In 2016, Deepak and his wife Emilie Vanpoperinghe launched OddBox, a social enterprise dedicated to tackling widespread food waste in the UK. They set out to find loving homes for 'aesthetically challenged' fruit and vegetable that didn't quite make the supermarket cut: bulbous peppers, speckled apples, curve-less bananas – all perfectly edible but, due to minor imperfections, destined for the landfill site.
"We came across the idea when we were traveling in Portugal," says Deepak, who runs the sales, marketing and technology side of the business. "We saw a really ugly-looking tomato and got to thinking. We couldn't understand why it was so hard to get your hands on odd-shaped food produce in the UK – especially when it tasted so delicious!"
The couple made it their mission to speak to farmers and supermarket buyers first-hand to find out more. And, before long, the idea for OddBox was hatched: boxing-up unwanted goods and delivering to the public at cut-down prices.
"The whole idea for us is that we want to give a fair price to farms, as well as our customers," says Deepak. And the idea has flourished. OddBox now works with 26 farms and suppliers across England, picking up the wasted produce and storing it in their warehouse at Parkhall Business Centre. From here, the goods are packaged up into boxes, ready for overnight delivery to homes and offices all over South London. In addition, 10% of all produce makes its way to local charities, such as City Harvest London and The People’s Fridge in Brixton – both committed to fighting food scarcity in the city. “For us it’s a way of using food waste to fight poverty,” says Deepak.
Thinking Inside the box
With seasonal produce at its heart, OddBox boxes vary from one week to the next. “You never know what exciting things you’ll unbox,“ says Deepak. "We try and celebrate trying new things and our customers like the variety and the surprise that comes along with every box. For kids, it's like Christmas! They love the pimply apples and knobbly carrots."
But OddBox has taken it one step further. They’ve set out to educate people, too. A letter is delivered along with each box explaining where the fruit and vegetables have come from and why large corporations decided to reject the produce. "It brings the fruit and veg to life...there's a story behind it," he says. And people are made aware of the good ripple effect that their purchase has made. "It’s not just a product anymore, there’s a person behind it who has actually picked it. And I think that really strikes a chord with our customers," he says.
Room for growth
Home to an array of different companies – from coffee roasters to jewellery makers; food start-ups to fashion designers – OddBox’s warehouse has been located at Parkhall Business Centre, a former Pye Electronics building, for nearly a year. And, with a strong sense of community, “the space feels like its very own ecosystem,” says Deepak.
“For me, co-working space is the way of the future,” he says. “Working in isolation can be very inefficient, but when I have a problem here, it’s different. There’s always somebody to ask for help.” Parkhall’s on-site cafe, Volcano Coffee House, provides a space outside of the warehouse for the OddBox team to work in the company of other start-ups. “It’s like one unit, it’s not like a big isolated warehouse where you don’t have neighbours to talk to. It sparks conversation,” he says.
And, as business picks up pace, thought has turned to collaboration. “We met a wine company at a networking evening hosted by Workspace,” says Deepak. “And now we’re looking to collaborate with them in the near future. We’d like to provide 20% discount vouchers for their wine to our customers in return for a similar favour, for example. A symbiosis of sorts.”
“I think it’s really important in today’s world that people help each other to reach a similar end goal, while sharing ideas along the way,” says Deepak, who predicts that the company will be 15 times as big by 2021. “In the next two years we are focused on expanding to the whole of London. And by year three we want to expand out to places like Bath, Bristol, Manchester.” Looking to the future, OddBox growth shows no signs of slowing down.
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