If food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Yet, a third of all food produced goes to waste.
This is something we haven’t been able to stop thinking about over the last few weeks, after learning about the global food waste problem from Tessa Clarke, co-founder of the revolutionary food waste app, Olio.
At Pantee, we hate waste and are always looking for ways we can minimise our impact. Chatting with Tessa really opened our eyes to the impact food waste is having worldwide, and so to mark Stop Food Waste Day, we wanted to share this interview with you. We hope you find it as inspirational as we did!
Tessa, can you tell us about Olio and the discomfort that led you to start a Food Waste App?
I had an enormous discomfort with food waste that led myself and my co-founder Saasha to founding Olio just over 6 years ago. I was living with my family outside of the UK, and on moving day back to the UK the removal men said I had to throw away all our unused food. I’m a farmer's daughter, so I had worked really hard on my parents farm and grew up with a pathological hatred for food waste. So, when the removal men told me to throw away my uneaten food, I was unprepared to do that. Instead, I bundled up my newborn baby and my uneaten food and set off to find this lady who was normally in the same spot every day. For some reason, she wasn’t there that day.
Frustrated from all the effort I’d gone to to share the food, I shed a little tear and headed back. When the removal men weren’t looking, I snuck the non-perishable food into the bottom of our boxes. I remember that moment so clearly, standing in my kitchen thinking what I’m doing could be illegal – but what seems more criminal is putting perfectly good food in the bin.
That made me think, why isn’t there a simple app for this? Why isn’t there just somewhere I can go to to let my neighbours know I have food I need to give away?
Well, now there is – and it’s called Olio!
How did you go from that lightbulb moment to founding Olio to help people reduce food waste?
We went through a really interesting journey. After that lightbulb moment, I told a few people about my idea to create an app to connect strangers to share food waste and everyone thought I was crazy. However, two months later I told my now co-founder, and the minute I told her this idea about a way to connect people to share food rather than letting it go to waste she just got it. So, we agreed that we would start on this process together.
We started out by researching the food waste issue, and what we discovered absolutely blew our brains. We could not believe that the whole world wasn’t screaming about the fact that worldwide a third of the food produced each year gets thrown away. Meanwhile, 800 million people go to bed hungry each night, who could be fed on a quarter of the food we throw away in the Western world. As if that isn’t bad enough, if food waste were a country it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. And, we discovered we are going to have another 2.2 billion people joining the planet and to feed them all we will need to increase food production by 50%. As of today, we don’t know how we are going to achieve that.
From learning this, we just knew we had to do something to solve this problem. So, we did a market research survey that told us that 1 in 3 people felt physically pained throwing away perfectly good food. Next, we did a proof of concept using Whatsapp. We invited people to join a group in which they could share food waste – it was that group that gave us the conviction to start Olio.
Fast forward to today, where is Olio now?
So far, we have 3.4 million Olio users. Roughly three quarters of our community is in the UK, but we have had food and household items successfully shared in 59 countries so far! The most active countries outside the UK are Mexico, Singapore and New Zealand. We are also starting to grow quite quickly in Argentina, Chile and Columbia which is really exciting.
Are there any particularly uncomfortable moments in your career that stand out to you?
Yes! The one that has really stayed with me is fundraising for Olio. We have had to raise financing from external investors four times. As a female founded business that is really challenging. In the UK, only 1% of all venture capital financing goes to female founded businesses. 89% goes to male founded businesses, and the rest goes to mixed teams. But, we’ve done it!
A huge thanks to Tessa for sharing her journey with us! To learn more about Tessa’s startup journey, you can watch the full interview on food waste.
If, like us, you feel inspired to connect with your neighbours to reduce food waste, you can sign up to OLIO for free today. All you have to do to list your food waste is add a photo, description, and when/where the item is available for pick up. It couldn’t be easier!