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Startup Scoop

Wavey Ice: The Journey So Far

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Alex Situnayake, founder of Wavey Ice, shares his journey so far:

I got the idea in my head that crowdfunding could be an option when I got back from Barcelona at the end of September last year. I didn’t really know what to do next and I had no money left! My options were either seek private investment or go down the crowdfunding route. I initially decided that I’d look for private investment as, at the time, it seemed like the easier option! I quickly realised that no investors would get behind a brand with no solid sales figures or financial projections and I realised I would feel uncomfortable with people investing in a brand that had no proven track record! After a few conversations with various people the crowdfunding path began to make more sense. It would allow me to really gauge interest in the brand and get some solid figures under my belt before coming up with a proper a pitch deck to present to investors in the future.

I started properly planning the campaign at the beginning of January without knowing yet which platform I would be using to host the campaign. I filmed a quick teaser video with my friend Ben and sent it out to all my contacts explaining what my plans were for the crowdfunding. I got a great response back which made it clear in my mind that this was the right thing to do.

We began filming the campaign video without much hesitation and I started putting various different mailing lists together and compiling all my contacts! If there’s one thing I’ve definitely learned from all this so far it’s that organization is absolute key.

I think I’d spoken to Alessio from Crowdfooding previously via The Food Hub group on Facebook and we’d spoken about crowdfunding. I told him about my plans and that I was still undecided on which platform to use. He suggested using the Crowdfooding platform to host the campaign and after going down to meet the guys in Camden I decided this would be the best option to go for in order to maximize the chances of success for the project!

I’ve learned a lot from working with the Crowdfooding guys and one of the main reasons I chose to go with them was the additional support they were offering me. The success of a crowdfunding campaign is basically determined by the amount of work you put in before you even launch it. Reaching out to your network, contacting blogs, sampling events etc. I don’t think I could’ve pulled this off as effectively if I was going at it alone!

After months of planning, MailChimp emails and countless Google Hangouts we were finally ready to launch my campaign. Being in Birmingham I decided the best place to host the launch party would be here in the city. I managed to sort out a booze sponsor through a friend from Wray & Nephew and booked a relatively well known rapper to come and perform at the party! I knew this would bring a big crowd in. We got a great turnout on the night and it was such a good feeling hosting a successful event in the city I was born in. Although I think most people were there for the free booze rather than to support the campaign!

It’s been mad ups and downs since the launch of the campaign. I had it in my head that we’d get funded straight away but that’s obviously very rarely the case with these things. It feels weird asking people to basically give you their money but then you realize you’re actually offering some really great rewards that you’ve worked hard on to produce. It’s a really nice feeling when your friends and family do start coming through with the pledges and it makes everything worth while!

I think the most difficult thing about the campaign so far has been literally having to drive all the traffic to the campaign myself. The only thing that put me off using the Crowdfooding platform was that it was a relatively new platform without many previous campaigns and regular visitors to the site, but it was the offer of additional support that swayed me. It’s also been difficult contacting businesses, brands, and individuals trying to get them to share the campaign or pledge money but you basically have to be relentless if you want to be successful at the end of the day.

My advice to anyone out there looking to start their own business, launch a crowdfunding project or basically chase any kind of dream would be;

Keep your head down, work hard, stay fit, stay focused, talk to your family, talk to your friends, run, get a whiteboard, push yourself out of your comfort zone every day, be passionate, stop putting things off, focus on the positive things, Instagram followers don’t equate to success, you get out what you put in and at the end of the day only YOU can make things happen.

Wavey Ice Campaign Launch

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Q&A with Alex Situnayake

Today, Wavey Ice launches its crowdfunding campaign for its boozy ice lollies. We spoke to the founder – Alex Situnayake:

Alex, who are you ?

Well my names Alex, second name Situnayake! Apparently I’m a young entrepreneur these days! I’m originally from Birmingham, which is where I’m based now, but it was while I was living in South East London when I started the Wavey Ice brand back in 2014.

Alex, tell us about your lollies ? How did you get the idea in the first place?

So we currently have 3 flavours. Watermelon & Vodka, Sour apple & Gin and Black Grape & White Rum. The idea came about after a couple of conversations with friends about selling ice lollies around parks in London back in the summer of 2014. I was working at this bar in Hackney making fruit syrups for the cocktails and I thought why not apply the same principals to an ice lolly and add some booze for good measure! I quickly got carried away with the idea and before long I had a brand and a product!

Who are the Wavey Ice fans ? (influencers, DJ’s, biggest endorsers)

It’s difficult to say really. We have a lot of followers from different places and backgrounds! To me Wavey Ice is a brand associated with underground culture and everything that I’ve grown up following. I take influence from grime culture, fashion, skateboarding and other sub cultures. So far our biggest endorsers have probably been the likes of MEATliquor, Lazy Oaf, Sunfall festival, musicians such as Daniel OG who is performing at our launch party and models like Emily Bador.

Your biggest ups and downs so far ?

High points so far have been collaborating with MEATliquor back in 2015 on the ‘Meat Licker’ lolly which was sold in all their restaurants across the UK, appearing at Sunfall festival last summer and selling our lollies on the beach in Barcelona! I still think the best times are yet to come though.

Low points would have to be struggling to find the money to do all the exciting things that I have planned for the brand in my head! I had to move back to Birmingham and basically give up the life I had built in London because I just couldn’t afford to live there whilst working on my brand. That’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise though as moving back here has allowed me to fully focus on Wavey Ice and taking it to the next level without having to worry about money so much!

What’s next ?

The next step is to start selling our lollies online which is basically what the money from the crowdfunding campaign will be used for. I also want to appear at way more festivals with the brand and organise more and more of our own events up and down the country. Eventually it would be great to get our product into supermarkets although that is not something I’m focusing on right now. I want Wavey Ice to become a brand synonymous with party culture and not just an alcoholic ice pop brand!

The Entrepreneur-spiration Series: Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne & Prosecco

By | Food + Beverage Trends, Industry Insider, Partnership, Startup Scoop, Uncategorized | No Comments

Crowdfooding has partnered with WeMeanBusiness London to feature the Entrepreneur-spiration Series – where real life foodie startup founders share their stories, tips and advice on building your own brand and business.

This month we went and met Amanda Thomson, Founder and CEO of Thomson & Scott Skinny – a portfolio of Champagne and Prosecco for the next generation of wine lovers globally who want to drink top quality sparkling wine, whilst reducing the levels of added sugar in their bottle.

Billed as “the basic bitch drink” by The Guardian this summer, Skinny Champagne and Prosecco is a god send for those that want to cut their calories while they enjoy their chilled glass of fizz.

Hallelujah I hear you cry!

Amanda’s mission is to be completely open about what we’re drinking and cut sugar where it’s not needed. Her brand is not counting calories, but sharing them for transparency, encouraging us to ask why we can’t drink better and cleaner?

The Skinny range of Champagne and Prosecco definitely answers this question, so Lesley Bambridge from We Mean Business, set out to find out more. Read the full article on the We Mean Business, London blog…

http://www.wemeanbusinesslondon.com/blog/2016/10/31/the-entrepreneur-spiration-series-thomson-scott-skinny-champagne-prosecco

 

 

Cocoa by L : The Spiritual Side of Chocolate

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Cocoa by L is a luxury chocolatier specialising in raw artisan chocolate founded by self-proclaimed chocoholic, Layla Greening. In her previous life Layla has worked in a number of different industries including finance, social work, human rights and holistic therapy.

Her last job as a holistic therapist has had a direct influence on the business, which plays an active role on the spiritual side of cocoa. Layla believes that chocolate can be sensual as well as spiritual, and her chocolate has a special place in cocoa rituals.

It is believed that cacao was first used as a health elixir and ceremonial medicine as far back as 1900 BC by the ancestors of Central America, the Olmec people, before becoming a ritualistic medicine used by the Aztec and Mayan cultures. The Mayans held yearly festivals to honour the god of cocoa, Ek Chuah, by conducting several ceremonies and sacrificial rituals.

Today, modern cocoa rituals involve the consumption of unprocessed and unroasted cocoa in a ceremonial context so that all its mood enhancing neurochemicals become active and assist with feelings of wellbeing.

The ceremony takes place in a relaxing environment that supports meditation and reflection into the self. The aim is to explore and sit with the stories of the heart and to identify areas that are causing the individual restriction, limitation and pain. These sentiments are worked through via a heroic dose of raw cocoa (usually around 1-2 oz of cacao, mixed with water into a drink), followed by deep meditation and contemplation.

Cocoa is a powerful antioxidant, and in order to preserve this quality the beans Layla uses are not processed above 42 C in order to retain most the of the nutrients that are usually lost during roasting. Layla’s raw, organic chocolate comes in a variety of flavours including: salted caramel, chai, bittersweet orange, coconut dream, dark ganache with Himalayan rock salt, hazelnut roche, mint crisp and espresso. Her products can be purchased online in boxes of four, six or eight.

cocoa-ceremony-crowdfooding-blog

Can you tell us about your career journey to date and what attracted you to the chocolate realm in the first place?
I have always been a lover of chocolate. I am one of those people that need chocolate on a daily basis. However, I am also relatively health conscious and I was dismayed at the unhealthy ingredients in commercial brands. I searched and searched for healthier versions but the ones I came across just tasted so bland.  There has to be a way to have a healthy chocolate without compromising on the taste!

How did you come up with the idea for Cocoa by L?
With this in mind I decided to experiment in my kitchen with various healthy ingredients. I liked the taste of what I came up with – it was my coconut flavour.  I decided to test it out at a yoga event in Hyde Park where I just handed out chunks.  I received a great response and subsequently ended up renting a small space in the basement of a bagel shop in Camden where I experimented with other ideas and ways to start my business.

