Green Element weekly podcast Interview with Anne Charlotte Mornington from OLIO


We are thrilled to be interviewing Anne Charlotte Mornington from OLIO. Anne Charlotte Mornington pursued a BA Hons in Fine Art and an MSc in Management where she wrote her thesis on the topic of food waste. While working for Tech City UK in 2015, she was introduced to OLIO and has been part of the team ever since. Her focus is on international expansion and business development. After instigating OLIO sharing communities in Sweden and California, she is currently working on community growth in Mexico City while overseeing other regions. 

Resources mentioned


Will: Hi, Anne Charlotte, thank you so much for joining the Green Element podcast, welcome to the show. I’m really looking forward to hearing all about Olio and what it is that you’re doing and how you are changing the world. 


Anne: Well, thank you very much for welcoming me to the show, I’m delighted to be here. So, I work at Olio, Olio is the world’s only neighbor-to-neighbor free food-sharing platform. What we do is that we enable individuals to share their food surplus, but also give them the opportunity to volunteer in programs that assist and help local shops or supermarkets with any kind of surplus they may have. Olio started three years ago, and we have now reached over 650,000 users which we’re very excited about. We have successfully rescued over a million portions of food and are currently reaching out outside of the UK. It was a very eminent start in Mexico City, but also existing communities scaling progressively in Sweden, in California as well as all over the UK.


Will: Brilliant. I’m looking forward to finding out more about all of that. One of the reasons why we’re talking to each other is, not only do you have an amazing app and what it is that you are doing and the knock-on ramifications of what you’re doing are phenomenal as well, but you also have a very good social purpose ingrained into the organization. Could you tell us a bit about that purpose and who you work with? 


Anne: Of course. So, our purpose really is to unlock the value of food that’s being wasted in the home and the local community. By value of food, we don’t only mean the calorific values, we also mean the socio-economical, relational, societal values that food can trigger amongst communities, so that really is at the heart of what Olio does. In terms of who we work with, we’ve really managed to grow a solution that enables individuals to take part and add individual scale towards affecting a much more global issue of food waste, which is really, I think, the talent of Olio is that you can have an impact on this huge issue just with your smartphone. 

What we enable businesses to do and why individuals or companies like Pratt or Plant Organic have chosen to work with us is because we have developed a distribution channel for food. That is probably one of the most responsive and quick channels that could exist or that at least I know of because we send volunteers who are located very close to those businesses to immediately absorb the food and put it on the app in the local community so that local individuals can respond and request and consume the food very quickly. That enables us to address very short dates and very limited amounts of time for food to be consumed if it’s hot or cold foods or any kind of issues of that sort. 


Will: You found out that you’ve been helping people that you didn’t necessarily know were out there and you’ve ended up helping a community of people that need food more that wasn’t previously highlighted, is that right? 


Anne: Yes, that is correct. Through Olio’s work and because Olio is just an app anyone can have on their phone and it’s completely free, it has been highlighted to us by our user base that we are effectively a completely stigma-free platform that enables individuals who very often have full-time jobs but somehow is not able to feed their families despite working and paying tax. It’s quite difficult for those people to either seek help or get access to help even if they are looking for it. While Olio, as a goal, being essential to reduce food waste, it does also give access to free foods to many individuals whose livelihood is improved from that opportunity.


Will: That’s brilliant. That’s one of the things that I think resonated with me when we first met and I followed your journey, was exactly that, the good that has come from an app like yours is absolutely brilliant. What would you say your business superpower was, please?


Anne: I think the superpower is being the most responsive distribution channel there is, being able to empower individuals to take action on an issue which they really all have an impact and a say in making an easy solution that is interesting and fun to use and accessible, is really the superpower. Olio is the people who use it and it is the people who want to share and who want to reduce their own waste production for environmental or social reasons. That’s the real power, the power is that it’s a tool that anyone can use. 


Will: So, can you tell us a bit about how you engage your staff, suppliers, customers with your mission and purpose?


Anne: Well, for our customers, the individual, the end users, we have a whole array of volunteering programmes, heads of communications, and we regularly send them suggestions and things they can do to help us spread the word or improve the way the app functions. It’s a very dynamic community, there’re loads of means through which they communicate. In terms of our clients like Pratt or like Plant Organic, for example, we build reports to them and detail the impact. So, the amount of CO2 that’s being saved through the food that’s being redistributed or the amount of people who have benefited from the food, the amount of meals that we’ve rescued. All of that information is really valuable and helpful for them to understand how to prevent waste but also to ensure that they are a completely sustainable waste-free company.


Will: Brilliant. So, when it comes to running an ethical and sustainable business like yourselves, what would you say your biggest struggle so far was and can you tell us a bit about how you’ve overcome that?


