On the up · 2 August 2018

“Ugly but delicious”: Oddbox founders are tackling a global crisis with their wonky veg

The startup is delivering ugly produce to Londoners

Inspired by Portuguese markets, this couple returned home and began their business venture centred around misshapen produce.

Co-founders Emilie Vanpoperinghe and Deepak Ravindran created London’s first and only wonky veg box subscription scheme which tackles food waste on farms.

Two years ago, Oddbox began sourcing misshapen and surplus produce for a fair price from farms and delivering to homes and offices in London for a 30% saving.

As part of our “I fell in love with my co-founder” series, Business Advice caught up with the pair to discuss how a romantic holiday triggered entrepreneurial success and how they are tackling one of the UK’s biggest problems.

Founded: 2016

Turnover: £600,000 

Employees: 5 full-time staff and 16 part-time self-employed packers and drivers.

How did you both meet?

We met in India. Emilie had moved from France to India for a finance role with 3M, and Deepak was also working with 3M and so we were colleagues there. We are married now. 

What inspired you to start a business together?

It all started at a market in Portugal. We were on holiday and every day we would go to the local market to do our shopping where we would buy these huge and seriously ugly tomatoes which were truly delicious.

That’s when we started wondering why we couldn’t find these at home and why all the tomatoes in the supermarkets in the UK all looked so perfect but were also perfectly tasteless.

“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. What we found was shocking “

The estimates vary however at least a third of the food we produce each year is thrown away and never consumed. In the UK alone, we waste food in our farms, markets and homes to the tune of 10m tonnes a year worth £17bn.

So on the one hand, we waste a lot of the food we produce and on the other hand food poverty affects millions of people in the UK and food poverty is increasing. Food poverty is not a poor country issue. It is a major issue in the UK as well.

In the UK, one in four parents skip meals and a lot of children are having their only meal at school and are seriously malnourished affecting their health and learning abilities. What shocked us even more is the enormous amount of resources which goes into producing the food we end up wasting.

For example, it takes 800 litres of water to grow 1 kilo of banana in addition to the land usage, the labour and the fuel to transport these bananas to the UK so wasting food already produced in an enormous drain on resources. If food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China so we can significantly address the issue of climate change by reducing the amount of food we waste.

And you would think that a lot of waste happens in our homes and in supermarkets however a huge amount of waste also happens in our farms. And that is mainly due to tight criteria which force growers to over-produce in addition to demand supply fluctuation.

We wanted to do something about it and knew that we were not the only ones who would be happy to eat ugly but delicious tomatoes and that’s how we started Oddbox.

What specific roles do you both have?

Emilie is the CEO and CFO having 15 years experience managing teams in finance and operations and Deepak is the COO and CTO, having over 15 years experience in project management in the financial services and in IT.

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co-founders

 

“I fell in love with my co-founder”

We’re telling the stories of the entrepreneurial couples who started their business together and the co-founders who found love along the way.

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How do you separate work from your personal life?

This is the tricky part. We love what we do and therefore struggle to separate work from our personal life. We also don’t feel there should be a strong segregation between both as we enjoy talking about Oddbox in the evening and weekends and discussing the challenges we have.

However, we make sure to not work all the time and always make time to go to the gym, meet friends, go for shows or plays… and once a month we try to escape to the countryside and go for long walks switching off our mobile phones.

What are your individual strengths?

We compliment each other well as Deepak is very good at looking at growth opportunities for the future as well as managing projects and keeping things on track and Emilie has more experience in terms of engaging and motivating the team and is very good at driving the execution of the strategy and ensuring we address any major risks.

What’s been your biggest business achievement to date?

We have just closed our Seedrs crowdfunding campaign and in less than 4 weeks overfunded to 150% with 530 investors joining us in the #wonkyvegrevolution. So many of our customers have backed us and we are grateful for all the support we have received.

What is the hardest part of working together?

The hardest part of working together is that we know each other’s strengths but also each other’s limitations. That might cloud our judgment sometimes and we need to be continually conscious of this. 

What is the best part of running a business together?

The best part is the fact that we know each other very well and can be very open and transparent with each other. We didn’t have to build the relationship as we already had a trusting relationship. We are both 200% committed to Oddbox and put all our efforts in making it a success and saving more produce from going to waste.

We can rely on each other and also challenge each other when necessary and know the other person has the best intentions in mind.

What celebrity couple are you most like? 

We would love to be like Barack and Michelle Obama, they make a great team, support each other and have always tried to do the best for the people and their country.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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