Mr. Macaluso pointed out that these apps are geared toward selling small volumes of perishable goods, whereas food banks are usually set up to handle much larger donations. “So those kinds of apps are filling a really interesting and unique niche,” he said.
The apps also have the potential to reach people facing food insecurity. Flashfood said a minority of its shoppers (roughly one in five) experience food insecurity, according to its own survey data, and the company is working to allow government assistance cards as payment methods. A spokeswoman for Too Good To Go said the company did not accept food stamps and did not have similar data on users.
One complication is that, according to interviews with several companies selling on Too Good To Go, at least a few items for sale there aren’t necessarily what buyers might think of as “food waste.” The owner of a Baltimore dessert shop said she considered the app a promotional tool to reach new customers by selling what she called “little samples.” A beverage company owner said he used the app to sell discontinued products, but also sold new flavors there in hopes of attracting new customers.
Mr. Crummie, the Too Good To Go director, said the app’s requisite price point dissuaded this type of behavior. “If somebody is paying $5, they should be receiving $15 worth of food,” he said. “So it’s not a profit-generating platform.” He added that the company responded to user reviews, and when businesses are misusing the platform, it ends the partnership.
Regardless, Professor Broad Leib said she thought these apps would make users reconsider their own food waste, and that would be beneficial. “The best ways to change consumer behavior has been just making people more aware of the issues,” she said.
Ms. Rexrode, the tax analyst in Austin who uses Too Good To Go, has thought about the effect she’s having on the climate. The app includes details on how many pounds of carbon dioxide she has “saved” based on the number of surprise bags she has bought, which in her case is 419 pounds.
However, she pointed out, that number might not be entirely accurate. “They don’t know how much I’ve contributed by going to get the food,” Ms. Rexrode said. “I am driving!”