Green Revolution in Fresh Wholesale

How Woolworths Group Is Leading with Sustainable Innovation

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Teaming with BCG X, Woolworths Group launched a new profit-for-purpose business that drives climate and societal impact by reducing food waste upstream in the value chain. Refresh:Food is a tech-driven approach to repurposing food waste and one of the many solutions needed to help Australia reach its goal of halving food waste by 2030.

The Obstacle

An estimated one-third of all food produced globally goes to waste, and roughly 10% of the population struggles with food insecurity. Changing this will require innovative solutions, which is what has driven Australian retailer Woolworths Group to develop Refresh:Food, a digital marketplace connecting farmers, wholesale buyers, and food rescue organizations.

Australia alone produces about 8 million tonnes of food waste each year. A 2023 study found that food insecurity had grown significantly, affecting 23%—3.7 million—of Australia’s households.

Almost half of Australia's food waste comes from fruits and vegetables. About 30%of its produce doesn’t leave the farm, sometimes because of shape, size, or color irregularities. Pests and inclement weather also create issues.

Perhaps the most overlooked problem is that traditional wholesale food sales (by the tonne) have not seen changes in line with new technology; food left on the farm is unable to reach potential buyers due to lack of connections and logistics solutions. The total waste is estimated to cost the Australian economy around AU$36 billion each year—about AU$1,400 per person in the country.

Woolworths Group is Australia and New Zealand’s largest retailer, with 1,400 stores across the region. As part of its corporate philosophy, the company believes it has a duty to make a difference in the communities served. To do so, Woolworths Group partnered with BCG to turn the Refresh:Food idea into reality, together building a standalone profit-for-purpose business that drives climate and societal impact throughout every aspect of its operations.


Within five years, Refresh:Food aims to reduce upstream fruit and vegetable waste by 15%.


Within five years, Refresh:Food aims to help reduce upstream fruit and vegetable CO2e by 10%.


Within five years, Refresh:Food is working to provide millions of meals to address food insecurity.

Our Approach

Meaningfully addressing food waste means transforming the system at the source, including how much produce is unsold and discarded. On a social and community level, this can relieve malnutrition factors, hunger, and food insecurity; on a larger scale, it can reduce climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution.

As Woolworths Group launched Refresh:Food, BCG had the privilege of being a partner from the start, when the idea was still a spark. In all, BCG and Woolworths Group worked together over a nine-month incubation period, working to build the business, hire employees, perform testing iterations, fully develop coding, and ensure that live users on the platform were properly onboarded.

Woolworths Group’s ideal solution was anchored on three dimensions: 1) food waste reduction; 2) food insecurity reduction; and 3) GHG emission reduction, all in a manner that allowed the newly created business to be self-funding and not reliant on continued investment—driving profit to enable change.

Within the first eight weeks, BCG identified, tested, and validated a proof of concept and developed a roadmap for this new business model. The project benefited greatly from a strong team of diverse BCG X experts who could workshop and incubate a tech-led new business quickly, including business operators, designers, product managers, engineers, and strategy consultants. Together with BCG X, Woolworths Group identified customer frictions and latent needs, built prototypes for potential business concepts, and, finally, stood up and launched the company less than a year later.

In line with the profit-for-purpose business goals set, Refresh:Food supports both charitable donations and commercial transactions on the platform. Suppliers can sell excess produce to charities or businesses, or donate it for social causes. On the demand side, charities can use the app to access pockets of supply, place requests for produce they need, and benefit from donations. This mechanism simplifies matching supply with demand for both sides, creating a more efficient marketplace and ultimately reducing waste.

The new business offers three core solutions:

How Refresh:Food drives climate and societal impact and generates profit:

  1. Reaching beyond the network. Many produce sellers need help accessing markets. Other factors affect sellers, including whether their fruits and vegetables meet specifications. “Ugly” (but still edible) produce is another opportunity (e.g., preserves, juice). Overall, Refresh:Food matches sellers to the right buyers for the right grade and right delivery window, with a certified logistics solution that can handle the commodity. In every aspect, Refresh:Food is fully digitizing an analog industry.
  2. Moving produce from sellers to buyers quickly. Logistics is expensive and difficult to organize if an established partnership does not exist. Refresh:Food identifies, quotes, ensures capability (humidity and temperature control, storage management) and verifies that price and delivery windows are matched. This creates a network of large and long-tail providers in a digital, real-time manner.
  3. Overseeing quality assurance. The Refresh:Food platform covers the selling/buying process end-to-end and ensures that all parties are able to receive the goods they ordered, at the negotiated price and with proper recourse if specs or weights are not correct.
  4. Unlocking data-driven insights. This industry is data-poor, often making it difficult to understand and act on opportunities. Refresh:Food provides insights and connections to catalyze food-rescue innovation, investment, and regulatory change. This gives growers visibility over their key waste metrics and lets them share knowledge and build a wider network.

The Result

Refresh:Food is already making a socially transformative impact and benefiting the climate. As of April 2024, 1 million meals had been donated.

“Partnering with BCG and BCGX was just seamless,” said Alex Holt, Woolworths Group’s chief sustainability officer. “We ended up being able to launch Refresh:Food much, much quicker than I ever thought was going to be possible, with the teams working incredibly well together. And we've got something that's out there in market that is for the greater good and is actually making a difference."

In addition, these benefits can boost economic factors for food growers upstream, making this solution not only positive for climate and social impact, but also generating profits for businesses.

Woolworths Group’s partnership with BCG and BCG X shows how a new business in the retail and agriculture space could propel climate and societal impact and generate profit through a sustainable business model. Refresh:Food is driving value for the company, for Australia, and for the planet.

Simon Murphy, David Viljoen, and Geoff Kozma

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