OLIO; The App That’s Chomping Through Food Waste

OLIO; The App That’s Chomping Through Food Waste

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Photos provided by OLIO

Did you know that over 1/3 of all food produced globally goes to waste? Or that in most developed countries, over half of all food waste takes place in the home? In all honesty, I didn’t; I was just as in the dark until I met Delia at the Source Trade Show and she told me about the OLIO food sharing revolution.

As a society, we’re getting pretty clued-up on the damaging nature of single-use plastics and the importance of finding renewable energy sources. The IPCC report was a wake-up call for many and a much-needed kick up the backside for industries and households alike to consider their everyday impact on the planet.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a rant about climate change or an article raging with frustration at climate inaction. This is about an idea that became a movement; a movement to end food waste.

The Birth of OLIO

Founded nearly four years ago, OLIO is the first food-waste movement of its kind. It all began with an initial frustration as Tessa Clarke prepared to pack up her apartment in Switzerland and move back to the UK. Despite her best efforts to use up all of the food in her kitchen before the move, she was still left with some vegetables and yogurt. Unable to find anyone to give these items to, she wished that there was an app where she could share her unwanted food so that it didn’t go to waste. This was the birth of OLIO.

The idea may have been born in 2014, but it wasn’t until February 2015 when Tessa told her friend Saasha Celestial-One about her vision that work truly began on making the idea a reality.

OLIO founders Saasha Celestial-One and Tessa Clarke
Saasha and Tessa, friends and co-founders of OLIO

Together, Tessa and Saasha incorporated the company and began to research the problem of food waste. OLIO’s website contains 10 Food Waste Facts and I asked Tessa if she was as shocked as I was to discover these truths about food waste.

“I will never forget learning about the scale of the problem of food waste – it was something I had no idea about, and when I discovered the enormity of the problem, I couldn’t believe that we weren’t all yelling from the rooftops about it

“It seemed to me absolutely crazy that we should throw away 1/3 of all the food we produce globally, which is worth over $1 trillion p.a., whilst 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!

“I was also extremely shocked to realise that actually 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 have been eaten, collectively adding up to £15bn! But I was also excited, because whilst we are half of the problem of food waste, it also means we can be half of the solution – which is exactly what OLIO aims to be.”

After conducting market research using SurveyMonkey, Tessa and Saasha found that 1 in 3 people feel “physically pained” when throwing away food. The friends recognised that just because these people felt bad about food, that didn’t mean they would be willing to take the next step and do something about food waste. With this in mind, they developed a small trial of their initial concept. They invited twelve of the people who felt physical pained when throwing away food to a closed WhatsApp group.

The twelve participants all lived close to each other and were asked to add any surplus food to the group for the next two weeks. After the trial was completed, Tessa and Saasha met face-to-face with the participants to gather their feedback. The verdict was unanimous: “you have to build it” and, perhaps most importantly, “it just needs to be a bit better than a WhatsApp group”.

On 9th July 2015, OLIOwas re-born on the App Store and quickly followed by Google Play three weeks later. In less than four years, the app has spread to forty-nine countries and OLIO as a business has gone on to win several prestigious awards. I asked Tessa how it felt to go from an idea to this level of success:

“It feels absolutely amazing! And we couldn’t have done it without our 30,000 Ambassadors who are spreading the word in their local community; and our 3,000 Food Waste Heroes who are collecting and redistributing unsold food from local businesses. But mostly we feel deeply impatient, as we have *so* much more work to do, and food to rescue!”

So how does it work? And will it work in your local area? Read on to find out how to become a part of the #FoodSharingRevolution.

Asian woman shares basket of vegetables as part of OLIO food sharing revolution

All You Need To Know About OLIO

OLIO is a completely free app that connects neighbours with each other and volunteers with local shops and cafes, so that surplus food can be shared and not thrown away. Users simply snap a picture of their items and add them to OLIO. 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. Items typically found on the app include food nearing its use-by date from shops, cafes and markets; spare vegetables from the allotment; cakes from an amateur baker; or groceries from household fridges when people go away, move home or start a diet.

