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OLIO - The Food Sharing Revolution

A free app that connects neighbours with each other and with local shops & cafes so that surplus food can be shared, not thrown away.

Photo of Tessa Cook
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Why throw away good food when there's almost certainly someone round the corner, who would love to take it off your hands? For too long we haven't been able to connect those with surplus food, with others who would like it. OLIO solves this modern-day tragedy with a fun and easy to use app. 

To access the app, users simply snap a picture of their items and add them to OLIO. Neighbours then receive customised alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy, and arrange pick-up from home, the store, an OLIO Drop Box, or another agreed location. Not only does it feeling amazing to stop good food from going to waste, it's also surprisingly fun to meet your neighbours in the process!

Items commonly found on the app include food nearing its use-by date from shops, cafes and markets; spare vegetables from the garden; cakes from an amateur baker; food no longer wanted by dieters, or groceries from household fridges when people go away, move home or just don't get around to eating everything they have.

OLIO launched in the UK in January 2016 and in this short time has been used over 275,000 times to save over 100,000  items of food!


What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Humans have shared food for over 2 million years. But in recent times we've become numb to throwing it away, with households accounting for 50% of food waste in the industrialised world. The solution to too much good food should be to SHARE it, not bin it! Together, enabled by mobile technology, we can each play our part in solving this massive problem. Lots of small actions --> massive change!

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm the Co-Founder of OLIO, and a bit of a 'mum on a mission' to help solve the tragedy of food waste - in a way that's mobile, global, scalable and FUN!

19 comments

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Photo of Juliana So

Hi Tessa - I love your app! And are you planning to take it to Asia? I noticed even when people cook too much food, they are reluctant to knock on neighbors door and give it away because they don't really know who would want it. There are potentially a lot of food and items to be saved... :)

Photo of Tessa Cook

Hi there! I about 3-4 weeks time we will be making the app available to be used globally, yay :). However, how OLIO gets kickstarted in any new area is via our network of 5k and counting volunteers who help spread the word and get things going. If you're interested in finding out more then please email us on hello@olioex.com. And volunteering can take as little or as much time as you'd like. Thanks!

Photo of Tessa Cook

Great suggestion Brandon! I've read about Copia, and they sound amazing, so will definitely get in touch, thank you :)

Photo of Brandon Bakhshi

Tessa Cook I'm happy to hear that! Wishing you the best :)

Photo of Brandon Bakhshi

Tessa Cook Congrats on your app's success so far! I'm excited by the work you are doing, and am looking forward to seeing OLIO grow. I am curious to know - have you heard of the San Francisco based startup Copia? OLIO and Copia are different in ways, but at the end of the day, both are leveraging technology to mobilize surplus food within communities. According to their website, they have recovered 830K lbs of food to feed 691K people to date.

Here is an article about them that I like: http://mashable.com/2016/06/29/copia-app/#OrP_mo7798qg
Their Founder & CEO is Komal Ahmad: https://www.linkedin.com/in/komalahmad

If you haven't already, perhaps you and Komal could connect to learn from each other, and help each other's businesses grow! I'm sure you two are facing a lot of similar challenges that are unique to Founders/CEOs in this space.

Photo of Emily Getty

How could you take this innovation to a place with no smart phones?

Photo of Tessa Cook

Currently OLIO is only available as an app, as we're a very small team with limited budget, plus the product works best as an app because it depends on geo-location, notifications and uploading photos - all of which are *much* easier with a mobile phone. Having said that, we do have charities and individuals that use the app to source food that they then take to others who don't have access to a smartphone. We *could* create some sort of desktop version of the app, but we don't have the resources right now unfortunately. 

Photo of Lisa Brooks

I live in Swadlincote, I think the first area that Olio was launched outside of London. It is a fabulous idea and the trial here with Sainsburys shows how much supermarket food waste can be saved. We regularly receive perfectly good fruit & veg. The app is very well designed and easy to use. Good luck to Olio in being successful the world over! 