How did you know there was a market for your product and how did you get the word out there?
The raw food concept is growing rapidly and veganism has grown significantly in the last five years alone. People are now more conscious about what they are eating, how it is made, where it comes from etc.  Social media was the main way I started to spread the word with friends and friends of friends buying my products. I then sold at markets especially around the Christmas period.

Raw foods and “indulgent health foods” are a high-growth sector in the food & beverage space right now. Who are your biggest competitors at the moment?
Chocolate companies such as Booja Booja and Sweet Virtues are big competitors as they are established. The biggest challenge is setting yourself apart from the rest. Cocoa by L is very active in the spiritual side of cacao. We supply the cacao drinks and host cocoa ceremonies, which have become very popular in London. This helps to spread the word about the company.

cocoabyl2 (1)

 

Where do you source your cocoa beans from and where does the roasting take place? Are you in touch with the farmers who harvest the beans?
The cacao beans are sourced from a small farm in Ecuador. They are the highest-grade Arriba beans. As I am currently a small time producer I cannot go direct to the farm, so I go through a UK supplier who also sends the beans off for analysis for me.

Where do you source the rest of your ingredients from such as cocoa nibs? nuts? Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil etc.? Is the ethical sourcing of these additional ingredients equally as important as the cocoa?
The ethical sourcing of ingredients is at the forefront of the company.  All ingredients have to be 100% raw, fairtrade and organic.  I use a health food company in the UK for this.

Where are the chocolates manufactured and what is the process?
I manufacture all of the products myself.  I was originally based in a basement of a bagel shop in Camden.  However, economically this was not viable so I now do all of the manufacturing at home in my own kitchen.  The process begins with cleaning the nibs, grinding and then conching for at least 48 hours.  In the meantime, depending on the requirements I make the fillings, ganache of cakes.

There has recently been a major scandal in the craft chocolate world: Mast Brothers exposed. Are you familiar with the story? If so, what are your thoughts?
I am very familiar with the Mast Brothers story.  It was something that I questioned whilst in their shop when the bars I bought looked mass manufactured rather than artisan.  I am a very big supporter on being completely honest about your methods of production and supply, particularly if your prices are in the premium range.  There have been several large chocolate companies that have been exposed for their questionable ethical practices in acquiring cacao. However, nothing appears to be done about it.  The consumers are not particularly all that concerned with ethical practices.  A recent survey I conducted with 500 consumers showed that the top three important factors in purchasing chocolate is, in order, price, packaging and taste.  Ethics showed up last on the list in 90% of them. This is a real shame however, I do believe that slowly this mindset is beginning to change now that artisan, rustic and healthy food is becoming very popular.

mastbrothers-chocolate-crowdfooding-blog

Where can people purchase your products?
At present, people can purchase my products via the Internet.  I am not currently up to speed with my branding and packaging so the products are unable to be in retail stores.

What has been your greatest achievement with Cocoa by L to date?
My first market was a sell out.  It was all the encouragement I needed to be safe in knowledge that my products were something that people wanted! This gave me great pleasure and gave me the drive to keep going.

What has been the most challenging business endeavour you have faced?
The most challenging business issue that I have faced so far was the very first one.  I made the first biggest mistake that any entrepreneur could make.  I took some terrible advice from a ‘business’ advisor and did not ask for enough funding from the start-up loans company. I needed four times the amount I asked for.  Unfortunately, I realised my mistake a day after the funds hit my bank account and the start-up loans company would not allow me to give it back and request the higher amount.  This meant that I only had enough money for my basic equipment and nothing else.  This was a very challenging time and it has subsequently made the journey much slower.

What does 2016 hold for Cocoa by L?
2016 has already been full of surprises.  I exhibited at the food and drink expo in Birmingham, which was an eye opener.  I learned a lot about the retail business and also gained a lot of interest.  This summer will be filled with trading at festivals and living in a tent most of the time.  This begins next week at Hay Festival where I will be supplying around 400 raw free-form chocolate pots of heaven a day to customers.  I am currently seeking to potentially buy some premises where I can produce and trade from.

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
This would have to be a very spicy Vietnamese soup, followed by lots of tapas dishes and finally some chocolate where each square will be from a different bean from around the world.  I might sneak in one of my fabulous cakes, mousse or ice cream too.

 

GrowUp Urban Farms: Modern Farming in the Heart of London

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Disclaimer: Please note that the opinions expressed have not been approved as a financial promotion and may not be relied upon. Investors should conduct their own research and due diligence.

 

By 2050, more than 6 out of every 10 people on the planet will be living in cities.

In 1950, the population living in UK cities was 79% – already a large figure – but one that is set to rise to 92.2% by 2030. By reducing the distance from farm to fridge we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases associated with the processes of refrigerating, storing and transporting food. With a growing population, innovation in agriculture is needed if we are to develop a socially and environmentally sustainable means of feeding people in cities.

GrowUp Urban Farms is an urban farming start-up based in the heart of London. The company, co-founded by Kate Hofman and Tom Webster is committed to feeding people in cities in a way that is positive for communities and the environment. They hope to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and employ local people so cities can be more self-sustaining – something that will become increasingly important as our climate changes and our cities expand.

Grow-Up-Farms-GrowUpBox

In late February 2013, the company ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise £15,000 in order to build The GrowUp Box. The main purpose of the GrowUp Box was to be a demonstration farm to educate people about urban aquaponics and act as a prototype for future farms and systems. With the help of 300 backers they succeeded in raising the necessary funds. The GrowUp Box was custom-built from an upcycled-shipping container with a greenhouse on top. It is located in Stratford, East London, and is open to the public in Spring and Summer as part of the RoofEast project. The team hosts regular workshops and lectures at the Box, to share their knowledge and experience of being urban farmers, and to engage the local community in the issues around the importance of sustainable farming.

The company’s main project however is Unit 84 – the UK’s first aquaponic, vertical urban farm. Based inside an industrial warehouse in Beckton, the farm uses aquaculture (farming fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in a nutrient solution without soil) in a recirculating system. 6,000 square feet of growing space will produce more than 20,000 kg of sustainable salads and herbs (enough for 200,000 salad bags) and 4,000 kg of fish each year.

Jabaar-Euba-GrowUpFarms

Unit 84 is a working commercial farm and not open to the public. But there are plans to build a visitor centre in the near future to help people understand more about sustainable food production in cities.

Crowdfooding had the chance to speak to Kate, who has always wanted to run a business that improved the world. She fell in love with the idea of aquaponics as a sustainable way of commercially growing food for London, the city she grew up in and has lived in all her life. She left her job as a management consultant at the beginning of 2013 to start GrowUp.

How did you and Tom meet and what led you create GrowUp Urban Farms?
We were introduced by a mutual friend who knew that we were both passionate about sustainable food and aquaponics. We wanted to show that you could commercially grow food for people in cities in a way that had a positive social and environmental impact.

GrownUp Farms Unit-84

When did you fall in love with aquaponics? Was there a certain incident that sparked this passion/curiosity?
I came across aquaponics when I was doing my MSc at Imperial College in Environmental Technology and Business and it was a definite light bulb moment! I loved the way that the system took the waste from one place and used it as an input for another – and that there was an exciting opportunity to commercialise the technology in an urban context.

How has the transition been from management consulting to urban farming? Can you talk a little bit about your career journey to date?
Well I guess I deal with a lot more fish shit now than in my old job, but probably quite a lot less bullshit. I really enjoyed my previous job, but ultimately I felt that all I was really accomplishing was helping big companies make more money. I wasn’t really having a positive impact on the world and it wasn’t very soul fulfilling! Setting up my own business with my co-founder Tom has been a very steep learning curve – and everyday I learn something new – I feel very privileged to be doing something I feel so passionate about.

How did you find the restaurants and retailers you are currently working with? Or did they find you?
A bit of both. We spread the word about our fantastic produce through social media and through our networks – and our customers are often our biggest cheerleaders. We also get lots of enquiries from chefs and retailers who are looking to source high quality, sustainably and locally grown produce.

Pea Shoots GrowUp Urban Farms

Is there a special chef or restaurant you would like to work with in the future?  Do you have any dream collaborations/projects in mind?
Angela Hartnett is bit of a hero of mine – so working with Murano would be amazing. I’m also a huge fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, especially with all the work he’s done on sustainable fish, and I’d love to see what delicious recipes he could come up with using our sustainably farmed Tilapia.

How long did it take to find the warehouse in Beckton to construct Unit 84? How long did the refurbishment take to make it into a working farm?
We moved into Unit 84 in May 2015, and spent 4 months fitting out an empty shell to make the UK’s first aquaponics vertical farm.

What has been the most challenging endeavour you have faced on the GrowUp Urban Farm journey?
I read a nice quote recently that said it isn’t the tornados that wipe our your business, its the termites. Like any start-up we’ve had plenty of termites to deal with in the past couple of years – its all about learning from your mistakes and getting all the right processes in place to run a successful business.

Jaabar Euba Unit84 GrowUp Farms

What has been the most exciting or rewarding moment?
It gives me a buzz everyday to walk onto the farm that we’ve built and see my farm team working hard and loving (almost) every minute of it. The more farms we build, the more jobs we can create and the more impact we can have, that’s why we set the business up in the first place, and that’s what is most exciting to me.

What are your thoughts on the future of AgTech?
We need to change the way we grow food to feed a growing population more sustainably. Tech is only going to be part of the solution. We need strong and successful businesses that are committed to creating social and environmental benefit, at all stages of the supply chain from food to fork.

What does 2016 hold for GrowUp Urban Farms?
Lots more salads, herbs and fish for happy customers!

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
Roast chicken cooked by my mum.