All of the food on OLIO is available for free, and half of all listings are requested in less than an hour! OLIO also has a non-food section for other household items such as toiletries, kitchen equipment, books, toys and clothes.

On my latest check on their website, 901,558 OLIOers had joined the food sharing revolution and 1,258,686 portions of food had been shared. That’s the equivalent to 3,257,074 car miles.

OLIO is now live across 49 countries and yes Devon, it has come to you. We can sometimes be a little behind the times, with the likes of Uber unlikely to ever grace our rural or city roads. But the food sharing revolution is here in our fair green county, with over 2000 users in Exeter so far.

So how easy is it to become part of the OLIO food sharing revolution? Never one for advocating a product that I haven’t tried, I signed myself up to OLIO as I began to research and write this article. Living in a village of about fifteen residents in the middle of rural Devon, I wasn’t expecting to find many people to connect with, but the app informed me that there are eight OLIOers within 2km of my house. Excellent news, though I am not sure my colleagues at work will feel the same way as I begin to share my surplus baking with OLIOers rather than them…

As a movement that began in London, I was intrigued to find out what had prompted OLIO to choose Exeter for its next destination. Tessa explained:

“We were contacted by the organisers of the ‘Source Trade Show’ which is held in Exeter each year for the hospitality, catering and food service world. We quickly realised that there was a great opportunity to help spread the word about OLIO, not only to the show exhibitors and attendees, but also to the residents of Exeter more broadly!”

I asked Tessa if she had a message for any Exeter businesses considering joining the Food Sharing Revolution.

“For too long, food waste has been seen as a ‘necessary by-product’ of doing business. However, in recent years, as awareness of the problem of food waste grows, and as more and more consumers demand better of the businesses they buy from, and work for; and as solutions such as OLIO emerge, there is growing recognition that this status quo is no longer acceptable.

“Through joining OLIO’s ‘Food Waste Heroes Programme’ where trained volunteers collect unsold food at the end of the day and redistribute it to the local community via the app – any business can become zero edible food waste. This means that they can save money, increase employee morale and become a sustainable business at the heart of their local community – a real win-win!”

OLIO food sharing revolution APP on iPhone photographing vegetables

More than Just Food

OLIO’s movement champions a solution to our food waste problem, but Tessa and Saasha have also shown a greater understanding of food itself through their app.

Food is best enjoyed when shared, we all know this. Eating with friends and family and cooking for loved ones makes food taste better somehow. I doubt there are many of us out there who enjoy dining alone (I would personally rather go without food than sit on my own in a restaurant or café!) This idea of sharing and enjoying food is intrinsic to OLIO’s values; it’s a food sharing revolution after all.

In a poll published by The Independent last year, 68% of respondents described their neighbours as strangers. I asked Tessa if bringing neighbours and communities together through food-sharing was an intentional element of the OLIO app.

“Absolutely! OLIOers tell us that they download the app because they hate the idea of food waste. But once they’ve used the app they rave about how amazing it feels to share food with someone who wants, or maybe even needs it, and how much closer, connected and safer they feel in their own local community as a result.

“It has to be tried to be believed and so we encourage everybody to have a cupboard clear-out and experience the magic of sharing with a neighbour – half of all listings are requested in less than an hour, so it works very quickly indeed!”

Two women use OLIO to share unwanted bread

What does the future hold for OLIO?

From a frustration to an idea to a working app with over 900,000 users, OLIO is fast-approaching its goal of becoming a food sharing revolution.

As with any app, it’s designed to fit into lifestyles that have becoming increasingly busy and offers a solution to a problem that is intrinsically linked with the greatest challenge our planet is facing.

I asked Tessa to share with our readers her and Saasha’s long-term vision for OLIO:

“In the next month we will reach a major milestone of 1 million people having joined OLIO! However, as we look to the long term, our vision is an unashamedly bold one – it’s of a world with billions of people using OLIO to share our most precious resource, food. Whilst we’ve made a great start, we still have a very long way to go!”

To join the OLIO food sharing revolution, simply download OLIO from the App Store or the Google Play Store. For more information on the issue of food waste and what OLIO is doing to tackle it, click here.

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