Case Study | Senior Design Thesis
Food loss and waste is a significant global issue often overlooked by the everyday consumer. When food is thrown out, all the resources that were used to produce this food - including water, land, energy, labour, and capital - go to waste. Food waste also has severe implications on climate change. Disposal of food loss contributes to greenhouse gas emissions due to the increased waste in landfills. This issue lies in both the retail and consumption level. However, households are responsible for the largest portion of all food waste – oftentimes due to overbuying, poor planning, and confusion over labels and safety. Approximately 40-50% of all food waste happens at the level of the consumer.
Tackling an issue as large as food waste and loss is no easy feat, which is where Shelf Hero comes in. Aiming to turn this new consumer awareness into action, Shelf Hero is a mobile app that helps to tackle food waste at a consumer level. Food waste and loss in households is often overlooked. However, Shelf Hero makes this mission easier for the everyday consumer, through encouraging small changes in one’s day-to-day such as incorporating quick hacks that eliminate food waste.
January to April 2022
Product Designer, UX Researcher
What problems do I personally encounter in my daily life?
I waste a lot of food because I either forget what’s mine, when it’s expired, what to make with the remaining ingredients I have...
Ultimately, I end up wasting a lot of food and money, and I sometimes even resort to just ordering food delivery.
I started with a simple question...
Quick food waste hacks
Globally, around 14% of food produced is lost between harvest and retail. Significant quantities are also wasted in retail and at the consumption level.
Households are responsible for the largest portion of all food waste. Approximately 40-50% of food waste happens at level of the consumer.
When I searched online for any existing products or solutions to this problem, a lot existed in the form of a mobile app partnering with local supermarkets.
I found that the rest came in the form of an article or blog post that encouraged small ways to limit food waste without an accountability factor.
What Works Well
Apps like TooGoodToGo are making the process of reducing food waste easier and convenient for both consumers and partnering restaurants.
Information comes through outlets that are easily accessible to the general public.
People who have a habit of wasting food in their household, aims to cook more.
College students or new graduates who are living alone, who feel like food loss is a huge challenge that is difficult to solve, who can easily build better habits now for the long run.
“Over 20% of consumers would like technology to help them tackle food waste, a new survey has found.”
Online survey of 2,051 British grocery shoppers
Results showed that whilst rates of consumers using phone apps to aid their grocery shopping is decreasing, the majority say they would like more such apps.
“Some such apps already exist, particularly when it comes to meal inspiration and planning. Tackling food waste remains a more difficult area.”
What Doesn't Work Well
These existing solutions don’t work for each individual and their health/lifestyle goals, but rather exists to combat the issue of food waste in restaurants.
Form itself (blog posts) isn’t effective and lacks incentive for people to take action towards this problem.
I conducted a user survey with individuals of 18-24 years old, and gathered 26 responses.
Many students, like myself, don’t have the time to invest towards taking action in limiting food waste.
And if people do care enough about limiting food waste, accountability tends to an issue when it comes to maintaining this.
Tackling the issue of food waste and loss through encouraging quick solutions that can be seamlessly integrated into one’s day-to-day, making at impact at a consumer level.
Limiting food waste through small changes.
Food inventory tracker
Tracking and managing what users have bought
Will be notified of an item close to expiry in case they end up forgetting
Quick access to creating and manage their grocery lists
Items automatically populate into “inventory” once checked off / purchased
Limit waste community
Aim is to facilitate a small community where people can share ingredients or meals that they no longer need instead of throwing it away
Defining the Solution
How will it work?
Normally, I'd talk about my challenges regarding each project at the end of my case studies. However, I found the challenge of determining my thesis in particular to be the shaping factor of my final product.
Not because it was weighted heavily, or because it was an all-encompassing project of the skills I've learned throughout my years of college. But because my professor left me with the impression that no matter what I produce for my thesis, it should be for me, and ultimately it'll be my name attached to the work forever.
Upon the first semester working on my thesis, I got the chance to experiment with various mediums, prototypes and concepts that I would ultimate develop a whole product for. Happy to share those iterations, unfortunately, none of them made it to this point. When I brought it up to my professor, how I wasn't overly passionate about any of the topics I'd previously explored.
Instead of asking me what I was interested in, he asked me about my previous work and simply told me to describe those projects to him. I think I realized it myself while babbling on about the student startups that got me my foot in the door with product design, but I realized how passionate I was in speaking about those projects – something I lacked in my current explorations.
What didn't work?
Since I was designing something that would assist people in their daily lives without the extra effort, I decided to focus on one micro interaction and build my app around those 1-2 main interactions.
Used food vs. Wasted food
Building out a printed prototype to work alongside the app – how do we educate children about limiting food waste?
Could this become a partnered integration into other supermarket apps? (i.e. Instacart, for every item used over being discarded, they receive 0.05% cash back)
With Shelf Hero, I hope to help encourage small changes towards impact at a smaller scale.
Making the problem of tackling food waste more manageable and approachable.