the bread value chain.

On the retailers and consumers end, Egypt ranked 16th on a global food waste study conducted by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) in 2017.

Looking at addressing the food loss and food waste problem in Egypt, Menna Shahin and her husband, Maxim Haartsen, created Tekeya, an app that helps organize excess food for providers by making it easily accessible for consumers. Arab Finance spoke to Shahin and learned more about the company’s operations and the economic and social impacts of reducing food loss and waste.

Could you tell our readers how Tekeya started? How does the company tackle the food waste problem in Egypt?

Back in 2019, whilst outside for dinner at a sushi restaurant, we [Tekeya’s founders] witnessed waiters throwing away perfectly fresh and edible food items.

We started doing some more research and found out that, globally, one third of the food produced goes to waste. The cost is tremendous, it is a $100 billion burden yearly on the hospitality sector on a global scale.

In the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, that is 250 kilogram per person per year. In contrast, in a country like Egypt, still more than 30% of the population are living below the poverty line.

I think most of us realize that food waste exists and most of us cringe when we see it happening, but then tend to look away at the same time. Here is where we started thinking about how we could take action into our own hands and how to use today’s technology to bring purpose again to these unsold food items and avoid it from being wasted.

How many users, food providers, and charity entities are currently on Tekeya? How much food waste have them avoided through the app?

Tekeya’s business model involves three main stakeholders across a two-sided marketplace. On the supply side, we work with food providers, such as bakeries, cafeteria, restaurants, and groceries. On the demand side, we connect with daily consumers and charity organizations.

To date, we have saved around 8,000 meals from being thrown away, working with 65 food providers across eight areas in Cairo, expanding into 14 areas covering Greater Cairo by the third quarter (Q3) of 2021. Our registered user base, who are purchasing food either for self-consumption or to donate it if they want to, has been growing exponentially over the last six months, crossing the 8,000 registered users milestone. In terms of downloads, we are close to the 15,000 mark. Donating food is really embedded in the culture here and therefore we see a vast array of charity organizations. At this moment, close to 60 charity organizations have agreed to work with us, using our application in order to receive an increasing number of meals for the needy.

What is the profile of your users in terms of age, gender, and location? Why do you believe this user profile is attracted the most to the concept behind Tekeya?

Our marketing team closely monitors what we consider to be our Ideal Customer Persona and it is an evolving process alongside the company's growth path. What we have seen coming back from the data analysis is that our users are in the age bracket between 18-44 years old, likely to be more female representation versus male, and willing to fight for the cause, meaning fighting food waste with an eye on reducing carbon emission. Of course, we see young mothers as well wanting to save money for the family.

Could you tell us about your expansion plans? Which cities are you prioritizing? Will you expand abroad?

Geographical expansion as well as horizontal expansion across our food provider base are both at the fore front of our growth strategy. Currently, we are available in Cairo and expanding to the Greater Cairo area by Q3 2021.

We plan on entering the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2022, with Dubai as the target city followed by Abu Dhabi. Our vision over the next five years is to save over 50 million meals across the wider MENA region.

What are Tekeya’s current challenges? How is the company facing them?

We are proud of the impact we made in the market so far by doing good for society and doing well as a business at the same time. Perhaps the fact that we are on the crossroads of doing good and doing well, meaning that we are a for profit company, sometimes can be perceived as a contradiction to our purpose. Being a socially conscious enterprise isn’t always in your favor when raising capital from Angel Investors or venture capital firms. We really need to find the right match. Luckily, the Impact Investing market is growing fast and today it is worth over $715 billion.

How does Egypt compare to other countries in the region in terms of food waste?

The average Egyptian waste is around 75 kilogram per person per year. Egypt is ranked 16th on the global food waste list. Other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with 427 kilogram and 220 kilogram per person per year, respectively, are right at the top of the list. In other words, there is a lot of work to be done in the MENA region.

What kinds of food go the most to waste and why?

Here, it is important to take a step back to take a look at the total food value chain. Typically, in developing countries like Egypt, we see a higher percentage of food waste earlier on in the value chain, meaning that a lot of fresh produce is being wasted during the process of cultivation, storage, and distribution. Here we need to think about products like fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes. The estimate for Egypt is that around 68% of total food waste is lost early in the process, leaving about one third in the retail sector, the actual consumption part of the value chain. Tekeya’s current focus is on the retail part of the value chain. Based on our current experience in the market, we see a higher supply of unsold, close to expiry items in non-prepared food products from grocery stores.

Is food waste a bigger problem in certain age groups, social class, and locations in Egypt? Why?

The problem of food waste is dispersed throughout the society across all the layers. It is difficult to single out one specific segment. If this was the case, it would perhaps be easier to solve. Unfortunately, it is a complex, multifactorial problem we are facing. For instance, when we look at the supply side, the agricultural sector, this has been heavily industrialized where mass production and profit maximization are at the forefront of existence. In a sense, we lost the equilibrium with nature. It is less than a century ago when we ate seasonable vegetables and fruits as they weren’t available during wintertime.

Nowadays, we have everything we want, every day of the year, which leads us to the next chapter, which is consumer behavior. We expect fruits and veggies to look perfect, we make mistakes in buying consciously driven by discounts on volumes, leading to ‘scientific experiments’ at the back of our fridges. Lastly, looking at the Middle Eastern region, there is a cultural element as well of preparing large meals, where abundance is a token of respect. Now, we are in Ramadan and we know that food waste spikes by 25% on top of the average 30%.

Besides using Tekeya, what behavior changes can people adopt to reduce their food waste?

It is Tekeya’s mission to create a like-minded community through our application, with users sharing tips for buying consciously and using gamification tools to reward good behavior. Changing consumer habits isn’t done overnight. It will take the collaboration of many stakeholders involved, including governmental action, and changes to food industry marketing as well as media influence. Actions to take at home are: don’t overbuy, prepare meals fit for the size of the family, and be creative with leftovers!

What are the economic and social impacts of addressing this issue?

Late last year, we contributed to the Circularity Gap Report 2020 and were featured as a case study. The Circularity Gap report addresses the imbalance between the energy we put into our global economy and how efficient we are in re-using these resources measured against the output. Only 8.6% is cycled back, meaning that we live in a linear model still, one of take-make-waste. Food waste is one of these outcome parameters with a significant impact on the environment and climate change through carbon emissions. On an economic level, it creates a huge burden with an estimated total cost of over $1 trillion on a yearly basis globally through misusing natural resources, labor, and capital. Combining the aforementioned aspects, on a social level, food waste actually leads to more food insecurity.

 

By Mariana Somensi

 

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