On a sunny day in San Francisco, TikTok user @agoodkaren walks and talks into the camera on her way to La Boulangerie. “I saw this TikTok of this guy talking about this app that’s supposed to get you hella cheap food and help with food waste,” she says.
It sounds like it’s too good to be true — but it’s actually Too Good to Go, an app that’s meant to offer an alternative solution for restaurants and grocery stores that toss their perfectly edible food. Rather than let the day’s baked goods, prepped meals, or grocery items spoil in dumpsters, stores pack up their food in “surprise bags” that people can order for $4 to $6. It’s definitely a step up from spending $15 on a pre-packaged Caesar salad.
“I get, you get, we get super cheap food, and the food doesn’t go bad so they don’t have to throw it out,” @agoodkaren says in her TikTok. She shakes the Boulangerie box, sealed with a golden “B” sticker. “It’s a surprise, but this feels like this would be at least one pastry? Which, honestly, for $5 in San Francisco? What a deal.”
It turns out to be four pastries, including a classic butter croissant and a cookie with a crinkled top. It comes down to $1.25 per baked good.
Too Good to Go was founded in Denmark in 2016, and in 2020 the app launched in a number of cities across the U.S. East Coast. The San Francisco operation marks the first West Coast expansion.
“We know there is already strong interest for a solution like ours from these communities, and we look forward to making sustainability accessible to all,” co-founder Lucie Basch said in a press release.
The app launched in San Francisco in early May and already has more than 100 participating locations in the city. Across the Bay Bridge, there are about 30 locations on the app’s map in Oakland and Berkeley. You can get Chinese American fare from chef Brandon Jew’s Mamahuhu for $5.99, boba from QualiTea for $3.99, and bread from Estela’s Fresh Sandwiches for $4.99. More options include Marhaba Halal, New Asia Supermarket, House of Dim Sum, Holy Gelato, Moscow & Tbilisi Bakery Store, Voodoo Love, and El Toro Taqueria.
For Mamahuhu, Too Good to Go has been a boon: When food goes to waste, so does the money spent on ingredients. “[The app has] helped us make back the food cost of almost all of our food waste for the month of May, and it’s been a fun way to interact with folks in the community — we have had regular customers come by, and we have gotten to meet lots of new people in our neighborhood,” said Noah Kopito, Mamahuhu’s operations director, in an email. “Mostly, we are grateful to have an outlet for these leftovers.”
“It’s extremely difficult to anticipate exactly how much or what kind of food will be remaining after service each night,” said Ben Moore, a co-owner of Mamahuhu, in an email. But Too Good to Go’s surprise bags offer some flexibility to restaurants in that sense. Whatever leftover food they have can be put up for grabs on the app on a day-to-day basis.
Ordering one of these surprise bags is as easy as making a paid reservation on the app and then picking it up from the restaurant during a scheduled time slot. But it’s not a perfect system. The app can be difficult to navigate for someone with food allergies or other dietary restrictions. Because the contents of each bag is a surprise of whatever unused food the restaurant and grocery stores have, there aren’t many options for selection.
Every restaurant page has an “Ingredients & Allergens” section, but more often than not, tapping that option will only reveal a rather unhelpful pop-up that reads: “We can’t predict what will be in your surprise bag, as it depends on what the store has in surplus. If you’re concerned about allergens or ingredients please ask the store.”
There’s an option to filter for vegan or vegetarian options, but in a recent SF Weekly test run, this filter didn’t yield too many results other than a few grocery stores.
Still, it’s a start to offering tangible steps to reducing food waste in major cities across America. Food waste is responsible for 18 percent of methane emissions from U.S. landfills, according to a 2016 Environmental Protection Agency report. About 31 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted, totaling 133 billion pounds per year.
Rather than let good food rot in a landfill somewhere, or burn in an incinerator, Too Good to Go presents a choice for consumers and business owners. “No one likes to throw away food,” Kopito said. “Especially the food that we’ve worked hard all day to make.”
The Too Good to Go app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.