Hard-up families struggling with the cost of living are embracing food apps.
The average UK household wastes around £700 a year by throwing away food. The total amount of produce wasted is around 9.5 million tons.
But food apps such as OLIO and Too Good To Go help prevent waste by connecting people to bargain bags of surplus supplies from supermarkets and other firms.
Tom Church, co-founder of LatestDeals.co.uk, says: “The huge benefit of these apps, as well as being budget-friendly, is that it’s much better for the environment. Less wasting food and less wasting money means everyone’s a winner.”
Here, some savvy shoppers who explain how the apps have made a huge difference to their lives.
Knowing you’re helping people in need is great
Alex Bak managed to eat for free for the first six months of the pandemic.
The NHS worker has been a regular user of the OLIO app since March 2020 – and now uses it to get bargain groceries two to three times a week. Every penny the 39-year-old saves is being put towards a deposit for a house.
Alex: “To know you are helping reduce waste by using food that says otherwise would be thrown out, and to know you could be helping someone else who really needs it, is a great feeling.
“I wanted to see how far I could go with it. For the first six months of the pandemic, I didn’t spend any money on food. Every single thing was from the app.”
Among the items Alex collected from other people’s homes were sandwiches and salads from Pret A Manger, and fresh fruit, vegetables and bread from Tesco.
During the first lockdown, Alex, who works as a clinical research practitioner, told how going to collect food was a great way of combining her daily exercise with reducing waste and saving money.
Alex, who lives with three flatmates in Bethnal Green, East London, says: “I used to spend £30 to £50 a week on food. That’s now more like £10 to £20 a week, so I’m saving on average £30 – and helping reduce waste.”
The apps mean there’s no need for food waste
Kind-hearted Kathryn Neale not only uses OLIO and Too Good To Go to save money, but she shares fresh produce with local foodbanks and care homes, too.
The 37-year-old single mum, who has four children, works as a volunteer food collector.
She says: “I get milk vouchers for my little two and have been getting the government vouchers for the big two but it’s not been quite enough. I still need to get fresh fruit and veg and keep a good supply of full-fat milk in the fridge for the little ones so getting a Morrisons box once a week has been a great help.
“It’s £3.09 and although it is meant to be a veg box, it can consist of anything that is reduced or damaged but is always edible and should be up to the value of £10.”
As well as picking up cut-price food for herself, Kathryn also delivers reduced produce to other people, including shielding pensioners and her parents.
She believes that if you don’t want or need certain food, there is no excuse for binning it as almost everything can be frozen or given to people who can use it via apps like OLIO.
It’s encouraged me to be creative in the kitchen
Last year, Julia Wilson’s 66-year-old husband Peter had a stroke so she gave up her job as a carer to look after him full-time.
She discovered food-saving app Too Good To Go while browsing the internet three years ago and says it has been “a lifeline” for them.
Julia, 60, says: “You don’t get paid much for being a carer, but Too Good To Go has been brilliant. We used to spend a horrendous amount on food – about £100 a week. Now we spend around £60. It’s been a real lifeline for us.”
Julia uses the app to buy hugely discounted bags from Morrisons the most. But she also gets cakes from Greggs and other local shops like Hobbs House Bakery.
She reserves magic bags via the site around three times a week. Julia, of Coalpit Heath, South Glos, said: “They are only a few pounds, most often for produce worth well over £10.
“Christmas was just overwhelming. We had mince pies, chocolate cake… so many things. And it’s really inspired me to come up with different dishes in the kitchen, which has just been so enjoyable.”
We’re using the £2,460 I’ve saved on trip to Florida
Going out at 8pm to pick up a “magic bag” of food from her nearest One Stop shop has become a ritual for savvy mum Sarah Colley.
The 41 year-old, the head of finance for an online menswear retailer, has shaved thousands of pounds off her weekly food shop thanks to the Too Good To Go app.
Sarah, who lives with her solicitor husband Andy, 42, and son Joseph, six, says: “We’ve been saving an average of about £30 a week so over 20 months, it’s been a saving of about £2,460.
“The money we’ve saved is in a holiday fund. We’ve rebooked a trip to Florida that we were hoping to do before the pandemic and we’re using the money to go for longer.”
Sarah, of Scarborough, North Yorks, says: “Each retailer sets the price of the bags. They’ll say how many they have at the end of the day on the app and you go and pick one up.
“You spend around £3.09 for a magic bag and it’s like a lottery because you have no idea what you’re getting.
“One of my colleagues jokes, ‘You’re an accountant from Yorkshire so you’re going to be a bit tight’, which is probably true. But I don’t like seeing food go to waste if I can either use it myself or give it to people at work.”
I was impressed with the boxes… they helped a lot
Widow Shelly Kelly, 41, is a carer with an eye for a bargain.
The mum of four swears by the Too Good To Go app after she once managed to get £47 worth of groceries for just £6.
Shelly says: “I picked up two Morrisons boxes using the app and was very impressed. It helped me out a lot. And by paying £6.18 for 30 bags of fruit and veg, I essentially only paid 20p for each item.”
Fruit and veg are key items in the boxes – and Shelly told how you can make huge savings.
She says: “The best bargain was 13 punnets of strawberries. The total price originally would have been £21.50 using the offers in store.
“Ten punnets were £1.65 each or two for £3 making the total price £15 with the offer, and the remaining three were £2.50 each or two for £4, so the original price would have been £6.50. However I only paid £2.60 for these, saving £18.90 in the process.”
Shelly, from Leamington Spa, Warks, adds: “I froze a lot of it… the kids made a lot of smoothies and milkshakes with it. Frozen strawberries were also great in my gin!”
How the free food apps work
The apps involve picking up perfectly good food from cafes, restaurants, bakeries and shops near you, so you have to be willing to collect it.
Too Good To Go has more than 28 million users worldwide and says it saves more than 100,000 meals each day. Users simply register for free and can pick up “magic bags”, which contain various items from big-brand chains such as Greggs, Costa and Waitrose.
OLIO is also free to download with an optional supporter donation of £4.99 a month. It allows people to fetch food from all the usual sources, as well as from neighbours, who might be throwing away good food because they are moving home or going on holiday.
The app also includes a goodwill scheme in which you can sign up to be a volunteer, picking up food for others.
Other popular food apps include Karma, which works similarly to Too Good To Go but focuses on local outlets. The food offered on the app is sold as individual discounted meals so you know what you’re getting – handy if you’re a vegetarian or have food allergies, for example.
NoWaste also helps you manage your own food waste. The free app allows you to log your weekly shop and sets up reminders so you will know when it is going out of date.
Another app called Nosh, developed by the University of Essex, works in a similar way – as does Kitche, which has more than 1,000 recipe ideas to help you use up leftovers.