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Surplus food app gaining popularity in St. Pete

Ashley Morales

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St. Petersburg eateries are embracing the Too Good to Go app as a sustainable solution to combat food waste, recover some of the costs associated with excess inventory and attract new customers. Photo: Too Good to Go.

An app that tackles food waste and helps people buy discounted food is trending in the Sunshine City.

Too Good to Go, originally launched in Europe, has rapidly gained traction in the United States with its mission to reduce food waste. The app provides a simple platform for local restaurants, cafes and bakeries to sell their excess food before it goes to waste. Instead of going in the trash, food left at the end of the day can scrape back a little more value for local small businesses.

Customers, in turn, get the opportunity to purchase products at a fraction of the regular price. Because the eateries don’t know what will be left over, customers purchase a “surprise bag” of food to pick up just before the business closes.

Local favorites like La Segunda, Pete’s Bagels, Valkyrie Doughnuts and multiple Kahwa locations have signed up to sell on the app. According to Meghan O’Donnell, a Too Good to Go spokesperson, 30 supplying stores and more than 1,200 paying customers have used the app since it launched in St. Petersburg in November 2023.

“To date, we have saved 2,000 meals in St. Petersburg, the equivalent of 5,000 tons of CO2e avoided. In the two months since launch, Too Good To Go’s impact has been significant, helping local consumers save more than $20,000 on food and aiding partners to generate more than $6,400 in revenue,” O’Donnell told the Catalyst.

A “surprise bag” purchased on the Too Good to Go app from Choux-Venue Bakery Cafe included two cake slices, two cream puffs and a 24 oz. mango tea for $5.99 plus tax. The app lists the retail price at $18.00. Photo: Ashley Morales.

Steven Peterman, owner of Pete’s Bagels, said his store was one of the first to join the app when it launched last fall.

“We always try to not sell out of bagels during the day, so that leads to having excess when we close. The app seemed like a great opportunity to not waste the food, and it seemed like a no-brainer to us because we make everything fresh every day, so all the bagels just kind of go to waste if they’re not eaten that day,” Peterman said.

He noted that while proceeds from the app are naturally lower than typical store profits, it’s been an easy, low-impact way to save bagels and pastries from going to waste, and it’s opened the business up to potential new customers.

“The surprise bags sell out so quickly. People are buying them the second they’re available the day before, which I was not expecting,” said Peterman. “Even from day one, we put them up and sold out of the four bags within about an hour. So, literally, there’s a wait for this and it’s always been so surprising. Even if we add bags because we have more bagels than we thought, we always end up selling them.”

St. Pete resident Natalie Good is one of those rare few who’ve been able to snag a surprise bag from Pete’s Bagels, noting that the freshness and amount of food inside exceeded her expectations. 

“The bagels were very fresh and I think I got a dozen and a large slice of coffee cake for just about $6 or $7,” Good said. “Valhalla Bakery was also really good. I got an orange roll, cookie, brookie, cupcake and a Danish for $5.99, which is insanely cheap for the quality and quantity of the items.”

Many Too Good to Go users have written online reviews praising the “surprise bags” they purchased from Pete’s Bagels. Photo: Natalie Good.

Of course, the old adage of “your mileage may vary” applies here. Some customers have noted fewer items or food with less value than they expected in online reviews, or employees who weren’t familiar with the app when customers arrived to pick up their surprise bags.

“The catch is there are a limited amount of surprise bags and they get swiped up really fast on the app. I wish more local businesses used it,” said Good. “The pickup times can also be kind of weird, like pretty late in the evening for a lot of them.”

Despite some hiccups, overall sentiment about Too Good to Go has been positive, and O’Donnell said the company is still working to onboard more businesses to sell surplus food on the app.

“My wife and I just started using it about a week ago,” said St. Petersburg resident Andrew Elsass. “It has allowed us to try places and menu items we probably wouldn’t normally. It’s such a great idea.”

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    David Rose

    January 20, 2024at6:25 pm

    Every time I oder from the app they cancel the order. 5 different places. Just now they canceled it 1 min before I was to pick it up. Great idea but pooooorly executed. So don’t plan your day around picking up your order since they can cancel it right before pickup. Drove 30 mins one way to pick up and now nothing. Not even “sorry, here is a free coffee”….son won’t say it was Kahwa or anything.

    Buyer beware. Might as well donate the money to the food bank or another charity directly.

  2. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    January 18, 2024at6:33 pm

    Absolutely Wonderful idea!!!!!!

  3. Avatar

    JL Davis

    January 17, 2024at5:58 pm

    I get SO excited by this each time I read about it, but I have downloaded the app twice, and it tells me there are none in St Petersburg, and to check back.

    • Ashley Morales

      Ashley Morales

      January 18, 2024at1:29 pm

      Hi JL, Ashley Morales here. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having troubles! I tested out the app as research for this story and saw a fair amount of places in St. Pete taking part. Have you tried contacting Too Good to Go’s support? https://www.toogoodtogo.com/en-us/support

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