Food Circle Supermarket was launched in 2018 on a ‘shoe-string’. Co-founders Paul Simpson and James Barthorpe met while working for one of the UK’s largest surplus food re-distributors.
Simpson was ‘inspired’ by this model. “After seeing the positive impact that reducing food waste could have on the environment… [I] wanted to create a business that stopped surplus food from going to waste whilst also helping others live a healthy lifestyle,” he told FoodNavigator.
Simpson pitched the idea to Barthorpe and ‘asked him if he was up for the ride’. “Fortunately, James instantly loved the idea… to create an online store where customers could purchase surplus food that is in-date and healthy too.”
The new entrepreneurs 'saved up money, left their jobs’ and launched in January 2018 ‘on a shoe string’.
Since then, Food Circle Supermarket has sold over 500,000 surplus food and drink items through its online store.
Solving ‘key problems’ for consumers, suppliers and the environment
Food Circle Supermarket has direct partnerships with all of the brands it works with. The company works to ‘forge close working relationships’ that sees brands alert the company to surplus stock, and both parties ‘come to an agreement’.
The stock is then delivered to Food Circle Supermarket’s depot in Sheffield. “Food Circle Supermarket is a fully centralised model. All stock comes to the depot in Sheffield, where it is stored, sold via Food Circle Supermarket’s own e-commerce store, and then picked and packed before being shipped out to customers directly across the UK and ROI via the couriers.”
This system means the company can be confident in the quality of the products it supplies to customers. “This direct from supplier model guarantees quality, as well as the fact Food Circle Supermarket always asks its brands to sign food safety forms (and provide relevant certification) to guarantee food safety,” Simpson said.
Importantly, the model is a win-win-win for Food Circle Supermarket’s customers, suppliers and the environment, he continued.
“Food Circle Supermarket works to solve key problems for consumers, suppliers and the environment.
“For the consumer, Food Circle Supermarket provides products that are discounted from the normal retail price, enabling them to choose healthier options and complement their healthy lifestyles for less, whilst saving surplus food from potentially going to waste.
“For the supplier, Food Circle Supermarket provides a commercial return for surplus stock, and a secure and transparent route that will protect their brand integrity.
“And last, but definitely not least, for the environment Food Circle Supermarket helps to reduce surplus food from going to waste and therefore minimises the negative impact that this has on the environment.”
A focus on healthy snacks
Food Circle Supermarket currently acts as a retailer for healthy snacks, protein products and drinks. This can include high protein, gluten free, organic, vegan and vegetarian, as well as healthy alternatives to mainstream products.
When Simpson and Barthorpe were drawing up the business model, they knew that they needed to focus on specific categories ‘otherwise the approach would be too scatter-gun’.
The company’s focus was initially on gluten-free products, which were witnessing a jump in consumer interest at the time.
“As time moved on, the business moved into the sports nutrition sector following on from customer feedback… It was an organic shift for the business and the focus then turned to this category.”
Simpson revealed Full Circle Supermarket ‘absolutely’ expects to continue to evolve its offering. “Food Circle Supermarket is constantly expanding its offering both product and brand wise and is already doing more gluten free (again) and vegan products, as well as new things such as coconut waters and porridge pots.
“The business’ plan is to expand much broader as the growth continues, however this takes time and is best not to be rushed. The long-term goal is to provide a one-stop shop for all surplus food,” he told us.
A focus on health is important to the company’s mission. “The business is proud to help people achieve their healthy lifestyle goals at an affordable price whilst also benefiting the environment too,” Simpson explained.
Its consumers, Simspon elaborated, ‘tend to be ordinary people with busy and active lifestyles’.
“With most of the products available being perfect for on-the-go healthy snacking, such as bars and shakes, the majority of Food Circle Supermarket’s products cater for this category.”
An ambitious outlook
Demand has spiked during the COVID-19 lockdown, with sales up 68% from 2019 levels in the January-to-June period alone as shoppers increasingly look to e-commerce.
“Food Circle Supermarket has had an extremely busy year following on from business growth being accelerated by COVID-19. Food Circle Supermarket’s sales had literally doubled in size overnight and have shown no signs of slowing down since,” Simpson reflected.
Due to this growth, Food Circle Supermarket has now outgrown its current warehouse after taking up all of the available units at the business centre it operates from. The next step for the business is to move into a new build 6,500 sq/ft premises in August. This move will be in conjunction with a recruitment drive on both an operational and office basis, the co-founder revealed.
Food Circle Supermarket’s longer-term ambitions are extensive. It wants to become ‘one of the largest food surplus retailers in Europe’ by working with more brands across more categories.
Simpson said the founders ‘both know this is possible’. “[We are] well on the way to achieving the long-term goals to help even more brands find a home for their surplus, and get even more consumers used to the idea of shopping for surplus food alternatives.”