For years, Salvatore Alaimo jetted between London and Milan as an investment banker – until he decided to start a totally different career. He build up his first food startup and discovered his true passion: to reduce food waste. On the path he went through he learned: stock control is key to greater environmental sustainability in the catering and hospitality sector. Storate founder and CEO Salvatore Alaimo takes us on a journey on how his idea for the warehouse management system took shape and got to life.
Question (Q): Salvatore, how did you go from investment banker to food entrepreneur?
Salvatore (S): Well, I come from Sicily, so I am without a doubt what you call a natural born foodie. In 2015, together with two friends, I developed a business idea that exactly matched my passion. I was immediately hooked! So we seized the opportunity and founded Made al Sud.
Q: What did you do exactly?
S: We were linking small Sicilian niche food and beverage producers and restaurants. Both industries are driven by food passion and tradition. So it was obvious to create a win-win-situation. The manufacturers increase their market share. And the restaurateurs in turn get access to organic quality food which often are out of commercial offerings. It is hard to find specialities of this grade and uniqueness in the usual wholesale or retail trade.
Q: That sounds like an idea driven by sustainability – and rather the opposite of food waste. How did you nevertheless come across the lack of suitable food waste solutions?
S: We built and managed our own warehouse full of F&B products of all kinds: from cheeses to meat, olive oil and wine over to different flours and pasta. Everything was 100 per cent natural and mostly without conservatives. So their perishability was always an issue in stock control, and we had to be very careful.
In the search for a better inventory control system for our F&B stock, I even tried out some technical systems for stock management. They were supposed to help me, but instead they ended up eating much of my time. I had to hire a person to take care of all the data input required. A huge effort.
Q: That sounds very time-consuming. And especially in a startup and a small business, you have to work efficiently and avoid time wasters.
S: Absolutely. And it’s not only an issue in small businesses. When I shared these challenges with restaurant managers, chefs and supply managers, I could see that I wasn’t the only one struggling with stock control systems. The deeper I dived into the industry, the more I realised how much time, money and food is wasted.
Some told me they tried to collect data on their food consumption over a limited period and found that 15 to 20 per cent is being wasted. As a result, they issued some guidelines and stopped recording data. But my main worry is that most of them do not track at all those numbers and are simply not aware of the problem.
The entire hospitality industry needs straightforward inventory management. So the idea of Storate matured in my mind. I took the challenge to simplify warehouse management in the food and beverage sector.
Q: You work closely with the venture studio Next Big Thing AG (NBT). What excites you most about working together?
S: The decision to start as Entrepreneur in Residence at NBT was one of the best of my professional life. As a founder, you are often alone in the field. But especially in the initial phase, the exchange and access to external know-how is particularly important. I was overwhelmed by the spontaneous enthusiasm of the NBT team to contribute to environmental sustainability through food waste management. For me, this is the ideal partnership, with the knowledge and resources to bring the idea to life.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in developing Storate?
S: It is always difficult to initiate innovation and change. There is no difference in food and beverage management compared to other industries. You have to deal with a lot of scepticism.
Due to the pandemic, the catering and hospitality industry also had other priorities than investing in digitalisation. On the other hand, many industry experts finally had time to talk to me and deal with the topic. So I had the chance to talk to many people who do this manual work every day.
Q: Why is that so important?
S: Apart from any idea generation, this kind of research belongs at the beginning of every successful product development. Assuming is one thing, but what exactly is needed in practice? Some founders forget that you have to talk to the potential customer to create a user-friendly solution.
I am glad I had the opportunity to visit and closely assist the stock management process of a large resort. The experience showed me once again how complex the systems and how broad the requirements are.
Now I am even more convinced of the impact Storate has on time-efficency and work flows. Our warehouse management system can be a breakthrough in the hospitality sector. Imagine how nice it would be to import all the data simply by scanning a delivery note! With such an user-friendly solution, your staff will stay cool as a cucumber when it comes to stock control.