Chris King – Can you please introduce yourself and OLIO…

Saasha Celestial-One – Hello! I’m Saasha, co-founder of OLIO, The Food Sharing Revolution. My business partner is Tessa, and together we are launching OLIO, a mobile app which connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses to exchange their edible surplus food.

CK – What motivated you to start OLIO?

SC-O – I hate waste. I’m one of those people that picks clothes up off the street, takes them home, washes them, and then wears them. It literally pains me on the rare occasions I have to throw away food. Meanwhile, in January Tessa was moving back to the UK from Geneva and she found herself with a cabbage and a handful of sweet potatoes and no one to give them to. Rather than leaving them to rot in an empty flat in Switzerland, she smuggled them into the UK! Our mutual aversion to waste prompted us to found OLIO.

CK – What do you hope to achieve with the project?

SC-O – Our mission is to unlock the value of food that is wasted in the home and community. We also hope to re-define how people source their food, and as people use OLIO to save food that would have otherwise gone to waste, create a more efficient consumption pattern at the local level, resulting in less food waste overall. Ultimately, we want to help change people’s mind-set about food and its value.

CK – How did you get it up and running?

SC-O – Tessa & I have both agreed to take a year off and dedicate ourselves to OLIO. The timing just feels right for us – personally we are both at professional crossroads, and there’s a new external context too: the sharing economy and consumer tech booms, along with growing awareness of the food waste scandal, can serve as a launch-pad for OLIO.

The first thing we did was to validate our idea with market research to understand people’s attitudes to food waste and gauge interest in the OLIO concept. 330 people responded to our survey and gave us invaluable insights, as well as the green light we needed to progress.

Another key milestone was running a trial in April with 12 early adopters and a health food store. We needed to see if people would actually make the effort to exchange their surplus food within the community. We were delighted by the results, with dozens of exchanges taking place.

CK – What have been your greatest struggles so far?

SC-O – Our greatest challenge so far has been working against the clock! OLIO was only formed in February, but we had a target launch for June, so as to not miss the critical summer season that promises gluts of fresh fruit & veg. As such, we’ve had to be very decisive and keep our foot on the pedal.

CK – What sets you apart from similar sites or apps, such as the recently launched Plan Zheroes platform?

SC-O – OLIO is unique because it is a peer-to-peer (one neighbour trading with another) as well as a business-to-consumer platform (giving or selling at a steep discount food that is at the end of its sellable life). We provide the platform and the users connect with each other to arrange for delivery or collection.

CK – You’re obviously hoping that OLIO will have a significant and sustained uptake and impact – that an ever increasing number of people will be signing up and willing to make the effort to list their surplus food, and take the time to collect food listed – what makes you confident that OLIO will succeed where others have failed?

SC-O – Well, that is a good question!  Our market research and the trial we conducted give us some confidence that there is an appetite for OLIO. In addition, we are very focused on implementing best practices for building a network so as to mitigate risks. OLIO is essentially a hyper-local food marketplace; as such, it is critical to balance supply and demand to ensure the marketplace ‘clears’. As tempting as it is to launch OLIO everywhere, we are limiting ourselves for the time being to a 5 square mile area in North London so that we can carefully manage the OLIO network in its infancy.

We’ve also had 1,200 people go to our website and sign up (www.OLIOex.com) to be notified when we launch and we have recruited a dozen founding merchants. It’s exciting to see us gather followers on social media too!

CK – What potential do you feel platforms and apps like OLIO have to change people’s behaviour in a lasting way and for the collective good?

SC-O – It wasn’t so long ago that people sourced their food from a variety of places, including from their neighbours. People regularly exchanged baked goods, home grown fruit & veg, etc within the community. We hope that OLIO, by leveraging digital technology, can facilitate these types of neighbourly exchanges again.

CK – What other measures do you feel need to be taken and can be effective in reducing the amount of edible food needlessly going to waste?

SC-O – We fully support the ban on supermarkets binning edible food, and believe this food should at least be made available to local charities who, if they are able, can redistribute it.

CK – When will OLIO be launched, and how can people find out more and sign up?

SC-O – The app is available via the Apple’s App Store for iPhone users. An Android version of the app will be available in a couple of weeks time. OLIO is currently live in North London, but expanding fast. So we recommend that people pre-register with their email address and postcode at www.OLIOex.com, and then when we have enough people within a given area we’ll launch OLIO there. We need as many people as possible to join OLIO, so we have a thriving network of food sharers when we launch!

Chris King
I'm a documentary and portrait photographer and multimedia producer from Northern Ireland, but currently based in London. With the Food Is... website and my exploration of the issue of avoidable food waste, I have a desire to create positive change in whatever way I can, and to whatever degree I can. You can see more of my work at chriskingphotography.com