Illustration: Ella Cohen
Eating is a way of life in Italy and fresh food remains the preferred ingredients for many. The country counts some 350,000 independent food stores, small businesses that dot the neighbourhoods of major cities and sell a variety of fresh produce from bread to cheese.
The rise of supermarket chains and convenience shopping over recent decades have left many independent stores struggling. It’s also causing a lot more food waste: Italy is estimated to waste 6.6m tons of food annually, according to a 2010 Eurostat report.
The issue of food waste is one that Turin’s Francesco Ardito began to notice on his frequent visits to the bakery near his office. “I would often ask them what happens to the unsold slices of pizza,” he explains by phone from his home. “The answers were always the same: I eat it, I give it to my family or my workers, and, most often, I throw it away.”
With a background in software development, communication and consulting, Ardito admits that over his thirty year career he has had a habit of trying out ideas, just to see if they’ll work. “What if the shops could send an SMS to local residents that let them know certain products are available at a discount at the end of the day?” he explains. The answer to this particular question became Last Minute Sotto Casa (LMSC).
"What if the shops could send an SMS to local residents that let them know certain products were available at a discount at the end of the day?”
Set up in 2014, as part of the local Incubatore Imprese Innovative (Innovative Enterprise Incubator) of the Polytechnic University of Turin, LMSC offers local businesses and residents a simple way to connect, and in the process, to reduce food waste.
Ardito knew that the platform had to be kept simple in order to encourage usage and growth. Potential customers register their email and addresses, for example one for home and one for work, before selecting what kind of shops they want to be informed about and how far they’re willing to travel for it.
“Most people might not want to go more than a few hundred meters for fresh bread,” Ardito points out, “but they might be willing to get in a car and travel two kilometres for fresh fish.”
The project started with a handful of local shops around Ardito’s office and quickly grew. Other businesses began to ask about LMSC and eventually the local media picked up on it. Today, LMSC has 32,000 registered users and is expanding outside of Turin as the issue of food waste becomes a hot topic in Italy.
“Politicians like the angle of curbing food waste,” Ardito admits. LMSC was invited by the nearby city of Genoa to present the project earlier this year, leading to a tour of the country that has seen LMSC establish itself as far south as Naples and Palermo.
“Most people might not want to go more than a few hundred meters for fresh bread, but they might be willing to travel two kilometres for fresh fish”
But the real attraction of LMSC isn’t simply that it’s helping fight against food waste or that it saves consumers a few Euros. “Shop keepers aren’t really making money but they’ve realised that the value of the service is as a local marketing tool to attract new customers,” Ardito says.
In cities like Turin, older neighbourhoods can be densely populated areas with thousands of residents within a few hundred meters of a single business. Many of these are discovering stores they didn’t know existed and becoming reacquainted with fresh products, like home-made cheeses.
In its first year LMSC has been recognised as a leading social enterprise and solution for sustainability by the European Union as well as The University of Cardiff and various other institutional bodies. London, Berlin and San Francisco are in talks with the company to expand the platform internationally.
Closer to home, Ardito will launch the LMSC app for Android and iOS platforms next week. The app marks the first step towards generating income for the company, which has so far offered the service entirely for free as a way to ensure growth. A premium version will give businesses and customers added functionality, such as the ability to book in advance or showcase additional information.
Ardito is excited about connecting more people and business and helping to shrink the 1.3bn tons of food waste that we generate annually. “Five, ten years ago people didn’t always think about the planet,” he says. “Today they care more. And it’s not just about saving money, it’s about helping shops too. It’s about ethics.”
LMSC is an innovative digital loudhailer that fights wasted food and improves socialization in city's districts.Log in to follow