Choc Edge: Revolutionising the Chocolate Experience with 3D Printing

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3D printing is a hot topic that is rapidly gaining notoriety in the food realm. Many believe that it will transform the future of food and the way we consume and prepare it. It can assist in the creation of complex sweets for professional patisseries and chocolatiers, it can inspire creativity in home cooks and give them unlimited control over a meal’s shape, consistency, flavour and colour, it can be useful for long-distance space travel and eventually it may help to combat world hunger.

Others believe that printed meals from cartridges of powders and oils high in fat and salt, highlights the failings of our current food system. If we continue to produce processed technicolour foods, how will we learn to feed ourselves healthily and sustainably?

In layman terms, a 3-D printer is about the size of a microwave and looks like a hot-glue gun attached to a robotic arm. However instead of squeezing out glue, the cartridge oozes out plastic, metal, biological tissue or food…soft or liquid materials (pastes and fluids) work best (think hummus and peanut butter).

ChocEdge-ChocCreator-Exeter

Using special CAD software (a computer aided design model), you can design any object on your computer and then load your digital blueprint into the 3-D printer. The printer nozzle will map out your object, by releasing the soft materials layer by layer into the desired shape.

Innovation in food printing is constantly evolving, but things really started to kick off when Cornell University graduate student Daniel Cohen created an RGB standard set of elements (like the yellow, magenta and blue colour set in an ordinary printer) for the food printer. These elements were composed of hydrocolloids – materials like carrageenan, xanthan gum, and gum Arabic – that today appear on many food labels. By mixing gumming agents and gelling agents together with other ingredients, the cartridges were equipped to construct edible products like milk cubes. In other words…the theory was valid, but the output was…well it was…odd.

Soon after, 3D printing experts realised that instead of designing foods from basic materials – from the bottom up – they had to use a top-down approach. Jeffrey Lipton, co-founder and CTO of Seraph Robotics, explained that they are now taking existing real foods, modifying them into paste form, and then printing new edible goods. “Using the printer to creatively customize food shapes is a lot more appealing than crafting milk cubes out of hydrocolloids,” he said. Apart from cool shapes, the 3D printer can create internal designs and intricate sculptures as well as modify textures and porous structures of food.

ChocEdge-ChocolateSphere

Whilst 3-D printing is incredibly cool and otherworldly, it is also surprisingly difficult to master. A lot can go wrong: The nozzle may clog, the machine can overheat, the print pad may tilt, external temperature settings are difficult to control, and moreover the process is incredibly slow.

But these minor details haven’t deterred 3D printing aficionados from the scene. In fact, it has made them more innovative. Meet Choc Edge – state-of-the-art producers of 3D chocolate printers.

Choc Edge started as a research project at the University of Exeter; the aim was to create a 3D printer that could produce objects in a material that hadn’t been used for 3D printing before. As chocolate is universally loved it was decided it would be the perfect material to appeal to existing 3D printing enthusiasts and engage people who would normally not be interested in the technology.

In 2012 the company created the Choc Creator V1 – the world’s first commercially available 3D chocolate printer. The Choc Creator V2 and V2.0 Plus soon followed.

Crowdfooding had a chat to Choc Edge’s all-round communications guru, Mark Jones, about how Choc Edge aims to revolutionise the chocolate creation and consumption experience with the latest 3D chocolate printing technology.

Choc Edge Crowdfooding Logo

Can you tell us a bit about your education background and career journey to date?
I graduated from university with a degree in English Literature, so 3D Chocolate Printing is a bit of a departure for me, but it was a chance encounter with our CEO at a local museum that led me to get involved with Choc Edge. I was doing freelance web design, social media, and tech blogging at the time so had a keen interest in all things digital. I asked if there was anything I could help with and they needed someone who could learn on the job and help in all of the different aspects of the business – so I said I was their guy. It turned out there was a lot more to the role than I expected and now I’m heavily involved with developing the methods we use for printing, 3D design, and of course updating our Facebook page and website.

What attracted you to enter the 3D printing space?
I thought 3D printing was an amazing technological leap and I love chocolate, so when I heard there was a printer that combined both these things I knew I wanted to be a part of that.

Do you know about the RepRap project? What are your views on open-source technology?
Yeah the RepRap project is amazing, and a great example of how open-source technology is a driving force in innovation. We did an event at a school recently and one pupil asked if one day there would be a 3D printer that could print a 3D printer, and there kind of already is, so that’s really incredible.

Choc Edge IMaker Store London

How do you think 3D printing will transform the future of food?
It’s the next step on from microwaves and ready meals, but with the added bonus of being customisable as well as convenient. I think it will have a lot of positive effects, both in terms of its impact on the world and how people interact with food, and there will always be real food if people want it. Unlike its predecessors though there’s also the potential for customising the nutritional content and flavours of the meal produced which is a really exciting prospect – and I’d imagine a great way of tricking children into eating their vegetables!

NASA’s already looking into using 3D food printing as a solution for feeding astronauts as they venture farther into space, and it’s not hard to imagine it being used when they start putting people on Mars. From there it’s only a matter of time before we have something comparable to one of Star Trek’s food replicators. So I believe the technology will transform the future of food for the better.

How did you come up with the idea for Choc Edge? How long did it take to actually design/build the choc creator v1?
The Choc Creator was the result of our founder Dr Liang Hao working with a research team at the University of Exeter, in the ALM (additive layer manufacturing) department. They wanted to invent a 3D printer that used a material which hadn’t been explored before and which would engage people who weren’t normally interested in 3D Printing. Chocolate was the obvious choice and in 2012, after five years of prototypes and experimenting with different designs, the Choc Creator V1 was born. Following an enthusiastic response from the public and media it was decided to sell the machine, making it the world’s first commercially available chocolate printer.

Choc Edge 3D printing IMaker Store

Who is part of the Choc Edge team?
The Choc Edge team is made up of five people in the UK who handle sales, marketing, and design while there’s a larger team of 15 people in China that develop and produce the machines. Our CEO Christina Zheng and founder Liang Hao manage both teams. The founders are originally from China and split their time between their UK office in Exeter, and their office in Wuhan, China. The machines are manufactured in China then shipped worldwide.

Is the machine designed primarily for confectioners and bakers or for home use too?
The machine is designed primarily for high-end confectioners and bakers who are looking to create completely unique gifts and experiences for customers. As with all 3D printing it isn’t a platform for producing things in massive quantities or very quickly – the real value lies in the technology’s ability to produce customised chocolates that can’t be created cost-efficiently using any other method, or which are only possible with 3D Chocolate Printing.

What are the biggest obstacles with 3D printing chocolate? Time? Temperature?
The biggest obstacles for 3D Chocolate Printing are definitely time and temperature control. If you want to use pure chocolate, which has always been our goal, then there’s a certain time the chocolate layers take to dry and a certain temperature it has to be printed at. Depending on the type of design and its size printing time could take anywhere from a couple of minutes for something simple like a name, to over an hour for one of our more complex 3D shapes.

If you were to print too fast the previous layer wouldn’t be dry before the next one completed and your model would collapse, and if you were to cool it too fast you would encounter problems such as nozzle blocking and brittle chocolate.

Choc Edge 3D printing CAD software IMaker Store

What is the most interesting design you have seen be successfully printed using the machine?
My personal favourite is our designer Anthony’s spiralling love design. The word “love” is extruded and twisted round to create a really dynamic and exciting piece of chocolate. It also means that we could produce people’s names in a similar way for placing on top of things like wedding cakes.

What has been your favourite Choc Edge moment thus far?
There are so many to choose from but for me it was producing the first repeatable 3D print in chocolate. We’ve had a lot of flukes over the years but finding the right balance of parameters, which results in a 3D print that can be printed again and again, and features significant overhang, was a big moment. It was just a dodecahedron and doesn’t look great compared to our current standard but at the time it was a big step forward.

Choc Edge 3D printer IMaker Store

What has been the most challenging Choc Edge moment to date?
The most challenging Choc Edge moment was probably during our first production run. We got a request for 600 pieces of chocolate that we wanted to fulfil, and we hadn’t attempted anything that large before. Using three of our old machines, which weren’t as easy to use as the V2 Plus, we produced the order but there were lots of unexpected issues we had to overcome in a short space of time.

These included a broken tempering machine (we had to use alternate tempering methods until a replacement part came), finding the best way to package the chocolates so that they looked attractive but were well protected, and managing our normal workload while printing. The older generation machines required more attention when printing to prevent certain problems like blocking.

We learned some really important things like how many pieces it was possible to print in a day, how to optimise designs so that they’re both artistic and quick to print (which we hadn’t had to do before), and the economies of printing large amounts of chocolate. Fulfilling the order enabled us to create a benchmark for pricing orders going forwards and how much wastage we can expect to generate for large print runs. The great part is that any waste can be recycled and that even for such a large order we used a relatively small amount of chocolate. The main cost is the time spent printing, which is reflected in the price we quote customers. In terms of the amount of chocolate used the machines are very economical, though everybody always gets a good bite of chocolate!

We also learned a lot about shipping chocolates, as the customer was in the US, and we had to make sure that the chocolates didn’t break, melt, or bloom in transit. Our team did a great job though and everything arrived intact and looking awesome.

Choc Edge Crowdfooding Logo in Chocolate

What does 2016 hold for Choc Edge?
More exciting and more ambitious 3D prints, and new ways of helping our users to produce their own chocolate designs. The end of 2015 saw us take a huge leap forward with what we are capable of printing, and we’re sure there will be even more exciting developments in the year ahead.

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
How many courses? If it’s just one I’d have to skip to dessert – a big cheesecake with the lyrics to one of my favourite songs printed on top. It’s hard to pick one song, but I think it would have to be ‘The End’ by The Beatles – “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”

 

 

Tg Green Teas Iced Tea Range

Tg Green Teas’ Sophia Nadur: Corporate Marketer to Beverage Start-up Specialist

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Meet Sophia Nadur – Trinidad-born, innovative problem solver to the global Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry who left the corporate realm to start her own beverage start-up.