Anne: Well, I think that food waste is a very complicated issue. Globally, a third to half of most of all food waste produced never gets consumed and the scale of it is really huge and if it was an easy thing to fix, of course, it would have been fixed a very long time ago. So, as a business, I think promoting a zero-food waste lifestyle and perhaps pushing it towards aspiring to a zero-waste lifestyle is an everyday challenge on a business and personal basis and it’s just very hard to execute. I think it’s about being very aware of each and everyone’s impact and each and everyone’s ability to contribute towards reducing their impact. 


Will: With the work that you’ve done, you’re talking about how much waste is being tucked away, do you feel that you’re making an impact, or do you feel like, actually, this is so much of a bigger problem than we initially anticipated?


Anne: Well, through growing Olio, there’s certainly what you were mentioning earlier was unraveling this whole hidden poverty issue and all those individuals who really need food but don’t necessarily have access to it, I think that’s an issue that the more we find out about it the more we realize how bad it is. Also, exploring different cities, for example, and working in Whole quite a lot at the moment and understanding that one in three children in Whole lives in a family that’s on the poverty line, meaning that they have to skip meals. It does make me feel like there’s a huge amount more to do and that there’s so much with poverty in the UK, we haven’t even scratched the surface of it. 

In parallel to that, having redistributed, successfully, over a million meals, that is something that is an impact and is definitely meaningful from an environmental perspective and also in who has consumed those million meals. So, I think we’re definitely in the right way and we’re at the start of growing a solution that will respond to a very clear demand and need in the UK and hopefully outside of it too but we’re far from having resolved it and yes, there’s a million more things that need to be done. I think food waste in our society and in our time is an issue that needs to be tackled through many different angles and repurposing consumption of finished products is only one of them.


Will: Yeah, that makes sense. So, if I was a business, why would I, say Sales Pratt or planets organic, why would I want to join up with you? Why would I want to start giving away the food that I’ve made? What’s driving these companies? 


Anne: Well, there’s a simple bottom line of it is the custom to throw away the food and the budget that’s rigged in early existence, so it is an idea to repurpose a budget towards sending volunteers who are trained and will enable your business to make a huge number of claims in regard to their sustainability and interest. I think there’s also an argument for what is marketing today and what the investments company can make to demonstrate to their customers that they are sincerely committed towards their communities and consumers. Investing in a project that feeds local communities and individuals is definitely a good way of demonstrating it. 

I also think that there’s a strong argument towards staff retention and staff morale, it’s never pleasant for anyone who works with food to have to throw away a lot of the food they’ve spent time producing or selling at the end of the day. So, in a more idealistic way, I just think it’s the right thing to do. I think there are 8 million people in the UK who live close to the poverty line and there’s so much more food being wasted than that. It just seems completely illogical to prefer wasting it rather than feeding people who are not only very close but are really in need of it. 


Will: Yeah. So, we’re talking about the UK, but you’ve mentioned Sweden, you’ve mentioned Mexico, you mentioned a number of different countries, is there a difference in the way the app is used in different countries? I mean, are there other cultural differences with the disposal of foods?


Anne: So, it’s way too early for me to answer this in regard to the Mexican market because we’re really about to start exploring this, so I can’t say much about that but, in terms of what I’ve seen in Sweden, it seems like across Europe there are very similar practices. There’re some ramifications but overall it works in a very similar way and in California pretty much as well. It seems like there’s more of a trend in individuals using the app for their personal surplus in the U.S. and doing it spontaneously versus I think in the UK we have a lot of people take part in our volunteering programs and less spontaneous personal use, but that’s very much in the detail of it. I think overall the product is demonstrating massive scalability potential and is progressively being adopted by many different cultures and regions. 


Will: Okay. The interesting thing is it goes along a half, if that continues to be the case or with different parts of the world have, I was just curious because you don’t know, do you? You don’t know what happens around and what people look at and how people react to different apps and the way they use things and I don’t know, love it. People are different, people are different everywhere.


Anne: Absolutely, and also the rules and regulations are different. In the U.S. you have the Good Samaritan law, which we don’t have in Europe. There’re definitely a lot of differences that need to be taken into account and I’m certain that working and discovering how things are going to turn out in Mexico will also inform us and open up to a whole new world of differences and things that we have to bear in mind to make the food sharing revolution happen.


Will: Yeah. So, you’ve just touched upon the legalities and we know, or we understand from films and from TV, America is, not legal but quite a sue happy culture as it was. I remember one of the barriers years ago that people said in the UK, they couldn’t give away food was because of being poisoned and now suddenly Tesco’s can give away food and I don’t really know how it suddenly changed. Because at the time I couldn’t quite work out why you couldn’t give away a sandwich that was made that day but apparently it was going to be poisonous, but it obviously isn’t, and we’ve obviously moved beyond that. Have you seen that in the U.S. with California? I don’t know, I’m just curious. 


