Digital Retail Innovations Q&A – OLIO

Brought to you by Retail Insider and Webloyalty

Following the launch of the Digital Retail Innovations 2017 Report (sponsored by Webloyalty) a series of Q&A’s with the leading figures behind some of the key entries in the report are being published.

Here is a Q&A with Tessa Cook, co-founder of OLIO, which is placed at number 26 in the report for its work with Sainsbury’s and other retailers.

Tessa Cook, co-founder of OLIO (photo Annabel Staff)

1. How did the original idea come about?

I’m a farmer’s daughter, and so have always hated throwing away good food. This is because I know from first-hand experience just how much hard work goes into producing it! Three years ago I was moving country and found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. And so I set off on a bit of a wild goose chase to try and find someone to give it to, and I failed miserably.

Through the whole process it seemed to me crazy that I should have to throw this food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love it, the problem was they just didn’t know about it. And so the idea of OLIO, a mobile app where neighbours and local shops & cafes can share surplus food, came about.

2. What has been the level of take-up of the service and what are the key ways retailers/brands are using it?

Since making the app available across the UK at the end of January 2016, we have acquired 310,000 users, who have together shared over 400,000 portions of food – which is the environmental equivalent of taking over one million car miles off the road! In addition to individuals embracing OLIO, retailers have also jumped on board too. Specifically, we run our “Food Waste Heroes” programme whereby we match volunteers with their local supermarket/bakery/deli, and those volunteers collect unsold food at the end of the day (after the charities have taken what they want), take it home, add it to the app and redistribute it to the local community.

So far we’ve partnered with Pret A Manger, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrison’s to enable some of their stores to become zero food waste. The OLIO Food Waste Heroes programme not only helps those businesses meet their sustainability goals, and avoid the PR disaster of being seen throwing away perfectly good food; but it also helps reduce food waste disposal costs and improve staff retention and morale

3. What about competition in this area?

OLIO has no direct competitor anywhere in the world – there is no other neighbour-to-neighbour food sharing app! In fact, we often say that our biggest competitor is the rubbish bin because globally households and local communities throw away over $120 billion of food that could have been eaten each year. We’re very pleased though to see a growing number of companies emerging to tackle food waste at different points of the supply chain such as Mimica,, Winnow, Rubies in the Rubble and Snact.

4. How has the solution been developed / advanced over time?

We piloted OLIO in the second half of 2015, and at that point in time the app was available in only five postcodes in North London because we needed to prove the hyper-local model before scaling. We then made the app available across the UK in January 2016, and globally in October 2016. During this time we have continued to develop the feature set and user experience so that the app today is a vast improvement on the MVP (‘minimal viable product’) that we launched with.

5. Have there been any surprises along the way?

Well we’ve definitely had a few surprises in terms of some of the wonderful things that have been shared via OLIO! For example we’ve had a black truffle, 12 bottles of wine and 80 loaves of bread all added to the app. However, perhaps the two biggest surprises have been how high the demand for surplus food is (40% of listings are requested in less than one hour!), and also how many people have reached out to volunteer to help spread the word about OLIO in their local community (15,000 and counting). Our philosophy that food should be eaten not thrown away is clearly one that resonates with lots and lots of people.

6. What can we expect from OLIO in the future?

In the next couple of weeks we’ll be launching the desktop version of the app, which will make OLIO available to anybody with internet access. And after that we will be working on introducing more content and community into the app itself, to better reflect what is happening offline when neighbours meet to share food.

And finally, our vision is an unashamedly bold one – it’s of a world with hundreds of millions 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, and are looking forward to strategic partnerships with other businesses and brands helping us to get there

7. Do you have any recommendations for entries in the next Digital Retail Innovations report?


Curve card

If you’ve enjoyed this content then to receive all posts direct to your in-tray as they are published. click here to subscribe.

Webloyalty is a leading reward programme provider working with major online retailers to help them build stronger, more profitable relationships with their customers. Through our membership programmes we help our online retail partners’ customers save hundreds of pounds a year while providing the partner with an additional revenue stream. As well as incentivising customers to make repeat purchases at the partner’s site, members can also earn cashback and get great deals on everything from fashion to electronics to travel, at hundreds of top online stores.



Read full story

Innovative Retailer – Clutter

Name: Clutter The Place: At the moment US only but expect global domination any time soon, which may include Blighty…So watch this space. The Story: Stuff. It’s a thing isn’t it? It certainly is: Got too much of it? Nope: So you are in the minority then, my friend. Well, I’m used to being special […]

Read full story

David Bruce and the next-generation brewpubs

Brewpubs are widely seen as a US invention because they are very much a feature of the beer landscape on that side of the Atlantic. But this is not strictly true because the brewpub phenomenon was ignited by activities in the UK by British entrepreneur David Bruce who founded the Firkin chain of brewpubs. In […]

Read full story

Ready meals facing pressure from home delivery?

