The Real Junk Food Project has opened the UK’s first ever food waste supermarket in Leeds to put the huge surplus produce generated across the city to good use. UK supermarkets currently throw away more than 115,000 tons of edible food each year and the organic network of “Pay As You Feel” cafes is aiming to end the tragedy of lost produce by enabling people to pay small fees for tasty meals. The 6,000-square-foot complex in Leeds is the first to open to the public in the UK, but there are now 125 Real Junk Food cafes across the globe, and another 16 are set to launch in the US in the near future.
The Real Junk Food Project supermarket in the North West is working with big chain supermarkets, including Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Ocado to take up a huge range of goods that otherwise would have been thrown away. Project Operations Manager Keith Annal revealed that he recently got a staggering 22 boxes of fruit and vegetables from Morrisons, which equates to just three days of waste. These “perfectly good” foods are now on offer for people across Leeds, who can pay what they want or volunteer their skills and labor if they have no money.
"Every single Pay As You Feel cafe that is part of the Real Junk Food Project network adheres to all Environmental Health regulations within their respective establishment. This includes transporting food safely, storing it safely, cooking and re-heating it safely,” an official website for the project says. "We intercept food that is past its expiration date and use our own judgment on whether we believe the food is fit for human consumption or not, by smelling it, tasting it and visually inspecting it. We do not turn food away simply because it has ‘expired’, but we will never serve food that we believe is unfit for human consumption.”
The label of “junk” food perhaps doesn’t do the produce on offer justice as the new supermarket also has a wealth of luxury goods available, including cakes from Marks & Spencer, posh crisps, and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. The basics are usually in high demand, but the people behind the project have admitted that they often struggle to shift all the bread due to the incredible amounts that are donated by local supermarkets.
For those not in Leeds, there is good news as Real Junk Food Project Founder Adam Smith is aiming to open a warehouse for surplus goods in every city across the country, and he admits that the initiative has already grown way beyond its humble beginnings and is really helping families in need and people that love a great bargain. While many supermarkets are still in the works, there are already hundreds of cafes dotted across the UK that make use of the excess food from supermarkets to feed customers.
There are many success stories. Kirsty Rhodes told the Independent that the new warehouse had been a “lifeline” for her family as she is currently suffering from a chronic pain condition that has forced her and her husband to remain at home. Kirsty said: “With three young children and two adults to feed we started to struggle straight away. Luckily we took the plunge to go to the warehouse and it was amazing!" Their haul of goods is quite impressive and ranges from fresh pasta, fruit, salad, desserts and even baby milk, which was perfect for their seven-month-old baby.
The Real Junk Food Project is also expanding to run a “Fuel for School” initiative, which aims to deliver leftover bread, dairy products, and vegetables to schools to feed 12,000 children every week.