Anne: I’m not sure I understand your question completely but what I do understand is yes, there has been a huge change towards behavior and mentalities in regard to food surplus and there’s so much progress that has taken place and still is happening. A lot more needs to happen obviously, but it’s a bit like campaigns on single-use plastics, it’s something that people used to not even think about, it just wasn’t a consideration in any form and now it’s something that’s on a lot of people’s mind. We don’t really use plastic bags at the end of our supermarket shop for there’s a whole culture change. We hope and we can see that similar shifts are happening towards food waste and people are trying to be more mindful of their consumptions and food producers or distributors are starting to be more considerate and taking more responsibility on the way they dispose of their products, which is wonderful, and I hope it keeps on happening and expanding. 


Will: Okay. So, if you could offer one piece of advice to our listeners that could help them with their purpose, what would that be? 


Anne: One piece of advice. Do you mean in their personal life or from a business perspective?


Will: I guess in their business life.


Anne: Challenging the status quo and test, learn, remember the learning, test, learn, remember the learning and so on and so forth until you get to something that works.


Will: Brilliant, love it. When it comes to reducing your environmental impact and carbon footprint of your business, what would you say your biggest single challenge or frustration is?


Anne: I think being zero food waste is a difficult thing. I think to make sure that as a company, but also as individuals, we are changing our attitude towards our consumption of food and our purchasing of food. We really do take responsibility for those choices we make in regard to consumption, it’s difficult and it’s a challenge and it’s a challenge for everyone, but we’re getting there.


Will: Okay. Can you just tell us a bit about how you approach, Olio approaches environmental management and your carbon footprints?


Anne: Well, we don’t have an office we all work remotely so there’s very little back-and-forth of office transportation. We’re also exposed to environmental content and all the latest measures and help that’s being put out, so we all try to apply them to our lives, but I think because we don’t have an office and we’re structured very much as individual units, it’s about the changes that we implement in our personal lives more than as a company itself. But we really do try to limit any kind of purchase of material items unless they’re really necessary and we are very minimal in terms of any kind of plastic production or using promotional materials that would be difficult to recycle or anything like that. 


Will: Okay, and is there any advice for learning that you could share with everyone listening to this podcast?


Anne: Advice for learning in regard to food waste? 


Will: Well, we’re talking about food waste, I was thinking about more from a sustainability point of view but yeah, food waste makes a lot of sense since we are talking about food waste. 


Anne: I think my advice would be to take responsibility for the items that you have and make sure that you consider where their second life is and what is the next step for every item that you’re surrounded with, whether it’s the land field or another person using it or another person consuming it. I think just breaking this bubble of ignorance of the outcome of our consumption is something that I encourage everyone to do. 


Will: That leads me on to something I saw the other day that you’re now sharing non-food items, aren’t you?


Anne: Yes.


Will: What was it that brought that about, I mean, what brought about that change? 


Anne: Well, it’s quite simple, we had a lot of people posting on the app non-food items and they just kept on doing it and we kept on putting them down thinking no, we’re food waste perform, we’re not going to do non-food. At some point, we just felt like why are we limiting people if they want to be sharing non-food items? We still want to be a food sharing app more than anything else but let’s make that a possibility for our users as well if they seem to so persistently want to do it. While it’s not an area of the business that we’re particularly focusing on, it’s definitely being used a lot and a lot of people are really happy to be able to share non-food items. So, we’re just very happy to let that happen and let our users benefit from the platform in that sense, it’s something that is beneficial for them. 


Will: I was just curious. So, what’s the best way we can learn more about Olio, how can we connect with you? Obviously, we’ll be putting all of this on the website and on the show notes. Where can we find out more about what you’re doing?


Anne: Well, you should go on our websites and you should definitely download the app, you should type Olio in the Google Play Store and the Apple Store, it’s will come up very quickly, it’s Olio, the food sharing Revolution. You’re very welcome to get in touch with Olio, you just need to email [email protected] and check out our website and sign up to our newsletter, you’ll get lots of interesting information through there. Of course, as a business, if ever you happen to have food on site or any kind of food production and you’d like advice on managing your waste or any kind of tips, please feel free to get in touch and I’ll make sure to respond and organize a call to see what we can do for you. 


Will: Brilliant. Thank you very much Anne Charlotte, thank you so much. So, it’s been really interesting talking to you and really interesting to find out about Olio and you talked about at the beginning, just quickly, you talked about at the beginning how quickly you are growing, when we first spoke how many people were you? 


Anne: I think we’ve doubled our user base in the past year. 


Will: There you go, brilliant.


Anne: Something like that, I mean, our growth is very steep and definitely watch this space, we’re reaching out.


Will: It just shows how important what you’re doing is, brilliant, thank you. 


Anne: Thank you for the opportunity and all the best. 


Will: Take care, bye. 


Anne: Thanks, bye.



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