How thousands of Swiss
companies are doing
business more sustainably

Journalist: Simon Eppenberger | Photographer: Marc Welti | Magazin: Green opportunity – November 2021

Three years ago she was one of only two staff in Switzerland. Now she’s Country Manager in charge of more than 30 people. Alina Swirski reflects on the rapid success of the sustainable business Too Good To Go.

Too Good To Go uses an app to save food from being thrown away, and its business has grown impressively. In less than three years, your company has amassed 1.3 million registered users and more than 4,200 partner companies in Switzerland alone. Why is doing business with surplus food such a great success?

Our business model is simple and appeals to people. We create a win-win-win situation. Our partner companies win by producing less food waste and generating additional custom. Consumers win by doing something positive for sustainability while getting food at a reduced price. The third winner is the environment thanks to the resources being saved. All this makes compelling sense.

How long does it take to win a business over to what you’re offering?

That depends on its size and structure. A company can register online in ten minutes and start saving food after half an hour. We also invest a lot in sales, however, and we go straight to those making the decisions. Some say ‘yes’ after just half an hour, while for others it takes longer for the system to be integrated into their own processes.

Do you get much criticism of, or opposition to, what you’re doing?

Not very much, but there are challenges and contradictions. A lot of people think they don’t have any food waste, or that at 30 or 40 Swiss francs a day it’s too little to make a difference. This means that food goes to waste at a lot of firms, and it’s worth getting them on board even for these small amounts.

Time is money, and throwing food away is done without a thought.

The time involved in saving food waste with Too Good To Go is very short at one or two minutes per food package, and the advantages are also clear on the cost side. It’s often more about what priority sustainability has at a company.

Too Good To Go makes it possible in an efficient way for companies to waste less food, appeal to new customers and reduce costs. The system just uses an app – and has been on a sharp growth trajectory since it was founded in Denmark in 2016. Too Good To Go now operates in 16 countries with over 1,000 employees. In Switzerland, more than 4,700 companies are on board – from small, local firms to international food groups – as well as 1.4 million consumers.

How do you measure your progress in terms of sustainability?

We want to inspire people and companies. That’s difficult to measure. What we see directly is the number of meals saved. As of our three-year anniversary in Switzerland we’d reached 3 million. In cooperation with MyClimate, we calculated that this was equivalent to saving around 7,500 tonnes of CO2.

How well is your company doing both internationally and in Switzerland?

We have more than 43 million registered users around the world, with over 88 million meals saved to date. The number of registered users in Switzerland after three years exceeds 1.4 million. Our objective is to prevent food waste. Even if we should prove to be less than entirely successful, we aim to reach as many people and companies as possible and inspire them to join the fight against food waste.

“A lot of people think they don’t produce any food waste at all, or that it’s too little to make a difference.”

What kind of growth are you achieving with companies in Switzerland?

On average, 200 new companies come on board every month that are committed to combatting food waste. We’re very happy about that. A third of these companies approached us proactively – often on the recommendation of their staff who access Too Good To Go for their own use. They also bring it to the attention of their supervisors. We now have more than 4,700 companies on our books.

Too Good To Go receives a share of the proceeds from selling the food. How profitable is it?

Our business model would basically enable us to be profitable within a very short time. However, our mission is to lead a growth strategy of expanding our presence worldwide. At the same time, we invest in raising awareness on the issue of food waste, and we’re constantly launching new initiatives and campaigns. We also treat our staff fairly. All this comes at a price. But we generate cash flow through our own operations, and we have private investors who aren’t looking to turn a quick profit. These are things we’re proud of.

Digitalisation is a core element in the success of Too Good To Go. This makes for very straightforward processes for all those involved. How great is the potential for digitalisation when it comes to sustainability overall?

There’s a lot of potential. For instance, digitalisation in the consumer sector will mean that sustainable products and services are easily accessible to a greater extent. That will appeal to even more people. In many areas, digitalisation will enable a more efficient use of resources.

Alina Swirski (34) grew up in Berlin, attended a French school there, and then went to the Ecole hôtelière in Lausanne. After that she completed a trainee programme at UBS in Switzerland and, after four years at the bank, joined an event start-up in Hong Kong. Later, she obtained a master’s degree in business administration in Barcelona, returning to Switzerland in 2018 to work on the sales side at Too Good To Go – the second member of staff at the Swiss branch. In April 2020 she was appointed Country Manager, with responsibility for what had by then become a staff of about 30. Alina Swirski lives with her partner and their child in Zurich.

