My eldest son and his flatmates like nothing more than to spend a Friday evening dumpster diving. Now, these lads are all from good homes and have the good fortune of not having to dumpster dive out of any necessity, rather they do it because it’s fun, because they have a social and environmental conscience and because they are troubled by the amount of food waste that occurs in our society. (the odd packet of Tim Tams they come across might have something to do with it as well)
The stuff they find is legendary – no half-eaten bread rolls or curdled milk here – these lads manage to find some top-shelf offerings in the dumpsters they frequent and for a bunch of budget-conscious University students, some of the stuff they’ve filled their bags with has very much moved the needle on their usual fare. This is great for these lads and the variety of their dietary intake but raises questions about food production, distribution and the waste that seems to be an incumbent part of the system.
I’ve been thinking about food waste lately in the context of a new startup that I’ve gotten involved with in the past few months. Supie is the creation of Sarah Balle, someone who literally grew up planted in the dirt of a Pukekohe vegetable farm. Sarah has seen firsthand how broken the food marketplace is. Unlike most of us who moan about problems and do nothing about them, she took the bull by the metaphorical horns and created a startup to deal with what she perceives as the issues in the market.
Supie is an online supermarket that has an emphasis on local producers and the sort of produce that you’d find at farmers’ markets. Instead of growers and producers having to distribute through multiple levels of intermediary, and very much being at the whim of those higher up the chain, Supie collapses that relationship. It’s the next best thing to having a direct grower/consumer relationship.
What this also means, and this is where the misshapen carrots come in (not to mention other slightly odd-looking fruit and vegetables) is that Supie provides a way for consumers who can cope with a two-legged or otherwise underrepresented carrot to do their bit to reduce food waste. For the growers, it avoids the heartbreak of throwing away a perfectly good carrot, simply because it has sprouted another limb.
Balle has built the infrastructure needed to run an online supermarket – she’s employed order fulfilment staff, has built a new warehouse in South Auckland, and has flicked the switch on the membership site. Initially, Supie will only fulfil Auckland orders, but the plan is to go nationwide over time.
With luck, good management and all the other things that are variable in these sort of startup operations, Supie will offer customers more sustainable (read lower environmental impact and less economic waste in the system) options at a similar (or lower) price to those offered by the large, dominant players.
For growers who, after all, are in the game because they love to produce items to feed the nation, they will achieve more of a sense of satisfaction as the totality of their work can be appreciated, not just the items that pass the vegetable equivalent of a Miss Universe pageant.
Supie is up and running for Auckland customers, and has several thousand products in stock. It’s another example of consumers being ever more concerned about provenance and moving away from mass-production and wasteful supply chains. Personally, I’ve never had an issue with misshapen carrots and while this might reduce the treasure that my lad and his mates find on their dumpster-diving missions, that is a small price to pay for saving the planet. Right?