Interview with Tessa Clarke, Co-Founder of OLIO

We caught up with Tessa Clarke, Co-Founder of OLIO, to talk all about the app that connects neighbours with one another and with local businesses ensuring that surplus food can be shared and not thrown away.

Tell us about OLIO

OLIO is a free app that connects users with their neighbours to give away spare food, and other household items. To date 2 million people have joined OLIO and together they’ve shared over 5.5 million portions of food, with half of all food listings requested in under 1 hour! The environmental impact of this is equivalent to taking over 16 million car miles off the road, we’ve also saved 850 million litres of water.

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 to me crazy that I should have to throw this food away when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres 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 that connects neighbours to share food came about!


OLIO example
Sharing spare food with neighbours

How is OLIO different?

Apart from being the world’s first neighbour-to-neighbour food sharing app, there are couple of other things about OLIO that are unusual.

The first is that one of our primary growth levers has been our network of 50,000 and counting Ambassadors. Our Ambassadors are passionate about OLIO and want to see it working in their local community, and so they spread the word online and also offline via posters, letters and flyers. As a result we’ve had food successfully shared in 52 countries so far! Another way in which OLIO is different is that we’ve been a remote first company from day 1. For long time it felt like our dirty little secret, but in a post COVID world it’s now part of the new normal!

OLIO is also different as a result of our pioneering ‘Food Waste Heroes Programme’. In this model we dynamically recruit, train and match volunteers to their local stores so that they can collect unsold food at the end of the day and redistribute it to the local community via the app. We’re working with over 600 locations including Tesco, Pret a Manger and Compass Catering, and have 9,000 trained volunteers, with more joining us every day.

Finally OLIO is different because in addition to being a female founded business, we’ve also successfully raised 4 rounds of equity financing from both venture capital firms and impact investment funds. Whilst this is unusual, we firmly believe that diversity coupled with profit with purpose will be the new business paradigm of the future.

OLIO Screenshot

What have been OLIO’s biggest learnings

Throughout the OLIO journey we’ve actively adopted a learning mind-set, which means that on an almost daily basis we’re learning something new! The most recent learnings have been around the profound effects that COVID-19 have had on consumer mind-sets and therefore on the performance of OLIO. Specifically, recent research has shown that over half of all people are valuing food more now, and 48% are wasting food less. This combined with a newfound appreciation of all things community and local, coupled with the cruel inequalities that COVID has laid bare means that we’ve seen an explosion of sharing on the app, and so we’ve grown more in the past 5 weeks than we did in the previous 5 years!


OLIO’s Future

Our vision for the future is an unashamedly bold one – we want 1 billion+ OLIOers within the next 10 years. That’s because we simply cannot continue to throw away 1/3 of all the food we produce, whilst at the same time be puzzling over how to feed a world of 10 billion people and keep global heating within 1.5 degrees. Whilst we’ve made a great start, we clearly have a long way to go!