ODDBOX is London’s first and only sustainable fruit and veg box tackling food waste. Oddbox works closely with farmers, rescuing fresh, seasonal surplus fruit & veg which are at risk of becoming food waste. With every box, Londoners reduce food waste, save CO2 and water.
Emilie Vanpoperinghe is co-founder of Oddbox, which was set up in 2016. Emilie has over 15 years’ project and team management experience in Fortune 500 companies (3M and BT) across the globe. Emilie is originally from northern France and has been in the UK for the past 10 years. Her grandparents were potato farmers and so she knows what it takes to grow fresh produce.
What was your eureka moment?
It was 5 years ago when we went on holiday to Portugal. Every day we would go to the local market to do our shopping and we would buy these huge and seriously ugly tomatoes which were truly delicious. I had seen the French supermarket Intermarché’s ‘ugly’ fruit and veg campaign and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste and this sparked an idea.
When we came back from Portugal, the first thing we did was research about the produce supply chain and that’s when we realised the extent of food waste and the fact that perfectly good fruits and vegs were left in the field or discarded just because they didn’t look perfect.
How did you validate your idea?
Before we started Oddbox, we met with some growers to understand better what was happening in the industry and when I went to visit the facility of one of the UK’s largest fruit & veg supplier, I was shocked by the perfectly good quality carrots which ended up in the skip just because they had cuts or had small blemishes. We also spoke to some apple growers who told us of the recent issues they had with an early frost, how it impacted the look of the apples and their struggle to sell these. We started with a 6 weeks’ trial with 20 customers which we found through door-to-door flyering, Facebook posts and our friend’s network.
What one failure are you glad you experienced?
2 years ago, after our crowdfunding raise, we decided to do a brand refresh working with a small brand agency. After several brainstorming sessions and iterations, we made the decision that it wasn’t right, stopped the work and kept our existing branding. In hindsight, it was the right decision as we then realised that the creative execution looked very similar to the branding of another company and so it might have looked like a copycat.
What piece of industry advice do you often hear that you disagree with and why?
Equity fundraising has become the main measure of success for a company. It is easy to track and highly visible. It fuels fast growth which is exhilarating for everyone. Funding growth from external funding sources will be the right thing for some companies but might be wrong for others.
There needs to be a more balanced approach based on the specific needs and business model of a company; and the acknowledgement that equity fundraising is not the only nor always the right way to enable growth and profitability.
What role has social media played in your success?
It took a long time for us to fully and successfully use social media. It initially started with a vegan influencer who was one of our customers and helped promote us to her followers, without us even knowing about it initially.
More recently, we have been growing our community by gifting Oddboxes to influencers aligned with our values and who could help spread the word about Oddbox. We aim to provide value to our community by giving them insight into the hardship of our growers, the different factors creating food waste and promoting a more sustainable lifestyle and conscious consumption.
We’ve just delivered our one millionth box.This is one our biggest wins! It means that together with our community, we’ve rescued 5,820,013 kg of ridiculously delicious fruit & veg that could have otherwise gone to waste.
That is close to 5m tonnes of Co2E carbon emissions, the same as 5,000 return flights from London to New York! It’s close to 1.2 billion tonnes of water, that’s over 8m showers. That was enough produce donated to make over 2m meals for vulnerable people.
Can you share three top tips for anyone looking to start their own business?
- Our most worthwhile investments have been in the team we have recruited. We couldn’t have done it alone, they all brought different ideas and experience.
- The hardest part is not in the idea but the execution and the best way to push through is by being accountable to several people.
- Do your research. The first thing I did when I had the idea for Oddbox was to send an email to 10s of friends and ex-colleagues to let them know and get feedback.