What would you like to have achieved with your company by 2030?

The UN Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to halve the loss of food by then – at both the retail and consumer level. At Too Good To Go, we’re pursuing this objective and even more: our vision is a planet without food waste. We can’t achieve that with our app alone. This is why we see ourselves as a movement that works side by side with policymakers, companies, schools and private households. For example, we have a public affairs person in Brussels who promotes our agenda, we’re active in schools, and we encourage firms to become ‘Waste Warrior Brands’, which means committing to preventing food waste both internally and externally.

How can each individual employee help to make their company more sustainable?

It needs to be clear to everybody that it’s not about the big things policymakers or business do. ‘But I can’t change anything by myself anyway’ is not the right attitude. Lots of little steps can achieve a lot. For instance, you can make your own employer aware of sustainable solutions, inspire other people you know in your private life, share your experiences, be creative with food waste etc.

A lot of sustainable products are more expensive than others. Even in Switzerland, a lot of individuals and firms don’t want to pay more or can’t afford to. Can sustainable consumption and sustainable business still bring about a change in the system – or will it remain something for a well-off elite?

I recently read a study from a consultancy firm engaged in the food business which came to the conclusion that there’s a growing willingness to pay more for responsible products. That’s particularly true of generations Z and Alpha (born 2010 to 2025, editor’s note). They’ll consume less, but with more awareness. The more people do that, the less of an elite thing it’ll be.

Nevertheless, in the battle for custom, price will remain a strong argument.

More conscious consumers don’t just see the price that goods are being sold at; they also think of the consequences for the environment and their health. And lots of people have the potential to make savings. Every year, each person in Switzerland wastes around 600 Swiss francs worth of food. That’s about the average budget for food per month per household. So without waste, you could buy food for free for a month every year.

“Digitalisation will enable resources to be used more efficiently.”

Too Good To Go is a certified ‘B Cor­poration’, and is thus committed to maintaining high standards in terms of transparency, as well as environmental and social responsibility. Furthermore, profit isn’t the overriding objective. How much of a priority should sustain­ability be for business leaders?

The long and short answer is that success in business depends on it. More and more customers are buying products that are produced in a fair and environmentally friendly way. New and highly skilled members of the labour force also want to work for responsible, sustainable companies.

What do you consider the greatest challenges when it comes to sustainability?

There’s often a lack of awareness and understanding. Above all, people underestimate the impact of their own actions. For example, a survey conducted by Too Good To Go among 500 consumers in Switzerland showed that 40% of people believe they don’t generate any food waste at home at all. And yet 2.8 million tonnes of food are wasted in Switzerland every year – one third of which comes from households. So, if everybody made some changes at home, it would have a major impact.

Does doing business sustainably also mean doing business without thinking of growth?

Absolutely not. Doing business sustainably balances economic, environmental and social aspects while enabling healthy growth. The important thing is getting the balance right between making a profit and acting responsibly. It may be more expensive in the short term, but it pays off in the long run.

Alina Swirski – In the spotlight

What’s your personal contribution towards a more sustainable future?
At the moment, it’s working for a company that has a 100% sustainable mission. None of us have enough time and energy in our day-to-day lives for many of the important things in life. So I’m glad to be able to use my time in a way which is worthwhile, and to be able to make a contribution to sustainability.

What achievements do you want to be able to look back on in 30 years?
Having found a balance between my work life and my children, family and leisure time, and having used my time for things that are important to me. And having practised sustainability in managing a business. Having treated people and employees fairly – having built them up when I had the chance, having dealt with them transparently and honestly, having given them feedback and always listened to them to understand their concerns and their work – whether as a CEO or as a trainee!

What life advice would you give to your descendants?
Life’s too short to do things that don’t motivate you and that you don’t feel committed to. And it doesn’t hurt to be kind and respectful.

You became Country Manager when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. What did the year 2020 teach you?
We suddenly learnt what before we only knew in theory: the unpredictability of life can be harsh. And direct human contact is unbeliev­ably important for mental health. It can never be replaced by technology. We’re social animals, after all.