A new group of start-ups are leading the way in battling food waste, by using tech to change the way that food is consumed.
Getting produce to the table faster, and embracing wonky veg, are two key elements of their plans.
Old food on shelves
An investigation back in 2011 proved that our “fresh” produce is often a lot older than we think it is. If you have a food supply chain job you probably already knew this, but to others it is shocking.
Meat can be up to two months old by the time it sits on a supermarket shelf. Fruit and vegetables can be up to six months old, with apples and potatoes being some of the worst culprits.
So what are we to do about this problem? The main issue is with supply and demand. If a rush on potatoes causes a chain to order in too much, with the demand then dropping away, they are forced to keep those potatoes in storage for a long while until enough have been sold to get them all out. In the meantime, fewer potatoes are being ordered; this could then result in a shortage, and the cycle begins again.
Fresh Range is one of the start-ups trying to change this. Rich Osborn, the owner, has combined a tech company with a food company to create dynamic ordering software that works. When you order his carrots, they are still in the field, growing and getting ready for you. The fresh food you order really is still fresh when it reaches you.
His aim is to change the food supply chain for good, and the £1 million invested in Fresh Range suggests that he is serious about it.
Wonky veg revolution
Supermarkets have started getting more serious about stocking wonky veg, but many of them still have standards about what is considered to be too wonky. Oddbox, a fruit and vegetable subscription company in south London, is also trying to change the status quo. It sources, packs, and delivers wonky or surplus produce that would have otherwise been discarded.
“This can be produce that the growers wouldn’t even have picked,” says Emilie Vanpoperinghe, who co-founded the business alongside Deepak Ravindran.
Cherries that are too small, or strawberries that are too ripe to make it through the drawn-out supply chain are ideal candidates for their produce. Asparagus that grows too bent even to be sold as wonky in supermarkets is another example.
“There’s so much waste in the UK at all levels, so there’s not going to be a shortage of suppliers,” she says.
Right now, the service is looking to expand to covering the whole of London. After that, their aim is to make it to the whole of the UK. They say that being a small player in the food market is actually harder than being a big one. They have to pick up each of their orders individually for their 250 customers, and soon need to expand to a bigger warehouse.
There are plenty of other players in the food-on-demand industry. “We believe in no discards and in utilising all the fish which has been landed,” says Magnus Houston, founder of Fisbox. “We find that customers are more concerned these days with where the food is from and how it’s caught.”
With individual suppliers increasing, there could soon be a lot more food transport jobs on the market. Consumers are starting to be tempted away from the supermarket – but whether that can last long enough to sustain these start-ups will be another question.