An interview with Oddbox: The time to support the case for wonky veg is now
By Hanna Pumfrey
Knobbly potatoes and three-legged carrots are the kind of crops that mother nature loves to produce. She’s all about diversity and individualism. Sadly, our grocery retailers are not. Anyone who has ever been into a UK supermarket will know that the diversity amongst the fruit and veg isle… well… let’s just say, if their corporate diversity and inclusion agendas measured them on the diversity of their fruit and veg they’d all be failing enormously. Uniquely shaped veggies are rarely seen on the shelves of our supermarkets, as retailers tend to buy the most cosmetically pleasing crops.
The downside is a huge amount of wastage; in the UK, according to sustainability agency Wrap, over 90,000 tonnes of produce in the UK is sent to landfill yearly. That’s huge!
But who decided diverse fruit and veg was ugly? Certainly not consumers it would seem; research by Mintel found that 48% of shoppers would buy ‘wonky’ fruit and veg if it was of good quality. A trend that wonky fruit and veg suppliers Oddbox are proving with the success of their rescued fruit and veg boxes.
Here I talk to Oddbox founders Emilie and Deepak to get their take on waste in the food industry and their plans for putting wonky fruit and veg firmly back on the shelf.
Tell me a bit about you. How did it all start?
So, we're Deepak and Emilie. We founded Oddbox two years ago after a holiday to Portugal - how all good ideas start. We were eating all this ugly looking but completely delicious 'wonky' produce from local market stalls and we started questioning why don't we get food that looks and tastes like that back home. That's when we started to open our eyes and realise the extent of food waste and how seemingly tiny, innocuous things like a slight difference in colour, size or shape means that produce that is totally edible can end up in landfill or being ploughed back into the field. So, we decided to do something about it.
After a bit of research and a lot of talking to two amazing local growers we managed to set up a trial packing and delivering wonky veg to a small group of customers in South London. Since then we've gone from just 10 customers to delivering over 25,000 home boxes and 4000 work boxes in just over two years. We’ve rescued over 150 tonnes of food that would have otherwise been wasted in the process and work directly with around 26 local growers making a real difference to their businesses! We also partner with charities like City Harvest to donate up to 10% of our produce to help tackle food poverty with food that would have gone to waste. It's been a very busy but pretty incredible time!
What motivated you to start a sustainable business?
At the end of the day food waste hurts everybody. Emilie comes from a family where both sets of Grandparents were potato farmers back in Northern France. She knows first-hand the time and effort spent to grow produce. For that to end in food going back into the ground for reasons that have nothing to do with the taste and quality of the produce just seemed crazy to us. After we started to realise what was happening with all of this totally edible food and that there could be a solution - especially a commercially viable, economic one - then it just seemed like the right decision. We also try to keep that sustainable message throughout the business, for example we partner with an electric van service to deliver our work boxes, only use plastic if it's been pre-packed by our supplier (for example if we get a call saying a grower has surplus spinach or salad that he can't shift but it's pre-packed, we make the call to take the food in plastic rather than seeing it all go to waste), use 100% biodegradable plastic bags if necessary for freshness, and have fully recyclable boxes.
What are your plans for Oddbox? Where do you want the brand to go?
We want to be able to continue our mission of tackling food waste by shifting food standards and normalising wonky or misshapen produce by getting the word out there to as many people as possible! We're going to be Crowd Funding in June to help raise funds to expand our business to the rest of London by the end of 2019, so that's pretty exciting to say the least.
Food waste is high on the public’s agenda at the moment. What is your take on the disposable nature of our consumption today?
One thing we want to encourage is that no action is too small to make a difference. Cutting down on plastic for example or consumption in general is brilliant but can be really tricky for some. So, don't try to take on too much and get overwhelmed. Life is tough but it's those small sustainable acts and choices that you make every day that make an impact.
If you could say anything to the CEO’s of major UK grocery retailers what would it be?
That we're all in this together!
Thanks for talking to F +C Deepak and Emilie! We can’t wait to see Oddbox grow. In July Oddbox will be launching a crowdfunding campaign to expand Oddbox to the rest of London, so stay tuned for that!
Get your own wonky fruit and veg box delivered directly to your door here.