‘Growth over the last year has been nothing short of phenomenal’: Food app celebrates investor backing as food waste witnesses ‘step change’ in attitudes

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image source: OLIO
Image source: OLIO

Related tags Food waste OLIO

2021 has marked a momentous shift in mindset towards the issue of food waste from businesses and consumers, according to Olio, which has raised $43m and seen a surge in users.

Olio, a mobile app that connects surplus foods with people​ who need or wish to consume such food, has just announced a US$43m Series B funding round to fund global expansion plans.

Founded in 2015, it now boasts five million users in over 50 countries. It is targeting one billion users by 2030 and claims to have kept more than 25 million portions of food out of the bin. 

It’s estimated nearly one-third of all the food produced in the world is never eaten. If food waste were a country, then it would be the third highest emitter of GHG emissions behind the US and China.

Each year $1.3trillion of food waste is created globally, said Olio. Its app is used to give away unwanted food and other household items to neighbours, for free, with the aim of reducing waste in the home and helping people to consume more locally and sustainably. Although the problem of food waste is mainly household-led, the company said more and more food manufacturers, major retailers, grocery delivery services and fast-food brands, are taking action to tackle food waste.

Tessa Clarke, co-founder of Olio, told FoodNavigator: “The step-change has been as a result of a number of different factors. Firstly, the pandemic which has made us realise how interdependent we all are. As many of us experienced the 'great pause' we reflected on what sort of a world we wanted to live in, and how we needed to change in order to “build back better.”

She added there has been increasing alarm being sounded by international agencies, including the latest IPCC report which warned of catastrophic impacts on our environment without action​. "Thirdly, as businesses race to hit Net Zero targets we've seen a flurry of eco-products and comms hit the market, which has heightened consumer awareness. Finally, as the media has been inundated with video and imagery of 'freak' weather across the globe, including wildfires and mass flooding, the climate crisis has started to feel a lot more real for people.”​ 

Businesses, she told us, are also recognising that they can no longer throw away “perfectly good food any more​”, following increased demand from customers and employees, as well as the need to meet their ESG and Net Zero targets​.

OLIO food 1
The Olio app allows people to share food with other people instead of throwing it away

Connecting with consumer concerns

Food waste charities, meanwhile, are also asking food brands to focus on how they can help prevent food waste in the home and nudge people towards habits that stop waste from happening. These kinds of moves, they say, offer brands an opportunity to connect with the shifting values of their customers.

Unilever, for example, has outlined ambitious plans to halve food waste by 2025 as part of its wider social and environmental ambitions. One initiative from Unilever brand Hellman’s called ‘Make Taste, Not Waste’ offers online recipe ideas for consumers looking for ideas at what to do with leftover items that might otherwise end up in the bin.

‘A year of rapid growth’

After a year of rapid growth in the UK, Olio plans to build its presence across the world, focusing on 10 key markets in Latin America, Northern Europe and Asia, where the app has seen ‘very strong organic growth’, it said. 

Olio has over 30,000 what it calls ‘Food Waste Heroes’, who are trained members of the community collecting and redistributing unsold or unserved food from businesses such as Pret A Manger, Compass Catering, Costa Coffee and Elior. Last year, Tesco became the latest retailer to join the scheme, with 2,700 UK stores now redistributing surplus food nearing its sell-by date via Olio’s network.

“Demand from both UK and international businesses to help reduce their waste is at an all-time high as they strive to meet their ESG commitments,” added​ Clarke. “Incoming enquiries from major retailers, grocery delivery services and fast-food brands are coming in thick and fast. Olio is one of the simplest, most cost-effective ways an organisation can achieve zero food waste.”

To support the product development and global expansion, the investment will be used to scale the OLIO team from 40 to 175+ over the next two years. This includes hiring a CTO, and Directors to head up the People, Food Waste Heroes, Marketing and Growth functions, plus various roles across product, design and business development.

Investor backing

Per Brillioth, CEO of Swedish investment firm VNV Global, which led the funding round, said: “The growth of OLIO over the last year has been nothing short of phenomenal and it’s clear that consumers are becoming increasingly focused on the small actions they can take to improve the sustainability of their households.”

Olio’s new strategic investor is DX Ventures, the VC arm of food delivery company Delivery Hero. Duncan McIntyre, Managing Partner of DX Ventures, said: “We are excited to back Tessa, Saasha and the OLIO team as we are strongly aligned with the sustainability mission of the company. Having built a solid and fast growing community of users, Olio is tackling the global food waste problem in a scalable and sustainable way. OLIO has an incredibly well-loved product, and with this partnership, we look forward to helping OLIO grow and expand its global footprint.”

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