Restaurants and other foodservice companies are having a tough time handling the explosive growth now being experienced in home delivery. Increasingly impatient – and lazy – customers demanding instant gratification are fuelling the growth in food delivered to the home. The amount of meals cooked in the home is falling among younger people who find […]

Read full story

Innovative Retailer – Stowga

Name: Stowga The Place: Anywhere in the UK there are big, empty warehouses really. The Story: Like all good business ideas, this one comes from someone spotting a problem and thinking – I could solve that. And who might that someone be? Charlie Pool, CEO of Stowga. He comes from an asset management background (Delin […]

Read full story

Small is beautiful

Andrew Edmunds is a long established restaurant in central London that always features highly on top restaurant lists including that of Hardens, which currently has it placed as the fifth best within its price category and is it is also deemed the city’s third most romantic restaurant by the guide’s readers. I admit to venturing […]

Read full story

Less stuff and more experience

Experience-led retail is without doubt the future of the physical store. The days when a trip to the shops would inevitably end up with people returning home laden down with bags of stuff look to be numbered. The combination of increasing online sales, and the trend for younger consumers to be buyers of social media-friendly […]

Read full story

Retail Insider editor among most influential Twitter accounts in UK retail

Retail Insider is delighted to announce that its editor Glynn Davis has been included in a list of the most influential retail-focused Twitter accounts in the UK being placed at number 25 out of 100 – a rise of five places from his 30th spot last year. Click to view the full list Only three […]

Read full story

Movers & Shakers Q&A – Simon Calver, partner, BGF Ventures

Simon Calver, partner at BGF Ventures 1. What is the greatest opportunity for the retail businesses you are involved with? We are all beginning to collect more data but the biggest opportunity now is to use that data to build customer insights that can differentiate your own proposition and create really sticky customers. 2. What […]

Read full story

Food & beverage dropping anchor in retail developments

It was certainly sunnier at MAPIC, the annual retail property developers exhibition, in southern France than it was in the UK this month but what remained the same across both places was the stunningly hot climate for food and beverage (F&B) in the retail environment. Food & beverage was the main focus at the event […]

Read full story

Retail industry thinking catching up with Unpackaged

Operating a retail store where the produce is sold via refillable containers brought in by the customer was ahead of its time even in the hipper parts of East London, which resulted in innovative business Unpackaged having a tough time. Despite the challenges and closure of its only store in 2012 its founder Catherine Conway […]

Read full story

Innovative Retailer – Elvis & Kresse

Name: Elvis & Kresse The Place: The manufacturing workshop is in a picturesque water mill in deepest Kent – Tonge to be exact. And there are no shops. The Story: This is a story of a company that wants to redefine luxury in the most surprising way. Kresse Wesling is co-founder of Elvis & Kresse […]

Read full story

IKEA hops aboard the service trend

When kitting out the bedrooms of my house the decision about new wardrobes involved me employing a carpenter. But the cost was astronomical for the size and complexity required. Each of the carpenters from whom I took quotes suggested the best alternative was to source the wardrobes from IKEA and employ a professional DIY person […]

Read full story

Movers & Shakers Q&A – Tony Mannix, CEO of Clipper Logistics

Tony Mannix, CEO of Clipper Logistics What is the greatest opportunity for your business? Agility is a word we’ve lived by at Clipper since we started, and it’s a concept we believe has been key to our own success. It’s allowed us to develop award-winning solutions, such as our Boomerang™ returns service, and our recent […]

Read full story

Digital Leisure & Hospitality Innovations Q&A – Inamo

Following the launch of the Digital Leisure & Hospitality Innovations 2017 Report (sponsored by Webloyalty) a series of Q&A’s with the leading figures behind some of the key entries in the report are being published. Here is a Q&A with Noel Hunwick, co-founder of Inamo, which is placed at number 19 in the report. 1.How did […]

Read full story

Consumers no longer beholden to the car

The major grocery chains built their portfolios of massive stores on the back of the phenomenon of the UK population getting into their cars, driving to their nearest out-of-town superstore, and doing their weekly/fortnightly/monthly mega shop. While plenty of people still undertake this ritual the trend is trailing off. Partly this is because more people […]

Read full story

Digital Retail Innovations Q&A – Blue Yonder

Following the launch of the Digital Retail Innovations 2017 Report (sponsored by Webloyalty) a series of Q&A’s with the leading figures behind some of the key entries in the report are being published. Here is a Q&A with Uwe Weiss, CEO of Blue Yonder, which is placed at number 11 in the report for its work with […]

Read full story

Innovative Retailer – SweetGreen

Name: SweetGreen The Place: America basically. Currently standing at 72 units spread all over the country with another handful opening soon. The Story: Back in 2007 three business undergraduates at Georgetown University Business School tried to find some good food off-campus and failed abysmally. The good, healthy, nutritious salad options full of locally produced stuff […]

Read full story

Issues with showroom stores

US department store chain Nordstrom is to open its first Nordstrom Local variant, which will act as a showroom where customers can buy a drink and relax but cannot take home any clothes. Instead they have to order them and wait for their chosen items to be delivered to their homes. This follows the strategy […]

Read full story

Movers & Shakers Q&A – Edwina Dunn, CEO of Starcount

Edwina Dunn, CEO, Starcount What is the greatest opportunity for your business? When we started work in the industry we used customer transaction data to understand what customers did – what they bought (classic recency, frequency and value analysis). This still dominates the whole industry and continues to consume millions of pounds in investment. But […]

Read full story