OLIO grabs $6m to tackle food waste in local communities

Food-sharing app OLIO has closed a $6m Series A round led by Octopus Ventures.

OLIO is on a mission to tackle food waste by letting users share unwanted or leftover food with their neighbours. The premise is simple; OLIO is an app-based platform, where users can snap and share a picture of their items and upload them.

People living nearby can request whatever they fancy, and set up customised alerts if they are looking for something in particular. Pickup is arranged via private messaging within the app, and often takes place the same day.

OLIO claims that its community has shared over 600,000 portions of food in just over two years using the app.

Now, this latest cash injection will be used to double the size of the team – with a particular focus on product.

It will also be used to expand their “Food Waste Heroes Programme”, where volunteers collect any unsold or uneaten food from local businesses such as a bakery, supermarket, deli, event or work canteens, that are left at the end of the day, and re-distribute it to the local community. The programme currently has 1,500 volunteers supporting approximately 200 locations including Pret a Manger, Planet Organic, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

OLIO was founded by Tessa Clarke and Saasha Celestial-One, who met during their MBAs at Stanford Business School and felt inspired by their first-hand experience of food waste. Clarke was a farmer’s daughter, while Saasha Celestial-One is the daughter of Iowa hippies and an avid freecycler. The actual idea came about when Clarke moved country and couldn’t find anybody to take her surplus food, but didn’t want to throw it away.

CEO Tessa Clarke is proud to have closed this round: “We are absolutely thrilled to be working with the Octopus team to unlock our vision of a world with hundreds of millions of hyper-local food sharing networks, so that our most precious resources can be shared, not thrown away

“We are also extremely proud to have closed this round not only as one of a handful of female founded businesses, but also as part of the small but growing group of ‘tech for good’ companies.”

A wasteful world

Food waste is an incredibly pressing environmental issue. According to OLIO figures, one third of all food produced gets thrown away globally – which is worth over $1 trillion per year. Meanwhile, food waste is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, after the USA and China.

OLIO wants to tackle this problem, and to do so it started small. The company began as a local initiative in North London and soon caught on in local communities in 32 countries worldwide, thanks in part to the 20,000 volunteers or ‘OLIO Ambassadors’ who have spread the word about OLIO.

The importance of tackling food waste at a grass roots level is because homes and local communities account for well over half of all food waste in developed countries: the average UK family throws away £800 of food per year that could have been eaten – collectively adding up to £15bn.

Zoe Chambers at Octopus Ventures, which recently raised €230m to back European tech companies, explained why the VC firm invested in OLIO: “We are proud to back inspirational and passionate founders and are delighted that we are able to add Tessa and Saasha to our fantastic set of 10 other female founders in our portfolio.

“Beyond the obvious and important benefits to the environment, OLIO is an online digital platform which is changing offline consumer behaviour by facilitating real-world interactions between neighbours for the purpose of sharing and redistributing valuable resources that would otherwise be wasted,” Chambers added. 

COO Saasha Celestial-One concluded: “We’ve achieved an incredible amount with a very lean team, and can’t wait for this next stage when we can really start to unlock the true potential of OLIO.”

Existing investors including Accel, Quadia, and Quentin Griffiths (Co-founder of ASOS & Achica) also contributed to the round.