Having held marketing and innovation strategy positions at Coca Cola, Unilever, Mars and Kraft/Mondelez throughout her life, Sophia gained a wealth of experience in the consumer goods sector and is now using this knowledge and expertise to pioneer her own company Tg Green Teas.

Co-founded by Dr Hua He (Shanghai-born, qualified medical doctor and research physician) and Sophia, Tg Green Teas provides a hot and chilled range of delicious premium tea infusions, in both original and fruit and botanical-laden varieties. Crowdfooding had a chance to catch-up with Sophia and delve deeper into her entrepreneurial adventure.

hot green tea selection tg green teas

How do you think growing up in the Caribbean shaped your relationship to food?
I was lucky to grow up in the Caribbean surrounded by lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – many of which we ate came from our backyard or from bartering with neighbours. We usually knew where the butcher got his poultry and meat from (and even rearing our own goose that later became Sunday lunch). Drinks like Coca-Cola were only ever an occasional treat (and I often had to share 1 glass bottle with my sister and brother). My eating and drinking habits changed a lot when I moved to the UK in 2001 with the prevalence of processed food and drink and poor work-life balance. Eating healthy no longer seemed easy nor was it particularly cheap.

How did you get the job at Unilever and how much of that work experience set the foundations for what you are doing now?
I came out of McGill University at a time when the price of oil was at $30 and jobs were scarce (sound familiar?). My first job was doing market analyses for a regional beer manufacturer in Trinidad. I worked from a tiny desk inside a windowless converted shipping container on the brewery’s car park that was located opposite Unilever Caribbean (which I assumed that – along with great brands – had a nicer office). It didn’t take me long to walk across the street and convince them that I could be of use to them.

Unilever helped me build marketing and critical cross-functional skills through stints in other departments and training/deployment as an internal Total Quality Management (TQM) facilitator. They also offered me an interest-free loan to study part-time for a MBA at Warwick Business School (WBS), which provided an immeasurable career boost. [I am giving back a bit to the University through being a WBS mentor, speaking at Careers Advice sessions there and preparing to take on a student for a summer project linked to our start-up].

You have worked for some of the most notable/largest food and beverage corporate companies in the world. How did each company differ from one another, and what was similar about them?
I have worked directly for Unilever, Coca-Cola, Mars, and Kraft/Mondelez as well as indirectly for a few other [confidential] global consumer products companies. They all offer broadly similar exposure to well-honed structures and processes that have helped them become – and often stay – number 1 in their respective categories. This still is for me the best “training ground” for anyone who has a dream of creating a new food or drink brand as it prepares you like nothing else for the rough and tumble of the marketplace.

The most unique corporate culture I worked in was Mars with its relentless focus on delivering on its “5 core principles” [quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency, and freedom] and a refreshing longer-term business outlook. It’s no surprise really to see so many ex “Martian” colleagues still very active in the food and drink industry with many working now in start-ups/SMEs.

tg-green-teas

What was the most challenging experience you encountered whilst working at one of these big corporates?
I was deeply involved for many years in food and drink innovation activities in major markets across the world. It became clear to me some years ago that consumers were fast becoming interested in more natural products, in where products came from, and in connecting with products and brands that were both internally and externally “better”. The focus though at big corporates was always on looking through the rear view mirror for insights and answers, which for me was a huge challenge. I tried to encourage healthier brand development at work but in the end decided that I could make things improve faster and in a more meaningful way from “the outside”. More lately, I have seen an appetite at some large companies for changing the orientation of their lens but reacting to the new reality remains painfully slow.

What was the most exciting project you worked on during your corporate food and beverage journey?
I have worked on a number of large and small innovation and marketing activities for major brands like Coca-Cola, Mars and Milka over the past 20 years. One of the most exciting projects that I can talk about is the grassroots programme I ran for more than 25 markets across Central America and the Caribbean linked to Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of World Cup 1998. Whilst football’s governing body is (rightfully in my view) on the receiving end of calls to reform itself, the game will continue to inspire young people around the world. It was touching indeed to see young boys and girls secure spots via sporting and education competitions as ball kids and flag bearers at the World Cup. Many of them had never even left their towns or villages so the trip to France was a dream come true. Their unbridled joy and experiences will no doubt stay with them for the rest of the lives. I haven’t forgotten just how special it can feel when a brand, a “movement”, touches the lives of people in a meaningful way beyond the fluff.

Tg green teas in the sun shine

Marketing and innovation strategy to law…. was it worth taking that time off to become a lawyer? What were the most useful things you learned during this time?
I took “time out”​ from a successful career to qualify as a commercial lawyer in order to (i) broaden skills beyond “marketing and innovation”, (ii) lay the groundwork for a “portfolio” career in the future, and (iii) fulfil a dream to be like two of my childhood heroes, namely Atticus Finch and Perry Mason (sad but true!). I never planned to work full time as a lawyer, however I try to keep up-to-date on the law through attendance at seminars, regular sittings as a magistrate etc. The legal skills/experience have certainly been very useful to our start-up particularly when registering our trademarks in the EU, China and the US as well as dealing with supplier/partner contracts.

What led you to start Tg Green Teas?
US “shark tank” investor Mark Cuban tells start-up founders that they shouldn’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something they love. I agree with him completely.

Tg Green Teas was co-founded by two women, Dr Hua He and Sophia. Shanghai born and long-time UK resident, Hua, a qualified medical doctor and research physician, grew up with the traditional wellness knowledge of Green Tea and other fruit and botanicals that formed part of everyday life in the “Middle Kingdom” (China) for over 4,000 years. A green tea fanatic, it was Hua’s idea to develop this brand after she had grown tired of the lack of tasty green tea options on store shelves here in the UK!

I could see a few years ago the trend of folks craving healthier drinks and wanting to cut down on sugar consumption, but she was deeply frustrated to see so few drinks coming on the market that were good and did good too. So the two of us started Tg Green Teas with our own savings and a few grants. It’s still 100% self-funded today, however we have begun the search for folks to join us on our journey. Great things never come from staying within one’s “comfort zone”.

What is the overall mission of Tg Green Teas?
When it comes to Tg Green Tea, Hua and I believe very much in an old Chinese proverb “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” – 星星之火可以燎原 (xīng xīng zhī huǒ, kě yǐ liáo yuán). We expect that in 5 years’ time we would have lit a few fires that propel folks to make green tea a regular part of their day by providing them with tasty, healthy and convenient options. We see Tg Green Tea becoming known as that tasty and innovative green tea brand which properly exploded onto the healthy drinks’ scene in 2016 and is now available in many high street shops up and down the country – with Tg Green Tea enjoyed also in parts of Europe, the US, China, the Middle East and even the Caribbean.

What was the process (research, logistical, emotional etc.) required to develop your product range?
Although a nation of black tea drinkers, we’re increasingly reaching for green tea for its health benefits, rich cultural history and diverse flavour profile. We designed new British tea brand Tg as a modern take on ancient traditions that help folks strengthen their roots and put a spring in their step. Inspired by Middle Kingdom culture and colourful art expression that adorn London streets today, Tg is intent on making green tea easier for our palates and in providing convenient formats thereby encouraging more folks to enjoy it every day.

As such, our product brief was a simple one, namely develop (a) deliciously smooth, some delicately fruity, authentic hot green tea brews “Here’s looking at you, gorgeous!” and (b) great tasting iced teas full of fruit and botanicals with ancient wellness traditions and delivering just a touch of sweetness. “Really, Mary, there’s nothing like it!” We relied on expert tea tasters both here and abroad, a Facebook group of tea drinkers, a global ingredients supplier, and friends and family during the range development.

What is your favourite type of tea?
I love Longjing tea, also known by its literal translated name Dragon Well tea, which is a pan-roasted green tea found near Hangzhou in eastern China. It however has a very grassy and bitter taste, which is definitely something that puts off potential green tea converts. For the “hot” Tg Green Teas, we went further East and to an organic and ethical tea plantation near the Dao Ren peak for a milder and slightly sweet tasting green tea which we know folks – both purists and new drinkers – will love. That two of the three launch blends won gold stars at the 2015 Great Taste Awards will no doubt help to convince folks that drinking green tea doesn’t have to be like taking medicine!

Jujube and Tg teas

How has the food and beverage innovation landscape changed since you first moved to London in 2001?
I arrived to London shortly after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 and, unsurprisingly, the appetite for risky food and drink projects was sparse. Food and beverage innovation was led mainly by R&D teams within large corporates and with a largely inward looking focus on cost savings and range extensions that could help protect share of shelf. Consumer and market confidence took a huge beating again following the banking crisis in 2007 with funding now even pulled from corporate innovation programmes.

Having said this, the 2007 banking crisis was in way a springboard for the positive disruption seen in the past few years in the food and drink industry. Austerity and growing inequality have encouraged more “collaborative consumption”, the emergence of “peer to peer” broadcasting supports the rising influence of food chefs and bloggers on tastes and preferences, and a breakdown of trust in “institutions” has helped to drive folks to seek out smaller companies who offer transparent, ethical, and authentic/natural foodstuff. Platforms like Crowdfooding, will certainly help to embed this new healthier and more sustainable food ecosystem.

What food and/or beverage projects/initiatives in London are you most excited about right now?
Getting better food and drink into consumers’ hands is a really big challenge as Coca-Cola, Tesco, Walmart/Asda and Amazon still control a lot of what we eat and drink every day. With continued stock rationalistion, it’s only going to get harder to win listings in traditional channels. Hello Fresh, Gousto, and the Artisan Food Club are all part of much needed solutions to the problem of getting the food and drink that folks want to enjoy today in their hands (and on a regular basis). It’s just fantastic how tech and smart young minds are coming together to help to close availability/access gaps.

