Five minutes with Tessa Cook

Five minutes with Tessa Cook

To face down what she describes as one of the largest problems in our lifetime, Tessa Cook created OLIO, “a free app that connects neighbours with each other, and with local independent shops and cafes, so that surplus food can be shared not thrown away.”

Tessa thinks that businesses have the potential to be a sustainable force for innovation and change, and will play an essential role as we seek to tackle the profound problems facing society today.

“The world does not need another photo sharing app”

I was ‘Dragon’s Denning’ myself for a long time and then I thought, “Why don’t I try and solve a real problem?” Around the same time I was moving country and found myself with some surplus food I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. I thought “there has to be an app for that”, and was amazed to discover that there wasn’t. But even worse, I discovered that over 1/3 of all the food we produce globally is thrown away. And so the genesis of OLIO was born.

“The problems that get solved are the problems that impact individuals and businesses”

The problem for businesses is that they need to keep their shelves fully stocked because the opportunity cost of not having fully stocked shelves is huge, whereas the marginal cost of throwing away extra food is much, much smaller. However nobody likes having to throw away good food and for businesses it is also their hard earned money, and increasingly it’s something that their customers care about too. The problem we’re tackling for individuals is that we found that one in three people are “physically pained” throwing away good food, and yet at the moment there is little alternative to the rubbish bin!

“Our vision is that throwing away food will become as socially unacceptable as littering and graffiti”

In five years, we hope that OLIO and food sharing will ubiquitous. And that we will look back in utter disbelief that our solution for too much good food was to throw it away… It will become unacceptable to throw away good food when, at the tap of a button, you can share it with a neighbour. The flipside of that will also be that the first thing that you do when you are hungry and want some food is to open up the app and see what is available nearby from a neighbour and then you shop after that. It is about reintroducing a thriving hyper-local sharing philosophy.

“It’s the community thing that people really love”

Food is a very natural thing for people to connect over. If I’m the kind of person to share almond milk on the app, and you are the kind of person who is picking up almond milk, we probably have some connection.

“There is a whole generation of consumers who are growing up now who are motivated by very different things”

I think that any business that doesn’t have in its DNA the need to have a positive impact on society will be made redundant, extinct, irrelevant. I believe that people are increasingly looking for something more than the materialistic, disposable society that we had in the 1980s and 1990s. Meaningful brands and those that can engage with people will be the ones that will be the most successful over the long term – I’m not talking the next five years, more like the next 20-25 years. Those businesses with a ‘pile them high and sell them cheap’ model, with no regard for their broader role in society, will be seen as being very old fashioned and not fit for purpose.

“Most people have a very profound desire to belong”

We are tapping into something more than just food sharing and technology, we’re tapping into community. We are like a 21st century equivalent of a cup of sugar. People are telling us that they have lived in their community for X many years but that they don’t actually know anybody. So what OLIO is doing is using modern technology to connect people so they can share. Even if they just want someone to smile and say ‘hi’ to. And that’s what OLIO is giving them.

“It’s a collective effort, there isn’t one thing that is going to change the culture but all of those things that are combined”

More and more celebrities are standing up, the media is increasingly covering the issue and there are lots of start-ups that are doing interesting and innovative things. Take Snact, that are making snacks out of surplus fruit for example, or Toast Ale, which is taking surplus bread and turning it into beer. Combine that with our increased understanding of the world around us, our growing population and our awareness of environmental impact of what we are doing, and it’s clear that we have to do more. Social media helps as well because ideas can spread more easily now than they ever could.

“We cannot change the culture by ourselves”

OLIO alone cannot change our society’s relationship with food and food waste. However we hope that by harnessing the passion of our thousands of volunteers who are spreading the word about food sharing, and providing a simple, easy to use mobile app, we can provide an alternative to throwing away good food. Collectively, we believe that millions of small actions can make a massive change and enable us to build a sustainable food future.