Sparks Circular economy

From waste to table

 By Livia Formisani
Circular economy

We all waste groceries

In fact, the worldwide cost of food waste has repercussions far beyond our own trash bins. Among its negative effects on us and on the environment, we can identify: an excess consumption of resources, especially water; increases in CO2 emissions; high development and production costs; and widespread, preventable hunger. According to the U.N., one-third of the food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted. That’s 1.3 billion tons of consumables annually.
Supermarket workers witness food waste on a large scale, mainly due to very strict regulations and because of esthetic reasons — how products are displayed — that affect consumer choices. From within the industry itself, change is beginning to occur. One case in point is the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn, where in 2014, four employees decided to do something about it. Collecting unsold food from many Amsterdam supermarkets, they opened a restaurant there in 2015, InStock. One year later they made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Over the past three years they have expanded operations to two other locations, in Utrecht and The Hague.

Instock is a restaurant chain based in Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague and has the purpose of using food products that would generally be discarded (

InStock takes a unique role in circular economy. Each restaurant’s menu changes based on the available local food supply, with at least 80 percent of ingredients consisting of “rescued food” — products that fully meet safety regulations but that are off-cuts, unsold or discarded due to close expiration dates, cosmetic flaws, overstock or size.
“We started with changing the menu on a daily basis, but by now we change it every quarter, as we collect more food and can better forecast”, says Freke van Nimwegen, one of InStock’s founders. It’s there, in the menu, that the real magic takes place: one-day-old bread, surplus potatoes and Amsterdam rainwater become beer; malt leftovers from beer brewing become breakfast granola.

Beer made with one-day-old bread, surplus potatoes and Amsterdam rainwater (

Leftover milk from cappuccino foam is transformed into ricotta, which is then used to season gnocchi, which is also made using surplus potatoes. Other main dishes include fish and meat discarded for esthetic reasons, size or because they are off-cuts; they are accompanied by wines unsold due to misplaced labels or imperfect but safe corking. And for dessert, the crumble is partly based on coffee grounds.

A dessert, whose crumble is partly based on coffee grounds (

Mission zero leftovers

The company’s mission is simple: create awareness and reduce food waste. “We are not just looking for ways to collect more and create more dishes, but also to use everything of what we get, from head to toe”, says van Nimwegen.
In addition to the supermarkets InStock rely on to stock their pantry, the company has expanded its suppliers network to farmers and packaging companies. While the food itself comes at no cost, handling costs are high. “We need to collect the food, sort it out and bring it to the restaurants, so we have more labor costs, while other restaurants have more sourcing costs“, says van Nimwegen. Because InStock is a foundation, all profits are re-invested in new projects that support its mission.
To be completely circular, the company also offers cooking classes based on their philosophy, an education program for primary schools, event spaces, catering and food trucks. They sell part of the surplus products they collect and the potato-based beer they brew to other businesses and restaurants and use their own leftovers to produce biogas.


According to the company, a four-course dinner at an InStock restaurant saves 3.836 lbs. (1.74 kg) of CO2 and the equivalent of 50 showers worth of water or 652 gallons (2,470 liters).
The company has also just released its second cook book, “Circular Chefs”, which focuses on “reducing the overall impact that we have on the planet”, says van Nimwegen. It also includes contributions from several well-known Dutch chefs. The company is currently looking into expanding its wholesale operations to other local catering companies.

READ MORE: Getting the most out of food waste by Andrew Burger

about the author
Livia Formisani