Inspirational Publié le 26 août 2019

Naomi MacKenzie: “We all see beautiful pictures of food, but no one looks into trash bins”

Younger generations have established an intense relationship with food. Since they enjoy life through experiences, eating has definitely become one of their priorities. Just by taking a look at social media, we get to see hundreds of colourful and eye-catching pictures of delicious dishes. However, they tend to ignore a key element that is part of the hospitality business: food waste.

KITRO was one of the projects that appeared as an alternative to that issue. Anastasia and Naomi were worried about waste management, so they decided to do something about it. Their company now helps the hospitality industry measure and reduce food waste and costs automatically. We spoke to Naomi MacKenzie about KITRO and its impact.

Question: What drove you to get involved in food waste reduction and co-fund KITRO?
Answer: My partner Anastasia and I had worked in the hospitality industry, in kitchens and in service. We used to throw away a lot of food from customers leftovers. That’s when we realized there was a lot of food waste and we needed to tackle that problem. Our idea was to automatize the entire process, though we didn՚t have tech skills.

Inspiration came to us when we were riding in a Tesla. There was a camera in the car that read speed signs. The information from the signs was made available to the car when we ran through them. And we thought: “We can definitely use tech like this to apply it to food waste”.

Q: You are a very young entrepreneur. Have you ever imagined that you would end up having your own business?
A: No, I think it was a coincidence. Anastasia and I applied for a competition that was taking part at university. We had to make a 2-minute animated video about a sustainable concept in 2025 for the hospitality industry and we won the challenge. Anastasia and I couldn’t stop talking about our idea, so we decided to give it a try and turn it into actual business.

Q: How does KITRO work?

A: Basically, you place your food waste bin onto our device in the kitchen and service areas. You throw your food waste into the bin placed on top of the scale. Thanks to the camera placed above it, we automatically track what is thrown away (bread, French fries, potatoes, etc.), and how much it costs.

Q: What do you think makes KITRO special?
For me, what makes KITRO special is our working skills as a team. We are a group of young people who are motivated by sustainability, by the rest of the team members and by the chance of building something completely from scratch.

I strongly believe Anastasia and I work well because we wanted to do something that had a positive impact on the environment and that made us proud at the same time. We didn’t even think about the monetary value that it could bring. I think that attitude was key to the project.

Q: Where there any failures in the development of KITRO?
Yes, there were. Our biggest challenge was building a tech team that would carry out our project. We hired someone who was very talented but didn’t quite fit the team. That way we leant that even more important than the tech talent is how well employees fit the team and that everyone, regardless of their position, should be considered as an equal. This was just before the first financing round and could have collapsed the company.

Q: What other challenges did you have to face during the development of the project?
A: Our main challenge was keeping our spirits up, even though we were not earning any money. Especially right after university, it is hard to see that everyone is getting well-paid jobs and starting up their careers while you are essentially taking a risk. What’s more, our social lives were affected since we were spending extra time on the project, such as weekends, and evenings. However, it was definitely worth it.

Q: What would you recommend to those who are about to start their own project?
A: I think many people are hesitant to start their own project because they don’t have the know-how. But in our case, in the last few years we learnt more than we would have learnt if we had had another job or had enrolled in a master program. I think the lack of experience shouldn’t stop you, even if you are young. Also, you need to find the right cofounder. For me it has been very important to share ideas and work things out together with Anastasia.

Q: Environmental concerns are increasing. How does it feel to be part of the solution?
A: The fact that awareness on food waste is growing, that people are beginning to talk about food waste and put it into numbers is just great. There’s so much innovation that can be applied to tackle environmental issues and hence we are proud to be a small part of the solution. We are fortunate we started a company that focuses exactly on that on the right time.

Q: What is next for KITRO?
A: We ‘ll be making improvements in the next few years, in terms of software, automation, the hardware and customer service. At a personal level, I also would like to look into plastic waste, especially single-use plastic waste in kitchens, such as bottles, straws, bags and plastic wraps. There՚s a lot of room for sustainable development that I would like to explore.

Q: Is there anything we can do as individuals to reduce food waste?
A: Every individual can help. We would be already making a difference by making a small effort a month or a week. For example, by not asking for blueberries when it’s not blueberries season. Also, by taking leftovers home. These small actions do help reduce food waste, especially in the hospitality industry. Some customers are scared people would feel disappointed if they don’t have blueberries available in their buffet, or if they put less fries on the plate customers are going to complain.

Photo: KITRO