Spare Fruit is a start-up that works with small farms to produce apple juice and air dried apple and pear crisps from surplus fruit. I caught up with Ben Whitehead to ask him about how they got started, the problems associated with food waste and how you can use spare fruit in your home.
Why did you decide to use ‘spare fruit’?
I’ve always been obsessed with food and passionate about social change. I started volunteering at FoodCycle back in 2011 to learn more about food waste and food poverty and was really inspired to help do something more. I got obsessed with creating products out of surplus food and discovered Rubies in the Rubble (food surplus pioneers) who were proof that this could work. It gave me the inspiration to start selling snack products in local cafes made with dehydrated surplus fruit gathered from my local market, just outside of London. I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of produce that was going to waste at the market. I was offered 10 boxes of perfectly fresh pineapples and a whole pallet of grapes (that’s hundreds of kilos) on my first two visits. All I had was a bag and a bike (much to the amusement of the market traders), so I soon realised that if I wanted to divert food waste on a larger and consistent scale I would need to work directly with farms. Once I’d managed to persuade some social seed funders to get behind the idea, Spare Fruit was born.
Where do you source your ‘spare fruit’ and why has it been rejected by other companies?
We buy fresh surplus produce directly from small producers in Kent as we believe in giving them a fair price for their surplus produce. We aim to value the previously unvalued and we want to help small farms become more sustainable both economically and environmentally. They often lose money if they harvest surplus fruit so it ends up being picked and dropped, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent.
There are all kinds of reasons why it might be rejected. It could have a slight discolouration due to uneven rainfall or frost, tiny blemishes from hail damage or it might simply be the ‘wrong’ size or shape – or retailers may simply have over-ordered and decide to take less than forecast. Whatever the reason, we believe that no fruit should be left hanging and no food should be wasted.
It’s really great that you can make use of the apples. I also know that some supermarkets are starting to sell ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables to reduce food waste. Plus there are now whole shops dedicated to spare food!
It’s great that supermarkets are now taking food waste seriously – there are some great organisations at the forefront of making that happen like Feedback and WRAP. There are also some amazing organisations repurposing and redistributing surplus food and creating a secondary market like The Real Junk Food Project, FareShare, Community Shop, Second Chance, Olio and many more.
We believe that it will take all of us working together to help significantly reduce food waste, charities and campaigning organisations, food businesses, producers, distributors and social enterprise like Spare Fruit but also us – the consumer. An awful lot of food waste occurs at home, so it’s about changing behaviour and challenging our attitudes towards food, and that’s not going to happen overnight.
Some people might be a bit reluctant to buy ‘wonky’ vegetables or your juice made from spare fruit. What would you say to encourage them to try it?
Ultimately if you see a perfectly coloured apple next to a slightly odd looking one, that perhaps isn’t as big or green, you going to choose the perfect fruit because that’s what we’re used to. Wonky veg is a phrase coined to describe the produce that isn’t the perfect shape, size and colour that supermarkets think we want to see – but it’s still just as good if not better than ‘perfect’ produce. The perception is that wonky fruit and veg might be inferior, but actually smaller fruit are often juicier and more delicious. Wonky veg is the underdog at the moment but it will come out fighting! Crucially, as a consumer, by choosing fruit and vegetables that are out-graded or surplus, you are helping to make sure that farmers get paid for their produce, that more food stays out of landfill and that it’s used for its proper purpose – feeding people.
At home most of my food waste comes from fresh fruit and veg that I don’t like the taste of (for example, once I got some strawberries that tasted like dirt!) or when I buy too much and can’t eat it before it goes off. In those cases I usually cut up the fruit/ vegetables and freeze them so I can use them later.
Do you have any other examples of why people might waste food in their home or what they can do to prevent it?
We’re big foodies so we love the challenge of creating something from leftovers or food that is nearly past its best. My mum used to make me eat food that was so old it almost had a personality and a pension. It was always fine, though didn’t always look it.
Many of us are used to having access to more food than we can possibly eat and we tend to buy it pre-packaged from supermarkets, so we might end up buying more than we really need. As you mentioned, your freezer is your best friend when it comes to preventing food waste as you can freeze all kinds of things (herbs, spinach, bananas, milk, even cheese!), but it helps massively if you’re organised. Planning meals ahead, making a shopping list, checking your fridge and cupboards before you go shopping – these things all help to prevent over-buying and waste.
If something doesn’t taste that nice, you can always add it to something else. If you do have fruit and veg that’s past its best, you can be bung it in smoothies and soups. We throw away a huge amount of bagged salad in this country, but this can also be a delicious addition to smoothies, pasta dishes or stews, so the next time you open your fridge and it’s overflowing with various bits of food, challenge yourself to make something delicious.
Thanks so much for the interview. Do you have anything else you want to add?
If you want to help us tackle food waste in a delicious way you can now buy our products online at www.sparefruit.com. We’re launching a new fruit crisp very soon so keep your eyes peeled and…. don’t leave us hanging!
Spare Fruit Smoothie:
- Any fruit or veg that looks a bit tired: apples, bananas, lemon, grapes and try salad veggies like kale and carrots
- Left over ginger from the curry you never got round to cooking (optional)
- Yogurt – for example soya or coconut (4 tablespoons)
- Fruit juice (three good glugs)
- The slightly stale porridge oats you’d forgotten about (optional)
Method: Whiz together – Voila!
Bendy Carrot Soup:
Bendy carrots can be whizzed with fried onions, curry paste and coconut milk for a quick soup.
Available to buy online from Dec 2016