OddBox is an elegant solution to a significant challenge: food waste.
The company, which was founded two years ago, offers a subscription service for consumers and companies to purchase boxes of oddly shaped fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded.
“Every in the UK we waste 10 million tonnes of food worth £17 billion (€19bn). Twenty-to-40% of produce is rejected due to supermarket quality criteria or surplus to requirements,” Vanpoperingde explained.
This kind of statistic was “exactly” what prompted the entrepreneurs to found OddBox, Ravindran added.
Speaking at Rabobank start-up event FoodBytes! in London last month, Vanpoperingde highlighted the scale of the issue, which the duo witnessed first hand.
“We spoke to a lot of growers, we visited pack houses, and that is when we saw the extend of food waste,” she emphasised. “This is a problem in the UK, in Europe, it is worldwide.”
OddBox directly sources produce from growers. While the company pays its suppliers a “fair” price, because the produce would otherwise be wasted, they are able to offer its subscribers a 30% discount on similar box subscription models, the founders explained.
“We work directly with over 35 growers in the UK. We collect, source and pay a fair price for misshapen vegetables that they cannot sell. We sell them as subscription boxes to consumers in London,” Ravindran said.
"It is win-win-win for consumers, farmers and the planet. We source produce that might end up as food waste, that is still perfectly edible. We get the produce for slightly cheaper, still paying a fair price to the growers, and we sell our boxes for cheaper than similar box services. It helps everyone,” added Vanpoperinghe.
Importantly, she believes, OddBox empowers consumers to shop ethically without having to pay too much of a price premium. “Consumers want to make ethical choices but are put off by the high price of shopping sustainably. With Oddbox you don’t have to choose between your conscience or your wallet.
"People want to know where their food comes from, they want to make ethical choices. That is why we appeal to them – we give them the transparency on where the produce is from and they know that they are helping the planet by buying our boxes.”
For suppliers, the collaboration has obvious benefits, Ravindran added. “For suppliers it is a no brainer: they are able to sell produce that they otherwise could not. No grower likes to waste produce they have worked so hard growing, so it is a great solution for them as well.”
Rapid expansion and big ambitions
OddBox has expanded rapidly from its 20-strong customer base two years ago to nearly 2,000 customers today.
The company supplies fruit and veg boxes to homes as well as fruit boxes for business customers, including co-working and office space company WeWork.
OddBox has also increased its supply base from two growers to over 35, all within 400 miles of London.
While the pace of expansion might have followed a steep curve, OddBox does not plan to ease off the accelerator. “Right now we only deliver in south and west London. We are expanding to east London at the end of the month and north London in January. The plan is to then replicate what we are doing into additional cities: Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, Oxford Cambridge,” Vanpoperinghe detailed.
“We will also look at whether we could franchise that model into other countries in Europe, because we think there is a lot of potential. There are definitely many suppliers in mainland Europe who are looking for solutions like ours.
“Our vision is to expand to the rest of the UK but beyond this to build a tech marketplace and become the hub for wonky and surplus produce across Europe.”