“Healthy” food will start to become just that little more affordable and accessible to everyone. As an adopted Brit living in one of the world’s richest countries and a leading global cultural beacon, it is simply unacceptable that we continue to fuel a 19-year healthy life gap that folks living in poor homes face versus folks in rich homes! The gap is partly due to people not being able to afford better food and drink choices. It’s a real disgrace for a developed country like ours. Efforts like Jamie Oliver’s school dinner project do help to close the gap but there needs to be a lot more done to ensure healthy and affordable food and drink is available to everyone.

I think the move to a more plant based diet (food and drink) is significant with a huge positive impact likely. I am a “flexitarian” and maybe someday I’ll become a vegan or vegetarian – or maybe one day none of these narrow “titles” will matter as we become more in harmony with evolving, better-for-the-planet food ecosystems.

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
I’d love to enjoy a meal again at a restaurant like Shanghai based “g+ The Urban Harvest”. Equal part open lab and restaurant, g+ The Urban Harvest serves hydroponically grown mushrooms and sprouts which are nurtured in the restaurant itself before being picked by hand and turned into an innovative dish using other choice ingredients.

 

More on Tg Green Teas:

Twitter – @drinktg
Instagramhttps://instagram.com/drinkteag/
Pinteresthttps://www.pinterest.com/drinktg/
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/drinktggreentea

Alt Milk: Cold-Pressed Alternative Milk Brands Are Hot Right Now

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A few years ago, those avoiding cow’s milk because of lactose intolerance or for ethical reasons were drinking soy milk, but health anxieties have seen a rising demand for alternative plant “milks”, including rice, hemp, cashew, oat, coconut blends and – most popular – almond.

According to Fortune “Almond milk now outsells any other non-dairy milk—including rice or soy milk. It accounts for 4.1 percent of total milk sales – compared to less than one half percent just five years ago”. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that sales of alternative milks hit $1.4 billion in 2013 and are expected to hit $1.7 billion by 2016, with almond milk leading that growth. So what’s driving the surge in almond milk?

In our opinion, more people are moving away from traditional dairy consumption due to intolerances, changes in dietary behaviour and growing dietetic movements such as veganism, or simply because they have a desire to cut back on their consumption of animal products. And let’s face it; almond milk is pretty darn trendy.

Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, the same type of health-promoting fats as are found in olive oil, and they are a good source of vitamin E, magnesium, potassium and protein. So it may be fair to assume that almond milk is equally healthy. Unfortunately this is not the case. Often many alternative milk brands have only 2% of almonds and the rest of the ingredients are water, sugar, emulsifiers and preservatives (generally speaking the longer the ingredient list, the worse it is).

There is however a string of startups that are working to make nut milks as healthy as the raw ingredients from which they derive by using new cold-pressed methods. Cold-press basically means applying no heat at all to the extraction of liquid. You first crush the nut, and then push it through a press to yield the most liquid without any heat treatment, which can keep all the nutrients intact from the fresh produce.

Some of the popular global players on the scene include: Inside Out Nutritious Goods (Sydney, Australia), The Pressery (London, UK), Jus Jus (Antwerp, Belgium), Luz Almond (Brisbane, Australia), Malk (Texas, USA) and allnut (Delhi, India).

Crowdfooding had a chat with food entrepreneur Rachel Hurn-Maloney, the founder of Alt Milk, an organic UK cold-pressed nut milk company, which is starting to make its mark on the bourgeoning scene.

Alt Milk Breakfast Crowdfooding Blog

How did you come up with the idea for Alt Milk?
I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer and big picture thinker, and have spent over 10 years working with marketing and start-ups in Palo Alto and London. Having been allergic to dairy since I was a kid, I started making almond milk in my kitchen and quickly realized that the cheap, low-nut content almond milk on the shelf was doing a massive disservice to dairy-free consumers. Fresh just tasted so. much. better.

I started to think about a modern almond milk company that would not only make consumers happy but would make sense for the leading retailers, hotels, coffee shops and businesses looking to serve a healthier, better tasting quality dairy-free option.

How did you know there was a market for your product and how did you get the word out there?
The almond milk market was a clear choice because of its rapid growth and long-life product saturation. Also, it just seemed so clear that consumers deserved a fresh, quality dairy-free product in light of the atrocities in the dairy industry and the low quality offerings of alternative milk on the shelf.

Alternative milk products and health food products in general are two of the highest growth sectors in the food and beverage space right now. Who are your biggest competitors at the moment?
There are many competitive players in the market in the long-life category; the fresh category is just beginning to expand. It would be great to sit alongside the Alpros of the alternative milk section.

Why did you select almond and cashew as your first two nut milk options? What future blends are you planning to create?
We would like to perfect our almond milk and stay focused on that for now as its what we do best! But we’ve got a few exciting collaborations and exclusive blends in store for later in the year. I’d love to perfect a non-nut alternative milk so we are working on that as well.

What is the percentage of almonds that go into the milk?
Our classic blend has 15% almonds.

Where is Alt Milk manufactured and what is the process?
Here in the UK. We use the finest cold-press technology to ensure the integrity of the product is maintained.

What kind of vanilla do you use…real vanilla beans?
Vanilla paste from vanilla beans.

What has been your greatest achievement with Alt Milk to date?
Selling out our first Harrods delivery in just a few hours!

What has been the most challenging business endeavour you have faced with Alt Milk?
I’d say our biggest challenge is figuring out how to create high-quality almond milk at a price that people are happy to pay. It’s imperative that we stick to our brand promise of quality and honesty whilst figuring it out! However consumers are quickly becoming more educated about food production and quality so that challenge is becoming easier.

What does 2016 hold for Alt Milk?
Ah, great question! Hopefully lots of fun, hard work and growth.

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
A big roast dinner with french fries, a chocolate fondant and a few glasses of red wine with all of my family and friends!

GATHR: Marketing an Unlikely New Six-Legged Protein

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In 2010 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a report titled Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security. It states, “It is widely accepted that by 2050 the world will host 9 billion people. To accommodate this number, current food production will need to almost double… To meet the food and nutrition challenges of today – there are nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people worldwide – and tomorrow, what we eat and how we produce it needs to be re-evaluated.”

Edible insects, which have been part of human diets for centuries, are championed as the solution to help alleviate this impending food crisis. Insects are a highly nutritious and healthy food source with high fat, protein, vitamin, fibre and mineral content. For example, the composition of unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids in mealworms are comparable with that in fish. Insects are also better for the environment: they emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock, ammonia emissions associated with insect rearing are far lower than those linked to conventional livestock, and because they are cold-blooded, insects are very efficient at converting feed into protein.

The practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy, and it is heavily influenced by cultural and religious practices. While insects are commonly consumed as a food source around the world – cicadas are treasured in Malawi, yellow jacket wasp larvae are popular in Japan and weaver ants are devoured in Thailand – in most Western countries people view entomophagy with disgust. It is difficult to disassociate insects from that ‘yuk factor’ (dirt, decay and disease) or simply primitive behaviour. The topic of entomophagy however has recently started to capture more public attention worldwide, particularly with respect to crickets. 

More than 25 start-ups specializing in crickets have launched since 2012. Some companies raise the bugs themselves, while the rest either sell cricket meal (a fine powder that resembles nut flour) or make food products out of it. Some favourites include cricket chips, cricket granola bars, cricket chocolates and cricket cookies.

The goal of these initiatives is to ease consumers into the idea of bug gastronomy. The wider mission is to introduce diners to delicious, under-used ingredients, expand food choice and encourage people to embrace the edible resources that surround them.

Crowdfooding had a chat to Christine Spliid from GATHR to talk about her cricket flour health bars: CROBAR.

Can you tell us a bit about your education background and career journey to date?
I studied Psychology and Business at Warwick University, and was running my own business for most of the time ever since university. Because of my Psychology background I am super interested in the challenge of changing people’s perceptions of what is considered a normal food.

What attracted you to enter the food space?
I have always been interested in healthy foods, I am big into running and fitness in general, and have been doing cooking competitions for fun with friends for years. Launching a healthy food product is a complete dream of mine, and I have been buying raw energy bars for years. Because I feel that I am very much my target customer myself, it makes every step along the process more fun. This is important as the food business is not the easiest to break into.

How did you come up with the idea for Crobar?
I saw how the trend of using insects in food was starting in countries like the US, but even as close as Netherlands and Belgium. People were using different insects and making sweet as well as savoury foods, so I thought I would be the first in the UK to launch a healthy food product containing cricket flour. Cricket flour instead of whole insects, as I thought the Psychological barrier is smaller, and this is exactly what the last 6 months have proven correct.

crobar peanut flavour with cricket flour

How did you know there was a market for your product and how did you get the word out there?
I knew that the London health market is quite open-minded, people are up for trying new foods, the gluten-free market is growing significantly, and because insects have not only countless health benefits but also environmental benefits compared to conventional livestock farming, I thought the chances of it catching on are good if you educate people correctly. Regular social media use, on-going media interest and doing trade and consumer shows have all been very important to spread the word.

What are your thoughts on the rise of entomophagy?  What other food enterprises or initiatives in this realm are inspiring you right now?
Every day new people contact me because they are either thinking of starting a cricket farm, launching a product, want to collaborate with me or simply offer their help and advice. It is amazing to be part of a grassroots movement where people are so passionate about something. I love Livin Farms desktop hive for farming your own mealworms, such a cool idea.

Where do you import the cricket flour from and where are the products manufactured?
The cricket flour is organic and gluten-free, and imported from Entomofarms in Canada. We manufacture the products here in the UK.

Do you plan to experiment with other insect flours? If so, which ones?
Yes, for example mealworm flour at some point, but for the time being we will focus on cricket flour.

