Digital Retail Innovations Q&A – OLIO

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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?


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