Meet – Tessa Cook Food Sharing App Co-Founder
Tessa is a farmer’s daughter from North Yorkshire, who spent her childhood working on the farm and gaining an early appreciation for the meaning of hard work. After graduating with a first class degree in Social & Political Sciences at Cambridge, Tessa began her professional career as a Strategy Consultant with BCG. Since then she has had over 15 years experience as a Managing Director in a variety of global digital businesses in media, retail and financial services.
The inspiration from OLIO came when Tessa was moving country in 2014 and found herself with surplus food that she couldn’t bring herself to throw away. In February 2015 she Co-Founded OLIO with Saasha Celestial-One, who she had met whilst studying for her MBA at Stanford University, California. OLIO has since been used over half a million times to share over 150,000 items of food, and has only just started.
What is OLIO? How does it work? Is the surplus food sold or given for free?
OLIO is a free app that connects neighbours with each other and with local shops and cafes so that surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. Users (consumers, OLIO volunteers or local businesses) simply snap a picture of their items and add them to OLIO. Neighbours then receive customized alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy. Pick-up takes place – often the same day – at the home/store, an OLIO Drop Box or another agreed location. Items typically found on the app include food nearing its use-by date from shops, cafes and markets; spare vegetables from the allotment; cakes from an amateur baker; or groceries from household fridges when people go away, move home or start a diet. All the food on OLIO is either available for free or for a ‘pay as you feel’ donation to charity.
Why did you decide to found OLIO? What were you doing before?
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. As a result, the inspiration for OLIO came when 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 crazy to me that I should have to throw this food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of meters 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 and cafes can share surplus food, came about. When I pitched the concept to my co-founder Saasha Celestial-One (the daughter of Iowan hippies as her last name suggests), she immediately got it, and we decided to work together to bring OLIO to life. We both had fairly conventional ‘corporate’ careers and were incredibly excited to do something that we really truly cared about and believed the world needed.
Can you describe a typical day?
The wonderful thing about OLIO – and working on your own thing – is that there is no such thing as a typical day. Both Saasha and I have young children (mine are 2 and 4 years old), so for us flexibility is super important. As a result, we work at all sorts of hours, night and day. But, this means that we can do the stuff that is important to us during the day, such as take our children to nursery or the local playgroup meetup. For me, things that I will typically work on include designing new features for the app, talking to prospective investors, writing Q&As such as this one and responding to customer queries.
What part of your work brings you the most joy?
There are three things – first looking at the app and seeing all the food being added and requested and knowing that it’s going to be eaten not thrown away. The second is speaking with our volunteers – whether they be the 8,000 (and counting) OLIO Ambassadors who are spreading the word about OLIO in their local community or our Food Waste Heroes who are collecting unsold food from local shops and sharing it via the app – their passion and enthusiasm is so infectious and inspiring. And finally, I love talking to our customers to get feedback on the app and to hear how much they’re enjoying meeting their neighbours through OLIO.
How many shops and cafes in the UK are using OLIO?
We have over 100 shops and cafes using the OLIO app to add their unsold food at the end of the day. Earlier this year we also partnered with Sainsburys in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, to pilot how OLIO can help redistribute surplus food from the store (after the charities have taken what they need). From this collaboration we have developed our “Food Waste Heroes” programme whereby OLIO volunteers are matched with a local business such as a bakery, supermarket, deli or street food market to collect any unsold food at the end of the day and redistribute it to the local community via the OLIO app. This programme is going very well and we’re now supporting over 40 business locations and are looking to expand to hundreds more in 2017.
How is OLIO growing in other countries?
Approximately 15% of our signups are from overseas, and this is happening organically as people are hearing about us from friends, social media and their online research. We’ve seen pockets of food sharing springing up in countries as diverse as Sweden, the USA, Finland, South Africa and Russia. In many cases this is thanks to our OLIO Ambassadors in those countries spreading the word about the app in their local community and using our marketing materials that we make available for them to download online.
What is the most common type of surplus?
We say that OLIO is a little bit like Tinder – there’s something on there for everyone. That was a bad joke, but really, the variety on OLIO is truly incredible. We see fresh fruit and veggies from gardens during growing season, lots of bread from bakeries, unwanted food gifts, chocolate and pasta when people go on a diet, the contents of a fridge when people go on holiday or move house, and good intentions that have been lurking at the back of people’s cupboards that are just never going to happen (mine was lentils and pulses as I could never get around to soaking them the night before). The number one criteria is to only add something you yourself would eat. And to clarify, opened packets and items past their Best Before date are more than welcome and are almost always quickly snapped up.
What are the different types of people you coordinate with?
Here at OLIO we’re big believers in collaboration and karma so we try and work with as many people as possible who share our vision of a world where food is eaten, not thrown away. As a result we work with a lot of charities, supermarkets, food brands and local government authorities, as well as community groups and Pay-As-You-Feel Cafes (cafes that use ingredients that would have otherwise been thrown away by supermarkets and wholesalers, and let their customers pay what they feel their meal is worth).
What is the funniest item posted for surplus you have come across?
I will always remember seeing the first item that really shocked me. It was about two months after we launched and it was a packet of Toasted Ants! They were in beautiful high-end retail packaging and looked very fancy, but I must admit that was something I’d never come across before .
Any words of advice for kids thinking about becoming food waste heroes?
First of all, by encouraging their parents to let them serve their own portion sizes so they aren’t given too much, which they then go on to waste. Second, by encouraging Mum & Dad to save all the half eaten apples, browning bananas and wrinkly looking veggies, and then blend it all together with full-fat greek yoghurt to make a yummy smoothie full of super power goodness. And finally, by pester power – anytime they see anything in the fridge or cupboards that they know isn’t going to get eaten, they can encourage their parents to add it to the OLIO app, so that a lovely neighbour can enjoy it instead.