What has been the most challenging Crobar moment to date?  How can we change consumer behaviour and thinking to get over that ‘eating-insects-is-disgusting’ mentality?
The lack of regulations has been the biggest factor, which has contributed to unease and stressful moments, as myself and other players didn’t know whether our business activities would become illegal. Luckily the European Parliament decided to include insects in food in the upcoming law review, which is great news. As stated earlier, educating people, explaining the health and sustainability benefits, and by using cricket flour instead of whole crickets, 95% of people are willing to taste, and most come back for more.

What does 2016 hold for Crobar?
Probably two more flavours of bars, and possibly one more food product, which is a surprise.

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
A fragrant Thai curry with noodles of some sort, preferably served at a roadside stall by someone who only makes this particular dish.

 

 

 

 

Kitchen Table Projects: A Retail Incubator for Emerging Food Businesses

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London is a huge melting pot of innovation and talent, especially when it comes to food. From the smallest street food truck to zero-waste restaurants and innovative food tech apps, the gastronomic space is an exciting place to be right now.

One of the pioneering initiatives in the current food arena is retail incubator Kitchen Table Projects, founded by Tara Sundramoorthi. With the passion and tenacity of a true entrepreneur, Tara’s understanding of business and food comes in equal measure.

Designed like a business incubator more common to the tech realm, Kitchen Table Projects places a strong focus on business viability and artisan food production success, as well as the importance of collaboration and entrepreneurial education.

What led you to start the Kitchen Table Projects in the first place?
I started Kitchen Table Projects because I think the world is a better place when people are doing what they love. Having run my own food business, I knew how hard it was to keep everything running and juggling all those different issues at once. I was part of the first cohort at Wayra, a tech incubator in Fitzrovia and it was fascinating to see how tech businesses could be supported. Why wasn’t anything happening in food? Something had to be done to help food businesses progress and I wanted to give foodpreneurs the opportunity to access the kind of expertise that could really make a difference.

What was the name of the food business you ran and what were the biggest challenges you faced running the business?
I ran a little project called The 90 Day Cafe. Initially, it was meant to be (as the name suggests!) a 90 day challenge – running a full blown restaurant and catering company with little experience and plenty of passion! It turns out, adopting a lean approach and being determined can take you a long way and what started out as a little project turned into something big. The biggest challenges I faced were all about figuring out what to do next. While you’re busy running a business, it’s hard to see the bigger picture and figure out where you’re going. I spent a lot of time behaving reactively and taking a more proactive approach to steering my business would have been really beneficial. It would have been so handy to have a sounding board that really understood me and my business.

What sorts of food startups does Kitchen Table Projects incubate?
Kitchen Table Projects incubates emerging artisan food producers with fast growth potential. We work with producers who are interested in breaking into the retail market in the UK. The most important things we look out for are entrepreneurial drive, growth potential and innovation. Food businesses are so different – it’s hard to put together a list of specific requirements because every startup journey is unique and there are so many ways a product can get to market.

kitchen-table-projects-crowdfooding

How has Kitchen Table Projects evolved since you first popped up at Old Street station?
We’ve come a long way pretty quickly since popping up at Old Street station and certainly learnt a lot along the way about what food businesses need. After popping up at Great Portland Street, we’ve now partnered up with Marks and Spencer and we’ll be running a series of food business focused events in Spring. Here’s where you can find more information: http://www.kitchentableprojects.com/events-1/

The reception we’ve had from the food industry has been fantastic. We spent a long time talking to food startups to figure out what they wanted and what they thought was important. You can never stop learning! With more than 15,000 food businesses starting every year, we want to give them the support they need to turn their visions into a reality.

What food projects/initiatives in London are you most excited about right now?
We’re really excited about the Foodpreneur Forum in June, where we’ll be running one of our famous speed mentoring sessions. Crowdfooding of course, was of real interest to us – one of the reasons I started Kitchen Table Projects is because not all startups are the same. The food industry really needed something focused just on food businesses and it’s fantastic to see it happening!

What is the best advice you could provide a burgeoning food entrepreneur?
Get yourself out there! I think food producers can get a little too attached to their kitchens and don’t spend enough time meeting the people that matter. Every connection is a valuable one – even if you have nothing in common, they might know someone, who might know someone else, who might just change your life! And carry samples of your product where ever you go. Spend time putting together a mini version of your product that’s easy to distribute when you’re out and about. Everyone should know who you are and what you do.

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
A bacon sandwich. Grilled black back bacon, cured in molasses, thick sliced proper white bread that has been generously buttered and lashings of ice cold ketchup. It is a Sunday morning passion!

 

 

OLIO: Connecting Consumers to Exchange Their Edible Food Surplus

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Food waste is a massive global issue. No less than a third of all the world’s food is wasted, while households in the UK alone bin over £12bn of edible food every year.

According to Love Food Hate Waste “almost 50% of the total amount of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes. We throw away seven million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.” Wasting this food is costly, and the average household has to fork out £470 a year, or up to £700 for a family with children. Wasting food also has negative environmental impacts. Avoidable household food is associated with 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

The challenge faced by entrepreneurs, businesses and governments is to find a solution whereby food production and distribution can be better logistically arranged to reach the right people so that waste can be reduced. Greater education is also necessary to help consumers take simple steps to make sure less of their food (and money) ends up in the bin, including only buying what you need, improving the storage of food and planning meals in advance.

The last year has seen a growth in food sharing initiatives that use the power of community and creative technologies to tackle the food waste problem. One such initiative is OLIO, a free app that connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses to exchange their edible surplus food.

Crowdfooding spoke to Tessa Cook, CEO of OLIO, to hear about her journey of starting a food tech business with co-founder Saasha Celestial-One.

Can you tell us a bit about your education background and career journey to date?
I was brought up on a farm and experienced just how much hard work that was, even before considering the shocking fact that a third of all food produced goes uneaten! Then after an amazing few years at Cambridge, I felt strongly that I wanted to help provide for my family, so opted for life in the city and a corporate career. That journey took me via a number of successful consumer product businesses and an MBA at Stanford, a combination that will hopefully serve me well in the next stage of my life as an entrepreneur. 

What attracted you to enter the food tech space?
My co-founder Saasha and I have rural backgrounds, so food production – and not wanting to see it go to waste – has always been a subject close to our hearts. It was only when we delved into the issue some more and learnt just how prevalent and damaging the problem of food waste is that we thought there was a need for something to be done.

As for the tech aspect, it was clear there were a number of great initiatives underway – both at government and charity level – but very few that utilised technology in the way that modern consumers expect. So a user-friendly app connecting someone who has too much food with a neighbour keen to access that good food struck us as a huge opportunity.

How did you come up with the idea for OLIO?
The ‘light bulb’ moment came when I was moving country and found myself with good food that I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away. After failing to find anyone to give it to, I ended up having to smuggle it back into the country, and thought there had to be a better solution! And so OLIO was born.

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How did you know there was a market for your product and how did you get the word out there?
As with any startup trying to do something completely new, one of our first priorities was proving the concept and then trying to generate some buzz about the app – all on a shoestring!

To test the product and validate our idea before launch, we first created a WhatsApp group of 12 people we didn’t know – but who had responded to our market research survey to say they hated food waste – to see if people would share and collect food as we’d hoped. And the answer was a resounding yes! This trial gave us crucial insight into what product features we did, and just as importantly did not, need to build. To further support these findings, we ran a wider survey with YouGov, which showed very clearly that the general public viewed food waste as a problem, and one that households should be addressing directly.

As for trying to get noticed without the luxury of a marketing budget, we’ve managed to do that through a combination of community events, social media and our amazing Ambassadors (grass roots volunteers who help spread the word about OLIO in their local neighbourhood). We’ve been lucky enough to get some fantastic publicity over the past few months, and this even saw us trend at the top of the UK App Store!

What are your thoughts on the rise of the sharing economy?
OLIO’s DNA is all about unlocking the value of food that would otherwise go unused, and that is a theme which runs right through the sharing economy – namely allowing people to get more out of their idle assets. So we feel both aligned to the sharing economy and huge advocates of it.

As with any new commercial phenomenon, the sharing economy will see some ideas that work and others that don’t – I expect that will come down to execution and whether there really is a market for what is being offered up for sharing. At OLIO we’re increasingly confident in our ability to execute and that we are serving a very real demand.

What has been your favourite OLIO moment thus far?
We’ve had some amazing moments but the best was probably the first real exchange via the app. A simple, home-grown lettuce given by neighbour Adam to neighbour Lizzy was much-needed proof that maybe OLIO wasn’t a totally crazy idea!

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What has been the most challenging OLIO moment to date?
The biggest challenge was bootstrapping for the first nine months – there we were with no funding and just an idea. Throw in the fact that I was juggling moving country and house, had a toddler and a new-born baby, a hyperactive puppy and was working flat out to get OLIO off the ground, and that should paint the picture! Saasha and I had given ourselves a year to make a go of it, so the clock was ticking was from day one. Though I’m not sure we overcame that challenge so much as muddled through it all!

Have you found that users obey OLIO user guidelines or have you encountered incidences where these have been breached? Or food safety and hygiene standards haven’t been met? How does OLIO keep this in check?
We make our community guidelines clear to users via our app and website. These include to only add items you’d be willing to eat yourself, or to please respond promptly to messages and turn up to collect on time. Where there are breaches we make it easy for people to report other users or flag up an inappropriate item. As for joke posts, like all social apps we’ve had a few examples – they’re usually added in the early hours of the morning or on weekends! But they’re swiftly deleted and only represent a very tiny fraction of all posts.

