My story as the co-founder of the OLIO, a free app that connects neighbors with each other and with local independent shops so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away, starts some years ago. Growing up as a farmer’s daughter, I experienced first-hand just how much hard work goes into growing food at the start of its long journey to the plate. That experience made it all the more shocking when I discovered that a third of all food produced globally goes to waste — an absolutely insane state of affairs.
Smuggling Food Across the Border
As a result, I’ve always done whatever I can to avoid food waste on a personal level. However it wasn’t until I was moving from Switzerland back to the U.K. last year that I had a ‘light bulb’ moment, and felt compelled to do more. On moving day I found myself with good food that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. After failing to find anyone to give it to, I ended up having to smuggle it back into the country. This made me think there had to be a better way! After taking the idea to my co-founder Saasha Celestial-One — herself from a rural entrepreneurial background — we excitedly worked through our early thinking, and so OLIO was born!
Billions of Pounds of Wasted Food
However, before launching headlong into product development, we first needed to do some more research. It quickly became very clear that the social, economic and environmental case for action against food waste was extremely compelling. Here in the UK alone, households — which are responsible for half of all food wasted in the country — throw away over £12 billion of edible food per year, at a cost of £700 to the average family.
At the same time, food waste disposal costs local stores and governments £1 billion per year, whilst food waste also ranks as the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, right behind the total emission from the USA and China. So, clearly a massive problem in desperate need of a solution.
Next Came Proving the OLIO Concept
To test our idea, we created a WhatsApp group of 12 people we didn’t know — but who had responded to our market research survey to say they hated food waste — to see if they would take that next step to share their surplus food rather than throw it away. And thankfully the answer was a resounding yes! This trial gave us crucial insight into what product features we did, and just as importantly did not, need to build for our launch.
The First Web Version of OLIO Is Born
And so we partnered with development agency, Simpleweb, to build the very first version of our OLIO free food waste app. Users can share food nearing its use-by date from shops, cafes and markets; spare vegetables from the allotment; cakes from an amateur baker; or groceries from household fridges when they go away or move home.
OLIO is really easy to use. Users simply snap a picture of their items and add them to OLIO. Neighbors then receive customized alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy, and arrange pick-up from the home/store, an OLIO Drop Box, or another agreed location.
Expanding OLIO with an Army of Volunteers
Since our July 2015 launch in North London, we have expanded across the rest of London, and then the UK, supported by an army of amazing grass roots volunteers, or ‘ambassadors’. They play a pivotal role in helping us establish OLIO in their local communities. We’re also delighted with the reception from the press and other important influencers, from MPs to Apple, who recently featured us among their ‘best new apps’. These early wins have helped OLIO raise seed funding from a brilliant backer whose investments include Facebook and Spotify.
The Next Chapter of the OLIO Story: International Launch!
We will continue to be laser-focused on building a convenient, fun and scaleable platform that others can take and use in their communities, thereby enabling us to fulfill our mission of “unlocking the value of food that is wasted in the home and local community”. And as we build on our momentum here in the UK, we plan to launch internationally in response to the requests we’ve had from all over the world! And if you’re interested in volunteering and joining us on our journey, then please email firstname.lastname@example.org.[Editor’s note: OLIO was recently recognized by Waste 360 as one of 10 innovative and informative waste and recycling apps.]
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