Indie Interview: The Wonky Food Co
On the blog today, Liz Wilding interviews Ashley Cavers, co-founder of The Wonky Food Co, an Oxfordshire indie on a mission to tackle food waste by creating great-tasting products that make use of imperfect and surplus fruit & veg.
Get stuck into The Wonky indie story >>
The Wonky Food Company aims to reduce food waste by turning imperfect produce into tasty food. Why is this mission so important to you?
Purely and simply, food waste is just so unnecessary, and should be an obvious and easy problem to fix. By throwing away perfectly good food, we are wasting energy and damaging the environment (food waste is one of the biggest contributors to harmful greenhouse gas emissions). But as well as the environmental damage, it is just ethically wrong to throw away good food, especially when there are so many people who still do not have enough to eat on a daily basis.
Who has particularly inspired you regarding sustainability?
I was inspired at a young age by Anita Roddick from The Body Shop. The Body Shop was the first brand that I remember where sustainability and ethical values were front and centre. I also just really admired Anita Roddick as a businesswoman and public figure who wasn’t afraid to talk about the challenges of running a business, trying to have a positive impact and also balancing that with being a wife and mother.
How do you come up with your product and recipe ideas?
My business partner, Laura, is the whizz in the kitchen and comes up with all the recipes. We are currently planning some new ranges (not just relishes!) and we are increasingly being guided by where the food waste streams are. Not to give too much away, but for instance, we are working with a herb grower to see how we can intercept some of the huge amount of herb wastage, caused by weather damage. But the herbs are still good to use – they just look a bit bashed and bruised!
What’s the best part of running The Wonky Food Co?
I love the independence and autonomy of running our own business, where pretty much every decision, every day, is down to us. But that is also the hardest part! I also love being part of the thriving business scene here in Oxfordshire. There are so many great businesses doing some really amazing things to try and create positive social and environmental change, and it is a privilege to be part of that community.
What are the greatest challenges you face, and what’s something you wish you’d known when you started the business?
Where do I start?! Not enough time, not enough people, not enough money! We’re in that tricky stage of moving from start-up to scale-up, which is the stage where most businesses fail. But there are lots of exciting opportunities on the cards – the challenge is picking which of those opportunities to seize, because as a small business, it’s simply impossible to go after everything. Focus is all-important.
In terms of what I wished I’d known before I started – probably the fact that everything takes longer than you think. And also how hard it is to switch off. There’s never really an end to the working day. I honestly dream about fruit and veg!
Which other indie businesses do you support?
I’m part of an informal network of other female-led independent businesses where we all provide each other with support, both practical and emotional – including Y.O.U Underwear, Neve’s Bees, The Curiosity Box, The Village Re-Fill, Toppsta, and Coconut PR. But as a supplier to many independent food and drink businesses, both in Oxfordshire and further afield, I like to think we are also helping to support a really thriving UK independent food sector.
What plans do you have for the future?
Right now, we’re focused on bringing out some new product lines as well as growing the food service side of our business, which was put on hold during the pandemic. We’re also looking forward to some fun collaborations with other independent food and drink brands. Oh – and did I mention that we’ve just agreed our first national listing with the Co-op supermarket?! So quite a lot to keep us busy in 2022 and hopefully beyond.
Is there anything else you want people to know about food waste?
While we work a lot with farmers, and other parts of the food supply chain to help intercept food waste, it’s an often-overlooked fact that it’s not the farm, the factory or the supermarket where most food waste occurs. 70% of food waste in the UK actually happens at home. So one of the other things we’re focusing on this year is how we can do more to educate people and help them to change their habits. It’s not easy and we’re not perfect either, but small changes by all of us can really help to tackle a totally solvable problem.
You can help tackle food waste by ordering directly from The Wonky Food Co website, and follow them on socials to be the first to hear about events and new products.
About the interviewer: Liz Wilding
Liz is an Oxford-based food anthropologist foraging across town for new culinary experiences. Hearing the stories of the chefs and producers is just as important as the eating: tales of toasties to tahini to tempura.