What does 2016 hold for OLIO?
The short journey to date has taken us from our July 2015 launch in one North London neighbourhood, to going UK-wide by early 2016. But hopefully it won’t stop there. We’ve had people from all over the world reach out to us, so in time we plan to take our model into other markets. More generally, our focus is on creating a scalable convenient platform that others can take and use in their local communities to stop good food from being thrown away. And so 2016 promises to be a very busy year indeed!

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
I’m a traditional kind of girl, so it would have to be a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, topped off with Christmas pudding and brandy butter!

 

Hero Food: Transforming the Cooking Experience for Diabetic Children

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One of the most exciting events of London Food Tech Week in October 2015 was London Food Hack, a three-day hacking experience to come up with innovative food tech solutions to make healthy eating cool.

Of the five teams that made it into the grand final, Hero Food came in second place. Hero Food works to give kids access to more healthy food choices. It is an app that helps parents experience cooking together with their children, and allows families to spend time together, cooking and reading comics that their youngsters enjoy.

How did the idea for Hero Food come about?
Hero Food is a service that transforms the cooking experience of parents and children with diabetes type 1. The first idea was conceptualised during the London Food Tech Week Hackathon in October 2015. It started from a mutual passion between Elisa Bedin and Marina Mellado about cooking together, and the importance of gathering families together for the cooking experience, which has significant social and cultural value in both of our respective home countries.

Who is part of the team, and what does each member do?
The personal experience of the members of the team makes this project unique, since it consists of two girls: one from Spain and one from Italy.
Elisa Bedin: Research fellow at Future Food Institute in Bologna, Italy with a Master in Food Innovation and a PhD in Agricultural Economics.
Marina Mellado: Product Designer specialized in social innovation and responsive design, MA Industrial Design Student at Central Saint Martins London.

Apart from Hero Food, what other projects are each team member working on?
Elisa is involved in research activities about the role that environment plays in relation to the food experience. In particular, she is very interested in discovering how people react to the introduction of new food in their syntax and scape. Another field of research is food education and schooling. She hopes to research how families are connected with their teachers and the school activities related to healthy, good food in the Italian school environment.
Marina Mellado is currently working on developing future wearable contactless payment devices for Visa Europe. Understanding the real needs of a broad society clustered in three personas: the hectic citizen, the bankless and the social media user. She is also developing her final degree project on how social and emotional design can be introduced to improve the therapy process on contemporary eating disorders.

How do you see Hero Food progressing in the future? Do you think there is a market for it to scale?
Since we are in an early stage we are focusing on how the product validation performs in England combining community users, NHS and private entities. However, we are designing a service that will potentially be scaled as a global database community for children affected by diabetes type 1.

What is the overall mission of Hero Food?
The mission of Hero Food is to improve the quality of the food experience of parents with diabetic children. To achieve this goal, we think it is necessary to design a user experience (a combination of software and hardware design) that will make the cooking process engaging.

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
Marina: My hometown homemade chocolate.
Elisa: My grandma’s tomato sauce with basil and penne

 

 

FeatApp: Transforming your Steps into Healthy Food Rewards

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It is estimated that the average person takes anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 steps a day, and that is just running typical daily errands, never mind active exercising. These steps are beneficial for your health, and for our environment, since more time walking means less time in the car, and less impact on natural resources. With the advent of wearable fitness trackers and iPhone’s that keep track of your steps, counting strides can be fun, but what if you could reap rewards at the same time? Chiara Cecchini has come up with an idea to make your every move count. FeatApp, which launched in October 2015 in the Apple store, transforms your steps into healthy, tasty food rewards. The app pairs daily fitness with good food, two things that naturally go hand in hand, by giving virtual coins to users that reach certain step thresholds, that can then be used in participating food outlets. We had a chance to sit down with Chiara and chat about the process of launching her own app.

How did you come up with the idea for FeatApp?
I have always been interested in physical activity and food. They have been important parts of my life that I never fully appreciated. Then I had a sports injury and I had to re-think my way of staying active. I also started travelling and living abroad, and I began to struggle to maintain a healthy diet in a new environment. Feat was a concept that came into my mind around one year ago, with the idea to pair together physical activity and diet.


Can you please tell us where you are currently at with FeatApp?
We launched in Bologna in November 2015 with the iOS app: the goal is to validate our value proposition and to test the platform. We now have 10 stores on board, from salad bars to juice bars and restaurants to organic shops. At the end of February, we’ll launch the Android and Windows phone versions in order to cover the entire user base. We’ll soon open the possibility to online shops to be part of the platform, in order to test this offer as well as to add flexibility to the user experience.

How will you scale in Italy and eventually abroad?
We are validating the system in Bologna in order to find the perfect drivers to maximise growth. Once we have found the perfect go-to-market strategy, in order to engage users and involve clients with the maximum effectiveness, we’ll easily replicate the procedure across the main Italian cities and then eventually abroad. We aim to reach both goals (new Italian cities and abroad) during 2016.

How do you think your app fits into one of the latest tech trends: wearable fitness technology? Is the app exploiting this trend?
Seven in ten U.S. adults track a health indicator for themselves or for a loved one. More than 20% of US adults are doing it with some form of technology, and 1 in 5 adults with a smartphone have at least one health application. The most popular health applications (38% of downloads) are those related to exercise, pedometer use, and heart rate monitoring. As far as tech trends, there is a huge opportunity to dramatically improve our health leveraging the use of mobile and wearable technology. FeatApp is trying to combine this trend with another huge one: food, and help guide users with their online and offline food consumption.

What events will FeatApp be running in the near future?
We’ll promote a series of events with our affiliates in Bologna in order to engage our users. Furthermore, we’ll partner with several sport and running events in Italy during spring and summer, in order to offer sport lovers a more engaging, rewarding and holistic experience when using the app.

The Algae Factory: Superfood Induced Snacks

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For most people, the thought of algae conjures up images of an abandoned fish tank or a pongy pond. For others, algae are a potential biofuel source as they can be grown with minimal impact on fresh water resources, can be produced using saline and waste water, have a high flash point and are biodegradable. Algae are also an incredibly nutrient-rich food source. A type of algae called spirulina, for example, has gained traction as a modern super food. It is a whole protein that contains an adequate proportion of all nine of the essential amino acids that are necessary for the human diet. In fact, Dutch startup, The Algae Factory, has seen the great potential of these tiny photosynthetic plants and is using them to help address the global food crisis.

We had a chat to Italian-born Stefania Abbona, CEO of The Algae Factory, who currently lives and works in Amsterdam.

What is The Algae Factory and how did the company start?
The Algae Factory™ is a start-up founded in 2014 with the belief that there must be a new way of doing business, a way in which companies can truly make a difference and create an environment in which everyone can thrive.

We were shocked by the latest estimates according to the World Food Program where:
 Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life.
– The vast majority of the world’s hungry live in developing countries, where 12.9 % of the population is undernourished. 

Our goal is to reduce or, at least be part of the solution, for decreasing the gap between malnourished people and those who spend billions of dollars on snacks. From one side, there is a starving world, and from the other, there are millions of people who eat snacks containing palm oil and other not so healthy ingredients.

Our idea was simple: create a healthy and sustainable snack and combine it with an innovative business model, we called #BITE4BITE. The Algae Factory produces tasty snack bars with chocolate and Spirulina and, at the same time, its Corporate Social Responsibility strategy is implemented. Every time our customers buy a product, a portion of our sales go directly back to the communities who need this precious ingredient. Indeed, The Algae Factory is collaborating with Antenna Technologies Foundation, a Swiss NGO that supports the development of an algae farm in Africa that helps to reduce malnutrition.

How did you meet your team members Nicola and Pierluigi?
Pierluigi and I met in the Netherlands during our studies at Wageningen University. I was a consumer of algae, especially Spirulina, but I was taking it as food integrator. Pierluigi was starting a Spirulina farm in the South of Italy and when we met we decided to do something different: we wanted to develop food containing the ‘daily intake’ of algae so that you could just eat your daily ration during the day through normal food instead of using pills or powder. Nicola is my brother, he was very excited about this project from the beginning and we soon became a team.

How did you come up with the idea for a spirulina spiked dark chocolate bar?
Algae are seen as an innovative ingredient in Europe, while in other parts of the world like Japan and Korea it is consumed daily. We wanted to integrate algae in products that everybody loves and what better way than in chocolate to begin with? Spirulina is a cyanobacteria with a high content of protein, vitamins, minerals Omega 3 and 6, and essential amino acids. This super-food has been nominated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) as a powerful tool to fight malnutrition due to its complete nutritional profile.
So we came up with the idea of combining two superfoods together: extra-dark chocolate and Spirulina. We made some sensory analysis and we received a lot of positive feedback, which pushed us to continue this adventure!

What other products do you plan to make in the future?
The Algae Factory aims at developing different types of snacks containing algae, not only Spirulina. At the moment, we have two chocolate bars with Spirulina (extra-dark and milk). Soon we are hoping to create another product with hemp and Spirulina, and we will start using other algae such as Haematococcus pluvialis and Chlorella.

Where is the chocolate bar made and manufactured? Where do the ingredients come from?
The chocolate bars are produced in Amsterdam, where we live. The Extra-Dark chocolate comes from Dominican Republic, while the milk chocolate comes from Ghana. The Spirulina we use comes from Africa and South of France, thanks to the collaboration with our NGO friend Antenna.

How come you decided to base the company in the Netherlands and not Italy?
We started this project in the Netherlands and we all lived abroad for several years. We saw an opportunity in the Northern European markets and the French one as well as they already consume products containing algae and they are very open minded and not scared to try new products.
The Italian market is also one of our interests but Italians are very traditional in terms of food and this market requires a lot of effort. As we are a small start-up, we decided to focus on the already existing markets at the beginning, creating a brand and then focusing on conquering new ones!

What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
Maybe it sounds corny but as Italians the last meal should be pizza of course!

