Work Life / FoodFund Inc. A Food Sustainability Startup Bags $100K At Telus Pitch

FoodFund Inc. A Food Sustainability Startup Bags $100K At Telus Pitch

Work Life Sep 04, 2019

Don’t judge a strawberry by its cover, spins the motto of FoodFund Inc., the $100K CAD winner of this year’s Telus Pitch, Canada’s largest small business competition.

The London-based venture, which partners with local farmers to deliver boxes of fresh and affordable, albeit ‘imperfect’, produce to customers, was founded a mere two years ago, yet has already carved a place as one of Canada’s businesses to watch. 

Founder Divyansh Ojha said the idea was years in the making. “I had the privilege to witness multiple food systems in multiple countries while growing up,” he said. “And just witnessing (food waste) in Canada, it was mind-boggling, because there is no real reason why we waste so much.”

FoodFund Inc. founded by Divyansh Ojha, pose with their prize money won at Telus Pitch 2019. Photo Credit : The FoodFund team

Ojha found himself mulling over the idea of a sustainability initiative while studying at Ivey Business school at Western University. “I bounced some ideas off my mentors at the same time, and they had the same thought process, saying that I’d have to take the first step and see how it goes,” he explained. 

The process is pretty simple. Customers can go online to select their box size and, depending on the producer available that week, select what produce they want in their deliveries. The deliveries reach their doorsteps on Saturdays, in London and nearby communities. “It’s direct-to-house business model,” he explained, minus delivery and membership fees. “It’s a simple no-strings attached kind of service with a social aspect that keeps customers engaged.”

A FoodFund staff member packs fresh broccoli into a box. Photo Credit: The FoodFund team.

On the supplier side, Ojha gets his produce from partnerships with various local farmers who have a lot of unused food to spare. They cultivate relationships with growers based on factors such as the variety grown, the amount of surplus available, seasons in which the produce is available and storage conditions. “It’s as simple as reaching out to have a conversation with them to learn how their operation is structured and how we can add value to them,” Ojha explained . 

The main challenge, he says, is convincing customers to allow someone else to pick out their food, let alone food that may not look as shiny as in a grocery store. “ There is a deep-seated psychological positive attached to something that looked good even if it may not necessarily be any different to something that doesn’t,” he said. “It’s just sad because grocery stores are set up in a way that are built to convince you on the aspects of food that really don’t matter. For example, the big display of shiny apples lined up in a nice pyramid structure.”

On the other hand, someone from a developing nation might have a different answer to what’s considered “perfect” or “normal” with food, he said. 

It all comes down to education and how aware people are of the impact their food choices have, whether it be on the environment, livelihood of farmers and economic prices of various food products. “That’s something we try to communicate by highlighting the farmers we’re partnered with in the community and put a face behind what we’re supporting and who we’re supporting,” said Ojha. 

 

A FoodFund staff member holds a number of produce as examples of what is included in the delivery boxes. Photo Credit: The FoodFund team.

 

Plans for the $100,000 grant? “Lots of plans and lots of pressure as well,” Ojha said with a chuckle. Right now, the crew’s focus is to expand geographically and diversify their products beyond natural produce. “Food waste is not just fruit and vegetables there are so many foods that go to waste for so many ridiculous reasons like bar code errors, mislabelling, mispackaging that’s something we want to look into.”

At the same time, the company hopes to expand an education component that brings awareness about food waste to people at an early age. “It’s something that’s close to my heart,” said Ojha. “We’re looking to create an education curriculum based on food literacy and how you can make conscious choices, targeted towards elementary school students.”

Winning the grant has been a “surreal feeling” to describe it in the least, he concluded. “It feels like the spotlight has been on us for a while now and it’s all coming true. I don’t think any of us have absorbed it yet, but I guess that’s part of the fun.”

You can learn more about what FoodFund Inc. does and what products it serves here.

Main Image Photo Credit: Food Fund Inc. 

Devika Desai

Devika Desai

Author

Devika (@DevikaDesai1) has a Masters in Journalism from Ryerson University. She's currently a web producer for the National Post. She has also interned at MidDay, a Mumbai-based tabloid. In her free time, she loves to read, work out once every blue moon and ask strangers if she can pet their dogs.

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