Tessa Main

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week’s LDNER is one of the founders of the UK’s latest food sharing app OLIO who are on a mission to tackle the food waste scandal, starting in kitchen cupboards across the UK, meet Tessa Cook…

Tell us where you live in London and what you like about that area?

I’ve lived in Finsbury Park since 2007, and have successfully persuaded several of my friends to move here too. I love the area because it’s such an amazing location to get anywhere in London (being on the Victoria and Piccadilly lines, as well as the overground), with a fantastic park, a new theatre, a growing number of great cafes and restaurants, and Crouch End with all its boutique shops is only five minutes up the road by bus.

Tell us about OLIO, the app and your passion for food waste?

OLIO is a free app that connects neighbours with each other and with local independent shops so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This could 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 or move home. 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 or the store, an OLIO Drop Box, or another agreed location.

To understand why action is needed one only has to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of food waste. Globally, a third of all food produced is wasted, and in the UK, households – which are responsible for half of all food waste – bin over £12bn of edible food per year, at a cost of £700 to the average family. Food waste is costly for local stores and governments, and ranks as one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. We’re looking to address these problems by combining cutting-edge mobile technology with the power of the sharing economy and an engaged local community.

Olio App

Where did this passion come from?

My background as a farmer’s daughter meant that I effectively saw a third of my family’s hard work discarded every day. My co-founder Saasha is the daughter of Iowa hippies, which meant she grew up rescuing and re-purposing food. So we’re entrepreneurs whose families experienced the scandal of food waste close up. The idea for OLIO came about when I moved back to England from living overseas. On moving day I found myself with some perfectly good food that I just couldn’t throw away. So I went out onto the streets to find someone to give this food to, but failed miserably. In that moment I thought, there has to be a better way – why not a mobile app? And so the idea of OLIO was born.

Tell us about the partners OLIO has been involved with?

We love working with so many different businesses, but I would have to mention The Harvest, an organic food shop, and Ginger and Mint, a juice bar and healthy food café. They’re both located in our original launch area of Crouch End, and have added over 100 items of food between them, virtually all of which has been picked up. We tend to work with bakeries and coffee shops that need to sell fresh every day, greengrocers with so-called ‘ugly’ fruit and veg, and food stores with food nearing the end of its shelf life. But any local independent food retailer or cafe that hates waste and wants to bring new customers into their store is a perfect fit for OLIO!

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How does being in London inspire you to do what you do?

As an international city with a thriving start-up scene, London must be pretty inspirational for any aspiring technology entrepreneur, but it’s inspirational for me as a resident too. I’m particularly inspired by London at the moment because whenever I walk down a residential street I imagine 22 per cent of the weekly shop coming out of the window of each house (which is how much the average family wastes each week), and it motivates me to solve this massive problem we have. The combination of those factors gives us the support, confidence and inspiration to believe that we can change the world for the better through OLIO.

What would you perfect day in London be?

My perfect day in London would start with breakfast at The Front Room Cafe on Tollington Park, just round the corner from my flat. This would be followed by a walk on Hampstead Heath with my Jack Russell dog – because it never ceases to amaze me that you can be so close to nature in a city – before a trip to The Science Museum with my two young kids. I’d then send them off to bed (with help from a babysitter) and have dinner in Soho followed by the theatre. I’ve never managed to get anywhere close to this perfect day, but I live in hope!

Main image photo by Annabel Staff.