Tasty Misfits: Meet the wonky-veg box creator
Having being brought up by farmers in rural France, Emilie Vanpoperinghe developed a deep concern for how we protect what the earth produces. When she moved to the UK, she was disappointed by the ‘perfect-looking’ but tasteless fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets; and shocked to discover how much waste food was going to landfill. We chat to her about how she set up the innovative wonky-veg box company, Tasty Misfits.
What inspired you to set up Tasty Misfits?
I began to notice that UK supermarkets are different from other ones in Europe because they want ‘perfect’ produce. At the same time you can get every type of fruits and vegetables all year round but often they don’t have much taste. In other European countries you can get real fruit and vegetables, things like cracked tomatoes.
I was inspired by a French Intermarché campaign a few years ago, where ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables were sold. It was a bit of a PR stunt and stopped after a while but it made me think about what happens with wasted food. I began to realise how big a problem food waste is. Farmers can have a good batch of produce rejected just because they are not quite the right length.
Where did your passion for sustainable living come from?
I used to live in India where so much of what I threw away was recycled. Everything would get sorted, newspapers, plastics etc. In developing countries a lot less is wasted and not so much packaging is used. Lots of people don’t use toilet paper and nearly everyone is careful with electricity. In India most people are vegetarians and are very conscious of what they eat. I’m from France which is a meat-eating culture! But as a child I was always encouraged not to waste food. My Mum and Dad were both from farming families; they knew how to make and keep food. They would make a lot of bread and jam, and freeze loads of their produce. I grew up watching how and when things grow. It gave me a sense of how to look after what we have.
How did you start Tasty Misfits?
I discovered that there were some start-up companies in America and Canada who were doing veg boxes using produce which wouldn’t be accepted by supermarkets. I knew that people were willing and even wanted to buy wonky vegetables but didn’t have the opportunity to do so. When I got in touch with some farmers they told me that a proportion of what they produce is rejected by the supermarkets because it is not the right shape or size. Even whole crates of organic vegetables regularly have to be thrown away.
I discovered a couple of farmers and wholesalers at New Covent Garden and Spitalfields markets. They had a good range of produce which couldn’t be sold in supermarkets and could be used for my veg boxes. With my husband, we ran a trial in our local area for six weeks delivering assorted boxes of seasonal fruit and veg to 20 people.
What did people think of their boxes?
People were surprised that the food looked so good. It didn’t look particularly misshapen. There were some cracks on the carrots and the peppers were different colours from what you might expect and the butternut squashes were huge!
The main challenge was that my customers wanted specific fruit or vegetables which were sometimes hard to get hold of. We ran the trial in the autumn and by the last week it was particularly difficult to source certain types of fruit. Others wanted the boxes to be totally organic but this just wasn’t possible.
Do you have a day job?
Yes I am Director of Finance & Operations for Girl Effect, a charity which seeks to empower girls around the world to bring lasting change. So, running Tasty Misfits around a full-time job and having to be at New Covent Garden market at 5am on a Saturday is a real challenge!
What do you think the future of Tasty Misfits is?
We set Tasty Misfits up as a company with a social purpose rather than a charity. We wanted to make sure farmers got the benefit and were properly paid for the food I use. I’m really interested in how charity and entrepreneurial business can work together and what opportunities this might bring. We are looking to expand the business and started another trial now in May. In the long term, we want to be part of solving some of the issues of our time; we want to help fix the problem of food waste.
If you would like a wonky veg box delivered to your door you can find out how to get one here. Emilie and Deepak are always looking for volunteers to help them make their veggie box creations. You can get in touch with them here.