Photo of Tessa Cook

Thank you so much Lisa, really appreciate your support!!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Tessa! I love Olio. I know Olio originated in the UK. But, can you see uses elsewhere? For example, Armand mentioned problems with food waste in Lebanon here - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-waste/research/food-waste-v-s-a-country-s-culture/comments#!c-af3a73b7e000d9363551a5d990151690

Photo of Tessa Cook

Hi there, OLIO is currently available in 38 countries around the world, although we're a small startup with close to zero marketing budget and so we've only actively launched the app in the UK. How we're expanding elsewhere is via our volunteers who spread the word about OLIO in their local communities, using our marketing materials, playbook etc. As a result we have seen organic, small scale sharing take place in the USA, Denmark, Italy and Poland to mention a few. 

Photo of Greta Matos

Hey Tessa- I hadn't heard about Olio but love the concept and that it's getting traction!! Looking forward to seeing how it can grow and impact communities globally. I live in southern Chile and we have loads of apple trees around our property that produce such a surplus of fruit that I've already been inviting neighbors to arrange weekend harvests for next fall simply because we'll have far more than we can eat (and we don't really have aims to sell them). Would be lovely to be able to find and easily connect with more communities locally that need food like this so we can invite them as well. 

Photo of Tessa Cook

Absolutely, we are seeing *lots* of fresh fruit and veg from users' gardens and allotments, as there is so often a glut of produce, and our users are loving sharing it with neighbours!

Photo of Lynn Huang

Tessa - I love the app and concept and am so glad you are participating in this challenge! A few years ago Leftover Swap was launched in the US (http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/07/29/206493794/a-new-app-will-let-you-share-your-leftovers-with-strangers). Unfortunately, it hasn't taken off. I think it's because of similar reasons of integrity that @Armand Khoury mentioned in one of his replies. Millennials are even more skeptical and research based consumers than any generation before. This means that they will ask a thousand questions and have many hypothetical, which could all be deterrents to making this concept a success.

I wonder though - is it possible to integrate apps like OLIO into applications like Facebook where there is a greater sense of trust because you have a reliable friend/connection in common?

Photo of Tessa Cook

Hi there, yes we've taken a look at leftover swap and have our own thoughts on why that might not have worked, but only those who worked on it will really know! In our experience it is actually the community aspect that is the most attractive thing about OLIO, as people are longing to connect with others in their local community, and food is such a natural thing to bond over. We are working hard to introduce product features that enhance trust e.g. user profiles and statuses, and shortly we'll be introducing a basic user rating system. I think the biggest barrier isn't a concern/fear/scepticism of meeting neighbours, it's the fact that for most people food is actually considered relatively cheap and we've all become completely numb to/accepting of throwing it away. So what needs to change is social norms - it needs to be seen as socially taboo to throw away good food, in the same way that littering, graffiting and smoking in front of children are now, but were once so commonplace. 

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Tessa Cook

Thank you, we really appreciate it - very exciting!!

Photo of Tessa Cook

The reality is that we're still very early in our journey and so most of our users are early adopters. It will take time for the mainstream user to come onboard, although that's one of the reasons why we launched our non-food tab recently which is for toiletries, kitchen equipment, cleaning products etc as that appeals to a more mainstream audience. Check out the WRAP (UK govt body) web site which has the WRAP Household Food & Drink report which shows the three main categories that drive household waste: 1) "change of preference" e.g. gone on a diet, developed an allergy, fussy kids, unwanted food gifts, food left by house guests etc; 2) "not eaten on time" e.g. bought 2 for 1s in supermarket, going away, working late, single person household etc, all resulting in too much food; 3) "leftover" i.e. cooked or plated too much. We believe that the first of these categories requires the least consumer behaviour/mindset change to share as it just requires finding <1 minute at some point in time to list the food. Number 2 requires a bit more behaviour change as you need to recognise early enough that the food won't be eaten, and then you need to list it in a limited time window. And 3 requires the most behaviour change to share as it has all the challenges of #2 plus both the lister and the requester must think it's something that someone else will want to share. Hope that helps! 

Photo of Saskia Baard

Hi Tessa, this is a very interesting sharing platform! I was curious about how you encourage people who might not be in tune yet with how much food they waste, to actually start using the app? I was also wondering if you have some insights or data about what causes people to waste in the first place, and what motivates them to change their habits?