From acquaintances to business partners, Aurélien and Ludovic have invented a self-sustaining and ingenious system to reduce food waste through technology and logistics optimization. 

Happy Hours Market’s founders, Aurélien Marino and Ludovic Libert, share similar career paths. After graduating from business school, both followed the traditional job route and started working in large companies. However, they soon began questioning the meaning of what they were doing each day. Looking for a more socially driven purpose, and keenly aware of food waste, Aurélien and Ludovic decided to quit their jobs and start their own project to offer a solution. 

Every year in Europe, more than 90 million tons of edible food are wasted. Belgium, with its 11 million inhabitants, is one of the worst-performing countries with an average of 345 kilos of food thrown away per year and per person, which represents 7 tons wasted per minute. In industrialised countries, most of this waste occurs at the retail stage and at the household level. The further away from the field, the greater the environmental impact, since food has to be processed, stored, preserved, and finally thrown away. Only in Europe, the food waste-related impact through production & disposal was estimated at around 170 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year, to which the environmental costs of processing this waste must be added. 

“We were already aware that large quantities of unsold food end up in waste bins each day. But the reality really shocked us. Every 15 seconds, two tons of food is thrown away only in Brussels, while ironically, a third of the population lives below the poverty line.” To tackle this, Aurélien and Ludovic decided to create a system that would, on the one hand, improve and simplify the collection of unsold food, and on the other hand, facilitate its distribution to vulnerable communities. 

Simple but highly effective 

The two go-getters decided to quickly test their concept, and in February 2019, launched Happy Hours Market. “We didn’t have any expertise in the sector. It was a question of learning-by-doing. Day by day, we had to improve the financial incentives to convince the different parties we wanted to involve in our collection and resale system.” Since the beginning of this year, Happy Hours Market has been offering its retail partners (mainly franchisees of the Delhaize, Carrefour, and Intermarché chains) a new way of recycling their unsold food. 

Happy Hours Market’s concept is simple but well-thought-out: their small yellow trucks drive around the neighborhoods in which they operate to collect food with an upcoming expiry date from supermarkets. The food collected is then offered for sale, at low prices, via their mobile application and then the customers can collect their order at a chosen pick-up point. Everyone can thus get involved in the fight against food waste and save money. Afterward, food not sold is redistributed for free by Happy Hours Market to local charities and associations on a daily basis.  

What does a Happy Hours day look like? 

08:00 - 13:00: Products near the end of their shelf life are collected from distributors. 

13:00 - 20:00: The products are put on sale at half price via the mobile application. The customer makes his shopping cart and collects his order from the chosen pick-up point. 

20.30: Whatever is left over is redistributed free of charge to local charities and associations.

Creating an effective resale system turned out to be quite challenging. “We developed two applications: the first one is used by our customers, the second one allows us to trace products, upload them for sale, and track data for partner shops. We’ve had to reconfigure it three times since the beginning of Happy Hours Market!” Nevertheless, this ingenious system helps Happy Hours Market to keep track of food supply and demand and helps shops to optimise their stock and reduce waste management costs.  

Supermarkets earn more and don't throw anything away 

Today, thanks to this new model, the financial gains from the sale of products via the Happy Hours Market application are greater than the income initially generated by the shops when they resold the products themselves on markdown. 

This new source of revenue is accompanied by significant savings, such as the reduction in the number of dumpsters and its associated costs, which represents several tens of thousands of euros per year per shop. In addition, shop employees save a considerable amount of time as they no longer have to manage the products that are marked down or need to be marked down. 

Thus, the shop becomes one of the essential links in the fight against food waste, while at the same time is financially incentivised to do so. 

It's a win-win situation... 

All actors involved in the process gain something positive from it:  

On the one hand, consumers’ benefits include access to a daily offer of fresh and varied products at 50% of the original price, an easy-to-use local distribution network, and, on the personal level, the opportunity to have an environmental and social impact by revaluing unsold products that would otherwise end up in the bin and by supporting a charitable organization in their neighborhood.  

On the other hand, shops’ benefits include the possibility to maximise the income from discounted products by their sale via the Happy Hours Market application, an increase in margins, since there is no cannibalization by discounted products, and savings in terms of manpower allocated to shelf-life management and markdowns. Other benefits comprise continuous analysis of collected products for stock optimization, the handling of donations and relations with charities, and compliance with the European "Waste" directive, which calls for a 30% reduction in waste by 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. 

Lastly, charities also gain from this new distribution system. First, they get more logistical support, since they often struggle to find enough volunteers to ensure the necessary harvest to supply all their beneficiaries. Second,  they have a guarantee to comply with the sanitary rules in force (generally, associations do not have refrigerated vehicles, which are compulsory in the framework of food recovery). And third, they benefit from centralised management with retailers: unfortunately, some supermarkets refuse to work with associations if they are not able to ensure recurrent collections. 

Start local and scale-up 

At present, Happy Hours Market vehicles and logistics remain very local, as Aurélien and Ludovic explain. “Our trucks only circulate in a given area. Every week, they take the same route and stop at the same shops. Everything is pre-planned. This way, we keep the negative environmental impact to a minimum compared to the positive social impact. In the future, we would love to opt for a 100% eco-friendly logistics solution and it’s something we are actively working on.” 

Happy Hours Market is now at a turning point. Established in Brussels, the duo recently launched their first franchise in Namur:  they currently have 7 pick-up points in Brussels (in the municipalities of Ixelles, Saint-Gilles, Forest, Jette, Ganshoren), and 2 pick-up points in Namur. “We are currently looking at other cities as well. The demand is there, and we receive a lot of offers from potential partners. It’s really exciting!”. Joining the Impact Programme was a great way to ensure scaling up runs smoothly and to equip themselves with the necessary tools and knowledge. “We want to make sure we have a solid base before moving to the next phase. It’s really important to ask the right questions now to avoid serious mistakes in the future. When you are deeply invested in a project, it’s always good to hear the opinion of external and objective people. Our coaches challenge our ideas and strategies and help us to keep everything in perspective.” 

Aurélien and Ludovic hope that the self-sustaining business model they have developed will be adopted in more regions and ultimately help to reduce food waste worldwide. Moreover, they are doubly optimistic because the European Union is now working on new directives that will push retailers to drastically reduce their food waste and oblige shops to sort waste.  

The future is bright (yellow) for this startup! 

Find out more about Aurélien and Ludovic's work HERE