How unloved fruits get a new lease on life
I know an amazing woman who runs wonky supper clubs that make wonky and surplus fruit and veg the heroes in a very special meal. When I told her about And The Future's Food Waste Topic, she put me in touch with Ben from Spare Snacks, a company that makes healthy snacks from wonky fruit and veg. His signature products are wonky beetroot crisps and wonky apple crisps. Apples are one of the top wasted foods in the country. So let's look out the apple crisps, and also stop buying Pink Ladies from New Zealand and start championing some of the amazing British varieties. Here are Ben's thoughts on food waste.
ATF: I love what you're doing to champion food waste. Can you give me a little background. Who are you and what did you do before starting your business?
SS: Sparing food is in my DNA. Growing up, my mum refused to waste any fruit or veg. Sometimes they lasted so long they had their own personality and pension plan by the time it came to eat them.
I grew up fruit picking in the sleepy Suffolk countryside, spending many a day gathering (and eating) apples, strawberries and raspberries on fruit farms. Fruit picking in my teens, I was shocked to discover just how much fruit and veg goes to waste. I decided to do something about it. I visited my local market and started saving unwanted produce. With an old dehydrator, I made snacks and sold them through local cafes, Spare Snacks was born.
My dad used to run a seasonal restaurant on a farm in Suffolk which I used to help with. I also spent many summers picking fruit on the same farm, which is probably where I first bonded with (and ate a vast amount of) fresh British produce. Since then, I’ve dipped my toe in the industry by working with some start-ups, the odd catering gig with my sister as well as running a pop-up burger stall in Hackney.
ATF: When did you realise that food waste was a huge issue? / When did you have the idea to create a business around the challenge of food waste? Did you have an 'aha' moment?
SS: I've always been obsessed with food and passionate about social change. I started volunteering at FoodCycle back in 2011 to learn more about food waste and food poverty and was really inspired to help do something more. I got obsessed with creating products out of surplus food and discovered Rubies in the Rubble (food surplus pioneers) who were proof that this could work.
It gave me the inspiration to start selling snack products in local cafes made with dehydrated surplus fruit gathered from my local market.. I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of produce that was going to waste so I soon realised that if I wanted to rescue fresh produce on a bigger scale I would need to work directly with farms, many of which struggle to cope with surplus produce, and create a high a consistently high-quality product. I also wanted to maintain the goodness and flavour of fresh fruit so air-dried fruit crisps were the perfect solution.
Also by creating delicious and healthy products it enables us to raise awareness of food waste amongst a mass audience of businesses and consumers.
ATF: Where do you think most food waste occurs – at home or by companies?
SS: It’s simple but also complex in many ways. Food waste occurs at all levels of the supply chain from farm to consumer. Some of it is uncontrollable, like the weather and the commercial markets but much of it is down to the culture of how we view and consume food in this country and beyond. We just don’t value food as much as we should - its provenance, its seasonality or even taste.
This has created a system designed to meet our demand for every type of perfect produce all year round, and often out of season in the UK.
WRAP estimates that we waste over 7 million tonnes of food at home. There’s more we can all do and it needs to be a trilateral approach involving consumers, businesses and of course government. We believe that by working together we can make a huge impact on preventing food waste at farm and consumer level. By that I mean, charities, businesses, social enterprises like ours and many others, but also ultimately consumers and the government.
We needlessly waste millions of tonnes of perfectly edible food every year, yet millions go hungry everyday - and that’s just in the UK.
It has a huge environmental impact, vast amounts of valuable natural resources (i.e. water, energy) needed to grow the produce that ends of being wasted.
We can all do our bit, by changing the way we buy, cook, plan and consume food - we can all help make a massive difference.
ATF: What food or food group gets wasted the most?
SS: I did some research into this a few years ago for Unilever - and it tends to be the fresh produce that we produce most of at farm level (lots of apples, potatoes, onions) and further up the supply chain bagged salad is a very common product, which is why you now rarely see BOGOF on salad.
We also waste a lot of bread - lucky it makes amazing beer, I’ll toast that.
ATF: Do you think that the tides are turning and that we'll see less and less food wasted every year?
SS: I think it’s a part of the public consciousness more so now than it’s ever been - but I still witness it everyday, at family and friends homes, events, conferences, in our office in pubs and restaurants - it all comes down to how we value, or don’t value food.
I get really upset when I see people leaving loads of food when they eat out- even on the telly - they never finish their food!
ATF: What's your favourite food rescue story?
SS: I really admire Regrained in the US - reusing protein rich grain from the craft beer industry to make amazing snacks, those guys are flying. And of course you have all the UK Heroes, Rubbies, Toast, ChicP and Toast and many more.
On a more personal level, I still get emails from people everyday with surplus produce - it just frustrates me that I can’t help them all - luckily I usually know people who can.
ATF: If you could solve one problem around food waste tomorrow, what would it be?
SS: To make everyone place far more value on their food, it’s provenance and it’s seasonality.