Helping one non-profit take on food waste

Design Engineering Director

Millions of people around the globe are unable to get access to food, yet countless meals are thrown away each day. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine aims to become the world’s most widely used solution for companies and individuals to eliminate food waste in their communities, making food rescue sustainable and universal, and food hunger a thing of the past.

RLC volunteers regularly pick up anywhere from 80-300 pounds of food in a single run. Food is picked up and delivered from a wide variety of sources. From corporate functions and restaurants, Rescued Cuisine often makes its way to homeless shelters and food banks via a wide variety of transportation methods — cars, trains, and volunteers rolling carts through the pothole-marked streets of New York and other cities.

When large loads are picked up, volunteers will use public transit, ride-shares, cabs and even their own cars to transport food. However the most commonly used tool is a fleet of folding shopping carts — sometimes referred to as “The Granny cart”. Although these classic inexpensive carts are no stranger to hauling groceries, they were never built for this type of wear and tear. Between the unforgiving city streets and the heavy loads they were carrying, after only a few months of daily use, the wheels were literally falling off.

Having to keep replacing the carts was not a sustainable solution, so Rescuing Leftover Cuisine reached out to Smart Design for help.

The design opportunity

Smart Design was tasked to assess the situation, reimagine the tools they were currently using and devise a solution without breaking the bank. The ideal final deliverable would have to make use of things which were low-cost, could be easily sourced, and able to be produced efficiently – either by a supplier or the RLC volunteers themselves. Because of this, we looked to utilize products that were currently available in the market which could either be hacked or upgraded to meet their needs.

Understanding and prioritizing user needs

We started by conducting interviews with their founder, staff, and volunteers to truly understand the needs and challenges they faced daily while out doing pickups and deliveries. We then began to explore alternative solutions in the market, looking at both analogous and peripheral products, and began to identify what we could potentially use and what we could we hack. After collecting inspiration, samples, and stories the team began to synthesize and align around the design criteria and opportunities for the ideal food delivery cart. The right solution had to be strong enough to work on the streets of cities across the U.S.

Brainstorming potential solutions

Loaded with prompts for brainstorms, we created a broad range of initial concepts that were then workshopped and down-selected with the RLC leadership team through several co-creation sessions. In the end, we identified three final cart concept directions which we wanted to prototype and test, each one serving and hopefully solving for different scenarios.

For each concept to be successful it had to hit four key requirements:

1. Robust enough for NYC food runs of 150lbs+
2. Foldable or be able to store efficiently
3. Low cost and easily acquired
4. Can handle a broad variety of food loads. As an example, the RLC team handles everything from pizza boxes to catering trays and bags filled with freshly baked breads.

It was at this time that we also began to seek outside support through suppliers and manufacturing partners to arm the team with enough off-shelf carts and materials to bring these ideas to reality.

Prototyping to learn

After multiple work-from-home mock-up and prototyping sprints, RLC approved our final concepts and unleashed them on the streets of NYC. Through multiple rounds of testing over several weeks we were able to learn and understand what was working and was not.

Enter Cosco

Along the journey, we were fortunate enough to have Cosco — a division of Dorel Home and a leading manufacturer of foldable furniture, ladders, and hand-trucks —join our efforts as our support partner. Through their generosity, we were given access to their broad catalog of products and parts, and more importantly their deep knowledge of the category. Immediately their Design Director became a member of our cross-functional development team and helped create a more sustainable and feasible solution by providing guidance and options available within their supply chain.


Incorporating our learnings from our in-field testing, and guidance from the Cosco team, we were able to take the best attributes of each initial prototype and combine them into our final direction. After receiving approval from the RLC team, we went back into prototyping for our next round of user testing.

Where we are now

The new prototype is live! It’s currently being used to deliver food by RLC volunteers all over the city. With their valuable feedback, we will continue to refine our concept and begin to finalize the design. As we look ahead we will begin to move into a DFM (Design for Manufacturing) phase, partnering with Cosco’s design and engineering team. The goal is to put this final solution into production and provide all of RLC’s chapters the tools they need to ensure no food is wasted on their watch.

As this project develops, we’ll keep you updated on how Smart Design and Cosco are working together to support the Rescuing Leftover Cuisine mission.

Let’s design a smarter world together. Get in touch.