Every year, some 2.5 billion tons of food are thrown away worldwide, which not only entails a large cost, but also causes around 2.5kg of CO2 equivalents per kilo. For this reason, Alexander Piutti founded SPRK.global in Berlin in 2020, whose goal is to offer a sustainable and efficient solution to the problem of surplus food along the supply chain. We spoke with Piutti as well as Robert Leuendorf, the Lean Production Manager at mirontell fein & frisch AG, a partner of SPRK, about their sustainable fruit salads produced from, among other things, surplus food. mirontell is a fruit salad producer whose products are sold nationwide.
Alexander Piutti (left) and Robert Leuendorf (right).
Redistribution through digital supply chain
During the pandemic, Piutti could see that warehouses were filling up from wholesale markets, but that restaurants could no longer call on them. "The entire B2B rail completely collapsed from the buyer side at the start of the pandemic. And that's where our concept comes in: the rapid redistribution of perfectly edible surpluses that occur along the supply chain. The surpluses arise partly because the supply chain cannot be viewed digitally."
In the beginning, SPRK primarily supplied NGOs such as the Arche, the SOS Children's Village in Berlin and Hope Mallorca in Spain. With increasingly positive responses -from the trade as well- Piutti quickly realized that they would also have to dedicate themselves to commercial enterprises: "Above all, we wanted to gain a foothold in the processing industry, which is why we looked around for suitable partners." Leuendorf states that they found each other through a mutual water polo acquaintance: "Waste management is naturally a big issue for us in the processing industry. Because if you minimize 'waste,' you can also reduce corresponding costs. So we're very happy to be able to add another positive aspect to our fruit salads."
Piutti points out that SPRK deliberately does not talk about food waste, as many would associate this with defective goods. "Especially at the beginning of the supply chain, there are large amounts of individual products that are lying somewhere and can only be picked up in part. Here, 'surplus' means that there are too much goods of a certain product, at a certain place, at a certain time." In order to ensure a smooth production process for this, there also needs to be a corresponding transparency about the respective production specifications. Piutti: "There must also be buyers who can handle large volumes. The novel element of what we offer is that we are familiar with the specifications of the processors. This matchmaking of specific surplus and demand is provided by our platform."
Suppliers' extended workbench
The platform SPRK is building, however, is not a public marketplace, as is the case with Ebay, for example. "And it will not become more public either. We see ourselves as an extension of the suppliers, who we help to sell their top goods well and to return them at a good price. It is therefore a curated marketplace, which is only visible in parts. But the information and data needed for each fruit segment can be collected and displayed with us. So we're building complete data sets that don't yet exist in this form, but which in turn allows our buyers to decide whether or not the products are right for their particular processing or recipe."
Hundreds of tons marketed
Leuendorf says he is pleased; while they were not surprised by the general demand for the new fruit salads, they were surprised by the very specific requests expressed by one customer. "We're very pleased about that, and we definitely have a lot of work to do as well," Leuendorf says. Both the lean production manager and Piutti were pleasantly surprised that several 100 tons of the fruit salad have already been requested within a year.
Piutti is confident that the industry will more actively address surplus produce in the coming years. "The cooperation between SPRK and mirontell shows that the math works. The goods are already being requested and processed in large channels. The more partners from the food sector join, the better it will be for the climate. It takes the courage of innovators and companies like mirontell." Currently, the products are offered exclusively in Germany.
Working on an SPRK app
"Our main product consists of a 5L container filled with 3.3kg of fruit. The rest consists of a stock produced specifically for the product, which is completely without preservatives. We do not want to exclude that we will not offer this in the future also in to-go with sustainable packaging. Currently, however, sustainable packaging is sometimes five to six times more expensive than plastic packaging, which is not accepted by supermarkets. In addition, the mind-set of consumers also still needs to be changed," Leuendorf said. Eurest, a subsidiary of the global Compass Group and one of its largest customers, has already commented very positively on the fruit salads, he said.
SPRK is currently thinking about developing an app to make the platform easier to use. NGOs, supply organizations or generally groups that have low to no budgets will also continue to be supplied. "We have already delivered about 200 tons to these multipliers of aid organizations in the last twelve months," Piutti said. In general, he said, it is important to make the platform as efficient and user-friendly as possible.