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Can we fix it? How Kai's Amanda Judd is shaking up the food system and overcoming overconsumption

In a regular section called Can We Fix It? Idealog and Kiwibank will explore some of the world’s biggest – and, in some cases, most intractable – problems and then showcase some of the clever people trying to tackle them. Kai is a smart, data-driven grocery planning and delivery service soon to be launched out of Auckland. The aim? To decentralise and regenerate the food ecosystem, decreasing waste and prices. 

Every year Kiwis throw away 122,547 tonnes of food – around $872 million worth. On top of the obvious waste and pollution caused by its production and distribution, decomposing food emits greenhouse gases from the landfill that wind up being a huge contributor to global carbon emissions. According to The Drawdown, a collection of very smart people from a range of sectors that have attempted to chart the most effective ways to deal with climate change, reducing food waste is near the top of the list.

While there are a number of charities that collect food set to go to waste and redistribute it to those in need, Kai CEO and co-founder Amanda Judd says the entire system needs to change, and the way to do that is through design-led development – using business as the platform for change.

“We believe financial integrity and stability is essential to catalysing food system transition. There is no charity-business dichotomy in the world of Kai,” she says.

Kai is a smart, data-driven grocery planning and delivery service soon to be launched out of Auckland. The aim: to decentralise and regenerate the food ecosystem through development, research, benchmarking, tracking and reflection through machine learning and big data. It can generate healthy meal plans from as little as $3 a portion including delivery, while decreasing waste from an industry average of 40 percent to less than one percent.

Judd says by introducing a responsive, dynamic platform for sourcing food that learns from users’ preferences over time, Kai hopes to swing the balance from overconsumption to healthy and sustainable ordering.

Working on the principle that everyone has to serve the community and environment, Kai relies on customers making use of all ingredients ordered.Before ordering, customers review and delete any items already owned and the site tailors recipes to the ingredients in the pantry, along with other tailored settings including budgets and amounts. It won’t recommend out-of-season items in an effort to reduce wasteful production.

As the website says: “It learns what you love, knows what is available, and matches the two, making it efficient.”

By choosing local suppliers wherever possible, not repackaging items into smaller quantities and packing orders in compostable and recyclable packing, the company only has 0.25 percent waste across the entire chain, Judd says.

Creating a dynamic relationship between producers and consumers is designed to fuse the two, Judd says.

“Supermarkets and their model with big food do not meet the true needs of the people by a large stretch.”

She says the same is true with food services, catering and wholesaling.

“The full shebang. The current food system is linear; the information and power flows in only one direction.”

She says everyone in the line of production is stretched and change is needed, particularly with smaller traders working in tough conditions.

Judd says the general “pick one part of the system and be an expert in it” mentality to business has to change for a sustainable ecosystem.

“We've realised that leadership and reimagining what's possible is what everyone is hungry for. Even the big giants are anxious about the near future, both in terms of technological and cultural transformation.”

She says the lack of a legal entity and funding are major barriers to change. A supportive policy framework is needed for businesses to innovate, and there should be a fiduciary duty to report on triple bottom lines, she says.

“We need it all, and the reality is we needed it yesterday.”

But she says, most importantly, businesses and consumers alike need to integrate their values into their behaviours.

The 'Can We Fix It?' series, which looks at how we're using innovation and ingenuity to try and solve some of our thorniest problems, is brought to you by KiwibankKiwibank is passionate about the future of New Zealand, and about making Kiwis better off. They’re 100% Kiwi-owned, which means their profits stay right here in New Zealand.

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