Sustainable Living

Food Is Meant To Be Eaten, Not Thrown Away

At the very beginning, our friends & family thought we were crazy quitting our corporate careers to launch a P2P food sharing app and so that wasn’t easy! However once we were up and running, one of our biggest challenges was growing the user base with a marketing budget of close to zero. 

I’m a farmer’s daughter, and so have always hated throwing away good food. This is because I know from first-hand experience just how much hard work goes into producing it! As a result, the inspiration for OLIO came when I was moving country and found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. And so I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to, and I failed miserably. Through the whole process it seemed to me crazy that I should have to throw this food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love it, the problem was that they just didn’t know about it. And so the idea of OLIO, a mobile app where neighbours and local shops & cafes can share surplus food, came about.

Saasha Celestial-One (left) and Tessa Clarke (right)

Once my Co-Founder (Saasha Celestial-One) and I started researching the problem of food waste, we were absolutely horrified by what we discovered. Specifically, globally one third of all the food we produce gets thrown away which is worth over $1 trillion p.a.; meanwhile 800m people go hungry (who could be fed on a quarter of the food we waste in the West); and if food waste were to be a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gases, after the USA and China! But what very few people realise is that well over half of all food waste in the UK takes place in the home, with the average UK family throwing away £800 of food each year that could’ve been eaten, collectively adding up to £15bn!

We tested the concept through a Whatsapp group of 12 strangers and 1 health food retailer in Crouch End. They posted and shared their surplus supplies. We kept the group going after the initial test as one of the participants loved the idea so much. You can read more about how we did a proof of concept using Whatsapp here.

Growing our user base with a limited marketing budget was always going to be a challenge. We quickly overcame this thanks to our Ambassador programme which harnesses the passion and energy of thousands of volunteers to spread the word about OLIO in their local communities, using old-school guerrilla marketing tactics coupled with social media campaigns. At the moment we have 40,000 Ambassadors and have reached 1.4 million users, so it seems to be working well!

Credit: OLIO

OLIO is a free app tackling the problem of food waste in the home. It does this by connecting people who have food they don’t want or need, with their neighbours living nearby who would like it. Users simply snap a picture of their items and add them to the app. Neighbours then receive customised alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy. Pick-up takes place – often the same day – at the home or another agreed location. All the food on OLIO is available for free, and half of all listings are requested in less than 1 hour! OLIO also has a non-food section for other household items such as toiletries, kitchen equipment, books, toys & clothes. Since launching in the UK 3 and a half years ago, 1.4 million people have joined OLIO and together they’ve shared over 2.5 million portions of food, and food has also been successfully shared in 49 countries around the world. 

The environmental impact of this food sharing is equivalent to taking 7 million car miles off the road (in terms of CO2 emissions avoided), and we’ve also saved 330 million litres of water. The incredible social impact of OLIO mustn’t be overlooked either, as we’re connecting thousands of neighbours every day who are building friendships and relationships in their local community. Earlier this year the first OLIO Community Garden was set up by an OLIO user to grow fruit and veg to share with her local community. Today it has 9 volunteers and regular donations from neighbouring gardens.

The journey has been challenging, but rewarding. OLIO has impacted so many communities around the world, and we’re lucky enough to have been recognised with awards from the Green Innovation + Finance Awards in 2017 to most recently ranking in the top 3 of the most disruptive companies in the UK.

Our vision for the future is an unashamedly bold one – we want over 1 billion people using OLIO within the next 10 years. That’s because we simply cannot continue to throw away 1/3 of all the food we produce, whilst at the same time be puzzling over how to feed a world of 10 billion people.   

We’re not recruiting right now, but anyone who’s interested should leave their email on our careers page here.

One of the single most powerful things we can each do to reduce our carbon footprint is to stop wasting food. So I’d encourage everybody to just give OLIO a go!

Tessa Clarke