Just Fare: Preventing Food Waste, Empowering People
Just Fare is a mission-driven food service operator whose goals of minimizing environmental impact and doing the most possible social good permeate all aspects of operations. Besides their business and institutional catering accounts, Just Fare runs a community kitchen and consults on commercial kitchen design and foodservice.
Their achievements in food waste prevention are impressive: Between August 2019 and April 2022, they used an automated food waste tracking system to determine the amount of pre-consumer food waste they generated—such as surplus and spoiled food. Just Fare then used the results to strategically modify operations, resulting in a 96 percent reduction in overproduction. The changes prevented 4.5 tons of food waste and saved the company close to $35,000.
How were they able to pinpoint waste prevention opportunities and make the necessary changes? After all, weighing each batch of surplus food, analyzing data and implementing changes takes time—something that is in short supply in most commercial kitchens. “We invited all levels of staff—from dishwashers to management—to contribute their observations, ideas and creativity,” explains Just Fare Executive Chef Ian Humphrey. He also came up with a weekly award to recognize the staff person who did the most tracking. “This was both an incentive for staff as well as a message that wasted food is something we need to know about, not ignore,” says Humphrey.
A Company Culture with People at the Center
For CEO Bronwen Sterling the food waste prevention successes underscore the importance of Just Fare’s company culture: “We couldn’t do all this if we weren’t a people-driven company where each staff member is valued and respected.” In day-to-day operations this means paying a living wage and accommodating people’s schedules, while also being transparent and involving staff in company decisions. “We have a monthly all-hands meeting where we discuss issues as a team and listen to feedback,” explains Bronwen.
Just Fare’s people-centered model has resulted in exceptional staff retention in an industry with notoriously high turnover. When the pandemic wiped out the company’s business catering accounts virtually overnight, the loyalty and creativity of their staff were key to Just Fare’s survival. They founded a new enterprise, Just Fare Community Kitchen, to prepare meals for donation, using the same standards as for their office catering and event menus that prioritize locally grown, organic ingredients from women- and BIPOC-owned independent farms. The effort is funded by a combination of public and private grants and donations. To get the meals to those who most need them, they partner with over 40 community-based organizations for distribution. Not only did this move keep the company’s lights on but it has also addressed the soaring problem of food insecurity—to the tune of more than 400,000 meals donated since May 2020.
Changing the industry one business at a time
A growing part of Just Fare’s operations is their business unit, which specializes in all-electric commercial kitchen design and foodservice consulting. Working with commercial kitchens and food spaces for workplaces, nonprofits, and food production facilities of all sizes, Just Fare’s design team applies the same holistic principles and values that make up their own mission. “The cultural piece is really the cornerstone of our planning and design process,” says Caetie Ofiesh who leads the consulting work. “We look closely at an organization’s values, their staff and whom they serve. The design work builds on that.”
The menu is key to design decisions as well and another element Just Fare advises on. “We advocate for fresh, local produce over packaged ingredients, and recommend businesses take surplus food donation into account. That means planning for a higher volume of refrigeration space up front,” explains Ofiesh. Offering alternatives to single serve cafeterias is another focus. At San Francisco based Everlane, Just Fare set up a zero-waste snack & drink program based on bulk foods with the necessary design elements to ensure food safety, provide unique, fresh products at all times, and decrease waste.
In recognition of Just Fare’s trail-blazing work in the food service industry, StopWaste honored them with a 2022 Award for Excellence in Food Waste Prevention.
For assistance with implementing food waste prevention or surplus food donation in your operations, please contact Cassie Bartholomew by email or phone at CBartholomew@stopwaste.org, 510-891-6516. Alternatively, you may submit an online request for free assistance using our webform here. Please also visit our grants information page for details on how your business or institution can receive grant awards of up to $20,000 for projects that focus on waste prevention and recovery of food.