Collaborate and conquer: food surplus pioneers unite!

Ahead of Wednesday’s Food Waste Collab in Paris (27 May), we meet the guys who are joining forces to fight food waste

We first came across the Food Surplus Entrepreneurs (FSE) Network a couple of months ago. The London hub were having a meeting one cool spring evening, and we went along. It was an inspiring and brilliant collection of Londoners all doing their bit to fight food waste.

Among them were Tristram Stuart and the lovely bunch at Feedback (these are the guys behind Feeding the 5,000, the Gleaning Network and The Pig Idea), Maria Ana, co-founder of Plan Zheroes, Anuj of the wonky veg juice company Juice Cube, Saasha of food surplus app Olio and Brigida of the food-upcycling supper clubs, Dinner Exchange East. It was a great evening of collaboration and exchange as everyone discussed their projects and how others could help, chip in or indeed learn from other good initiatives. We walked away with a collection of cards and a bank of new ideas.


Berlin kick-started the first FSE Network food waste collab in December

The network was set up to achieve precisely this. The brainchild of Joris Depouillon and Alice Codsi, the FSE Network works to join the dots between the many social innovators, initiatives and organisations across Europe all working to reduce food waste. Joris explains:

“The idea first took shape when I hitchhiked to the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and back to France. I did interviews with different organisations who were tackling food waste or valorising food surplus… I saw that all these organisations that had started a few months or even years ago, were walking a similar path with similar challenges. I realised they could learn a lot from each other and so the idea of a learning network took shape.”


Ideas and inspiration at the Berlin hub

Now with a community platform of 150 entrepreneurs and a network of local community hubs in six cities, the FSE Network has come a long way in helping siloed organisations work collaboratively and effectively towards a common goal. “Because it’s quite a new movement, some organisations are working relatively on their own. When we bring them together in one room, they find out that they work in similar ways or have similar needs and that they can work together.”

Joris explains how this happened in London when charities, Feedback and Sustain, teamed up to sort and redirect the food surplus at Covent Garden market. The excess food was then passed on to different initiatives who could use it. “This collaboration set up a middleman structure. If several different individuals asked traders separately whether they can get their leftover food, traders would soon stop giving”. Indeed, it’s the day-to-day logistics that can create the most problems, from sourcing food and building good relationships with suppliers to transporting and storing surplus. As Adam Podhola of Czech food waste initiative, Zachraň jídlo sums up: “what we often see is a lack of communication. Sometimes it just comes down to making one phonecall and without that, food gets wasted.”

And that’s just it. As the FSE Network outlines, if we were better at communicating at every link of the supply chain, there’d be more opportunity to intercept food waste and get it to those that need it. In addition to collaborating together when sourcing, transporting and storing food, this also includes offering services to businesses who want to reduce their food waste, advising policy makers and communicating the food waste message to a wider audience. It might seem glaringly obvious but without better collaboration, large scale change is difficult to achieve. “Currently all these social innovators tackle less than 1% of all food waste in a country like France. To really make an impact towards eradicating food waste, we need to grow our movement, scale up existing initiatives and find synergies between them to save more food. These synergies could help to make initiatives more efficient (and cost-efficient), enable them to handle bigger quantities, reach a larger audience and eventually save more food.”


The Berlin hub together

Now, on 27 May, the FSE Network are planning a meeting on a grander scale. In conjunction with the EU project FUSIONS, The Food Waste Collab in Paris will see “social innovation meet food waste” as food surplus innovators across Europe coming together for a day of talks and workshops. Discussions will range from what successful business models look like, how collaboration can drive change to crowdsourcing. Among the key speakers are Sam Joseph of the Bristol Skipchen (part of The Real Junk Food Project), Freke Van Nimwegen of pop-up food surplus restaurant Instock, Amsterdam, Collette Rapp of wonky veg-jams Confitures Re-Belles and Jean Moreau of the surplus distribution company, PHENIX. A solid line-up and an exciting chance to bring major players together. Watch this space.


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