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NutriNation: Third Place Winners of London Food Hack, Where Are They Now?

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Three days of serious hacking, without sleep and often without shoes. 33 mentors. 87 hackers. 120 attendees. 11 great ideas. 5 final pitches and 1 winning team. This was Food Hack London, an amazing weekend of creation and collaboration to create game changing food tech solutions for a generation growing up with a broken food system. The hackathon took place as part of London Food Tech Week in October 2015 at the WeWork Moorgate offices and was sponsored by Jamie Oliver– chef, media star, good food advocate, restaurateur and top selling cookbook author. The challenge proposed to the many minds over the course of the three days was, “How can we use technology to make healthy eating cool for a generation of kids and young people brought up in a culture where less healthy brands have the biggest marketing budgets?”

At the kick-off event on Friday, October 16th, global communications director of the Jamie Oliver Group Lisa Tookey appealed to the assembled group of hackers hailing from around the globe: “We want to be the most trusted voice in food, to empower everyone to enjoy good food and to push for positive change in our global food system. We are great at creating food content – but what we are less good at is tech, and that’s why we are here today. We want to access the best tech knowledge.”

That evening, 11 working teams were formed – Hero Food, LunchbloX, Crave, Food 4 Me, Zygote, FoodPow, Jamieat, Team Pluck, Envitarian, NutriNation, and HealthyCash – and from these initial 11 teams, only five made it through to the final pitching stage.

In the end, FoodPow walked away with the grand prize, with their ability to envision a usable, viable product that could be attractive to kids both emotionally but also incentive wise to encourage more healthy behaviour around food and exercise.  In second place was HeroFood and in third place was NutriNation, the team working to create happy meals that are both healthy and fun by rewarding kids with toys for healthy meal choices.

We caught up with Megan Hanney, who spearheaded the NutriNation team, to find out how things have progressed following Food Hack London.

 

First of all how did you come up with the idea? Was it something you had been fashioning prior to the hackathon?
I was encouraged by a friend to participate in the Hackathon and since it was a full weekend I thought I may as well pitch, but I never thought people would like the idea or that we would end up in the finals. The idea itself was the result of having trouble finding restaurants where you can guarantee there’ll be something positively nutritious on the menu. There is a huge shift towards healthy eating but you still have to trail through endless blogs, review sites and online menus to figure out which restaurants have at least one meal on their menu that has been prepared in a way that you don’t have to worry about excessive salt and sugar contents or overly processed ingredients.

It also frustrated me that the most easily recognised and locatable meal on the high street is currently a McDonalds Happy Meal. You can literally Google your nearest McDonalds and guarantee you’ll be able to feed yourself easily. This isn’t possible with healthy food, so I wanted to test the idea of creating a platform which allows consumers to easily locate all the restaurants in London which provide at least one recognisable healthy meal on their menu, making it fast and easy to feed yourself well.

For a restaurant chain to be listed on the platform their healthy meal would have to be tested by our nutritionist to meet our certified health standards. They would then become a part of the unified ‘NutriNation’ network of restaurants mapped out to be searchable on our site and recognisable on the high street through window stickers. Restaurants benefit through increased footfall from the health conscious crowd and we are also exploring toy incentives for children that would tie into the healthy meal.

 

Who are the NutriNation team?
Megan Hanney – Pitched concept initially on Friday of the London Food Tech Week Hackathon and drew in other team members. University of York Law graduate, has done business development at an international law firm and launched two co-working spaces in London for WeWork.

Marcel Goga – Entrepreneur with five successful startups and a proven track record of achieving substantial growth by strengthening revenue streams for startups and global concerns.

Neeru Ravi – Cambridge Engineering graduate currently working as a strategy consultant at The Boston Consulting Group.

James Lethem – Strategist, experienced in growth and strategy roles for tech startups and consultancies. Clients include Google Launchpad and the University of Oxford.

Bai Pai – An international multi-award winning creative, and obsess to deliver multimedia projects across digital and physical spaces.

Michael Tremante – Technical expert in web applications and Internet security. Co-founder of a web hosting/dev. company and engineer at CloudFlare responsible for delivering large IT projects.

Kristy Petkova – London School of Economics LLM Master of Laws Student with corporate law experience at top international law firms. Consulted on and set up ventures in the social enterprise sector.

Where do you see NutriNation going in the near future? Are the hackathon team still committed to working on the project?
We are lucky to be a team of individuals who get along very well and are willing to dedicate time to the project during evenings and weekends. We have had a mentor session with Hussein Kanji from Hoxton Ventures, the firm that invested in Deliveroo, which went really well. He highlighted how he thought NutriNation’s business proposition was the most viable out of those that pitched and was able to feed in his insight from his work with Deliveroo and other key figures in the food industry. He advised us on executing our validation project, which is where we currently stand, and we’ll be meeting with Hussein again once this is complete. We also had the pleasure of enjoying a team meal at Jamie’s Fifteen (Jamie Oliver’s non for profit training restaurant in Old Street) this Friday, which was also part of the prize we were awarded by the Food Tech Hackathon team. Our idea was also presented to the board at the Jamie Oliver Group who sponsored the Hackathon and they were also very keen on our concept.

How did you become interested in the food tech/entrepreneurship arena in the first place? Are you still interested in working in law, or has that changed since entering this realm?
When I moved to London to work for a law firm I was part of the business development team that sat within the tech sector. This sparked my interest in the whole tech scene as I started going to events at Google Campus. I then joined WeWork, one of London’s leading co-working spaces where I was connecting start-ups with each other on a daily basis and organising events to accelerate the growth of these companies. I have a real passion to continue learning and when you surround yourself with people who have founded their own businesses you can’t help but soak up their experiences, advice and drive to always be opening doors. We left university thinking that the job market was going to be tough and that no banks would be lending any money, but suddenly the scene for enterprise and entrepreneurship exploded and London is second to Silicon Valley.

 

Funghi Espresso: from Coffee Grounds to Sustainable Food

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Worldwide an estimated 1.6 billion cups of coffee are drunk every day. Italians drink at least two a day, if not more. A cup of coffee is the final step of the entire coffee cycle from growing and harvesting beans, to roasting and grinding them. Coffee drinkers tend to only value the beans, and so after the brewing process most coffee grounds end up in landfill.

But did you know that this coffee ground waste is being used to create a sustainable and local source of food? Meet Funghi Espresso, the Italian food startup that is growing mushrooms from coffee grounds.

Funghi are the great recyclers of the earth. They use their incredible enzymes to break down the complex bonds in plant matter and return it back to the soil. They then use this matter as their own food source to help them grow.

Woodchips, sawdust, coffee grounds, brewery waste, cardboard and paper are all materials that mushrooms can grown on. In a Funghi Espresso kit, the mushrooms use the nutrients in the coffee as their food source, in the place of the wood that they would usually grown from in the wild. They actually break down the caffeine, rather than absorbing it. So unfortunately (for some) the mushrooms produced don’t taste like coffee.

We had a word with co-founders Antonio di Giovanni and Vincenzo Sangiovanni about their business.

How did Funghi Espresso come into being?
In March 2013 Funghi Espresso started as a case study inside the Zero Waste Research Centre of Capannori, a small town in the province of Lucca in Italy.
Rossano Ercolini, 2013 Goldman Prize winner, brought the study, and it was aimed at studying the use of spent coffee grounds in agriculture. Antonio di Giovanni (operative team member) began the project “From Coffee to Protein” in collaboration with the Ilio Micheloni primary school.

Who is in the Funghi Espresso team, and how did the team get together?
The co-founders are Antonio di Giovanni [agronomist], Vincenzo Sangiovanni [architect] and Tomohiro Sato [entrepreneur]. Antonio di Giovanni met Tomohiro Sato during a meeting; Antonio was talking about composting and agricultural waste treatments. Mr Tomohiro Sato was in Italy to invest in blue economy projects and was impressed with the idea of producing mushrooms from spent coffee grounds.
At the same time Vincenzo Sangiovanni found out about the study of Shu Ting Chan, a professor from Hong Kong University who discovered that coffee grounds were good for producing mushrooms. He was so curious about this innovative idea that the very next day he tried to produce mushrooms using coffee grounds in his garage. We all met thanks to the Zero Waste network and a few months later we founded Funghi Espresso in April 2014.

Are products only available in Italy?
Our products are sold all around Europe. Last December we sent our KIT to France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Spain and we had to decline some Brazilian and U.S. clients because of the high shipping costs. But our idea is not just to ship stuff all around the globe. We want to create our own Funghi Espresso farm in all these cities, in order to save time, energy, money and to be much more sustainable. We want to solve problems locally while maintaining a global vision that incorporates the idea of circular economy.

How come you chose three specific types of mushrooms to produce?
We started with Pleurotus Ostreatus [Oyster Mushroom] because Italian clients are really sceptical about new varieties of mushrooms. Pleurotus Ostreatus is one of the most well know mushrooms in Italy and all around the world. The Pleurotus Djamor [Pink Mushroom] and Pleurotus Cornucopiae (Yellow Mushroom) were introduced to give variety to our customers.

What is the wider mission of the Funghi Espresso enterprise?
We want to show the world that the circular economy is the best choice for our environment, and that it can create positive social and economic impact. We want to spread our idea and create a standard model of Funghi Espresso that could be replicated everywhere. That’s why we are starting a crowdfunding campaign to raise the amount we need to build the first prototype of our “mushroom urban farming”. In simple words we want to grow mushrooms inside shipping containers that are controlled by ARDUINO. Those containers would be placed near urban areas or near those places that produce the spent coffee grounds.

What is your favourite recipe with mushrooms?
We love this recipe. No doubts it’s our food manifesto. It’s simple, quick and you don’t throw anything away! Chef Marco Vitale from the vegetarian La Raccolta restaurant in Florence gave it to us.