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Taking Shape

Two passionate locals saw an opportunity in the food delivery market to help fight the war against food waste. Ruth Wyatt reports.

A spectacularly ugly Portuguese tomato set in motion a series of events that culminated in the launch of a sustainable business supplying less-thanlovely-looking fruit and veg to the residents of south west London. Balham-based Oddbox buys produce rejected by supermarkets for being too big, too small, too curved, too straight or any of the other faintly ridiculous strictures to which food must adhere to make the high street cut. It boxes the wonky fruit and veg and delivers it to doorsteps for a (very) fair price. Time & Leisure caught up with the founders, Emilie Vanpoperinghe and Deepak Ravindran.

How did Oddbox first come about?
Emilie: I am from France and my grandparents are farmers; I always considered it normal to have seasonal fruit and vegetables and for them to be in all shapes and sizes.

Deepak: When I moved from India years ago, it was the same for me. I was used to mangoes being on sale for two months of the year, not 12. And all these perfectly round apples and what not, I found it odd – particularly as they often looked much better than they tasted.

Emilie: In the UK, it is almost like you have this catwalk of fruit and vegetables – all perfect, all the same size and shape. There was a campaign by Intermarchè (a French supermarket) a couple of years ago to get people to buy ugly veg, but when we looked here there wasn’t anything similar.

Wonky but delicious tomatoes in Portugal inspired you; how did you test the market?
Deepak: Last May, we did a trial. We bought produce that had been rejected by supermarkets but was still perfectly good to eat. The response was fantastic. Last November, we started the business-to- business side, where we deliver fruit boxes to offices and health centres, and work with agencies on promotions. Now we have 350 weekly or fortnightly residential customers and about 30 business customers.

Tell us a bit more about the thinking behind the business...
Emilie: Food waste is a very important issue. Something like 90,000 tonnes of fresh produce goes to waste for no good reason. We are buying this sort of produce for a reasonable price, which stops it going to waste, and selling it for a reasonable price. We work with a lot of local farms. There are more and more businesses out there that want to offer free healthy snacks to employees and this appeals to them because they are doing something for the environment at the same time.

How does Oddbox work?
Deepak: You choose from three sizes of vegetable box or three sizes of fruit and vegetable box, with weekly or fortnightly delivery, and we deliver to your doorstep by 7am Saturday. The boxes will contain a selection of whatever we have been able to buy that week. You can tell us what you don’t want – if you are allergic to something or everyone in your house hates a certain vegetable – but the boxes are not fully customisable as yet because we are just not a big enough business.

What do you do with produce you can’t sell?
Emilie: We work with the charities City Harvest, which supplies local food banks, and the Brixton Community Fridge. We absolutely do not want to create waste.

Where do we sign up?
www.oddbox.co.uk

OddboxEmilieDeepak