Gousto has reached a milestone achievement. It has fulfilled a pledge it made in August 2018 to reduce the plastic it uses by 50% in 2019. This equates to 100 tonnes less plastic – or 238m fewer plastic straws – entering the environment.
And the high-growth meal kit delivery company isn’t stopping there. Gousto is planning to remove a further 74.5 tonnes of plastic from its boxes this year and make all Gousto-branded packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by the end of 2022.
This is no mean feat, particularly given Gousto’s high growth rate. When the food-tech group completed its latest funding round at the beginning of this year (securing an additional £28.5m (€31.8m) and bringing total capital raised to £75m) growth was confirmed at 170% year-on-year. Gousto now delivers more than 2.5m meals per month to customers. By 2025, it aims to serve up 400m ‘balanced and nutritious’ home-cooked meals monthly.
Gousto has placed artificial intelligence at the heart of its business. The company recently debuted an AI-based recipe recommendation service that directs customers to dishes that should interest them. Half of the group’s customer orders are now placed through its recipe-recommendation system.
AI, machine learning and increased automation are also being used to address one of the largest challenges facing meal kit services – high overheads and cost-base.
This technology-first approach is also being used to support Gousto’s sustainability initiatives, according to CEO and founder Boldt.
“Our heavy investment in technology and AI has helped us to reduce food waste and more recently achieve a significant breakthrough in reducing plastic in our recipe boxes,” he explained.
‘Closing the loop’ with materials innovation
As one of Europe’s ‘leading technology companies’, Gousto said it will explore new materials, technologies and processes, whilst working with suppliers to continue to reduce plastic packaging.
An example of this approach in action can be seen through the development of Gousto’s new ‘UK-first’ insulating packaging that does not use plastic and can be recycled in the existing waste infrastructure.
After piloting the packaging with over 4,000 customers, the company is rolling out the innovation to its chilled products this year. This change alone will save the equivalent of 177m plastic straws, whilst allowing for the safe transportation of Gousto’s chilled ingredients to families’ homes.
Unlike other solutions, such as coated cardboard which is not recyclable, Boldt said Gousto was at pains to deliver something that could be fed easily into the UK’s existing recycling infrastructure.
“The new packaging solution is made of cardboard - completely plastic free and fully recyclable,” he told FoodNavigator.
“The end of life is managed by the regular paper/cardboard recycling stream, by using only these materials, the most widely recycled in the UK, we help close the loop and create a circular economy. The recycled material could even come back as our plastic free and 100% recyclable new packaging or as Gousto boxes.”
No compromise on shelf life
Indeed, Gousto is mindful of avoiding any unintended environmental consequences as it moves away from plastic.
Tacking food waste is high on Gousto’s sustainability agenda and the company says that zero food waste has ‘always’ underpinned its mission.
If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind only the USA and China. In the UK, families through away an average of £700 of food waste each year.
Gousto believes its model helps tackle food waste in both home and production settings. By delivering precise ingredients and easy-to-follow recipe cards the company claims to help people in the UK cut levels household food waste. Through AI enabled forward forecasting, Gousto is able to buy ingredients fresh from its suppliers based on actual order numbers.
The problems of packaging and food waste are closely intertwined. And it’s worth noting it takes ten times more resources – materials, energy and water – to make and distribute food than it takes to make the packaging that protects it, according to The Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment.
Replacing plastic with a packaging material that wasn’t as effective at preserving chilled foods was therefore not an option for Gousto. “The new packaging solution has been extensively tested to hold the same temperatures as our current solution across the whole year. Therefore the shelf life of our delicious chilled products will remain the same,” Boldt said.
“Paper has good insulation properties in itself. Where this new packaging solution is clever is that it wraps many layers of paper to trap the air in between. By trapping air, we create lots of pockets of insulation that stop the cold from escaping.
“We’ve spent a year testing it in all weather conditions - the heat waves last year were a great opportunity for us to run tests - and we recently invested in a temperature chamber to allow us to replicate extreme weather conditions.”
A full lifecycle analysis of the new packaging solution will be completed next year and Boldt said the packaging material delivers the ‘same food safety standards’ as the current insulator used by Gousto.
This focus on plastic reduction through industry leading packaging innovation, is the ‘next step’ towards becoming an ‘ethically sustainable company’, Gousto concluded.