- Founders: Jane Dimitrova and Velin Kerkov
- Year of foundation: 2021
- Employees: 12
- Earned money: –
- Main goal: reduce food waste.
Food waste is a problem that seems easy to deal with. However, this is not the case. Many hospitality businesses throw away unsold food every day. The Bulgarian start-up foodObox has decided to take action and do something about it. They want to help the food industry and have developed an online mobile app. It can easily connect food manufacturers such as bakeries and restaurants with the end consumer. Consequently, consumers can buy unsold groceries at a lower price. So both sides can benefit from the app.
Today, in this episode of Start-up-of-the-Day, foodObox co-founder Jane Dimitrova tells us how it all started and where the company is going.
How did the idea for foodObox come about?
“I lived in Italy for a few years and studied there. As a student, I didn’t have much time to cook and my budget was tight. I was looking for a way to eat cheaply and save time. And then I found a local app that is very popular not only with students but also with many other people. And indeed, in Italy, this app has connected restaurants with end users. I started using it and really liked it. When I came back to Bulgaria, I found out that there is no such thing here, so I decided to make it. I had already studied economics and have a master’s degree in start-up development. Somehow I always wanted to start my own business and if it has a social impact that would be even better.”
What problem are you solving?
“Our mission is to reduce food waste. A third of the food in the world is typically thrown away. Lots of restaurants, bakeries and shops that have leftover groceries that aren’t being sold. This can have various reasons – expiry date or the lunch menu is not completely sold out or a certain cake is 2 days old. These foods can be sold to end consumers via our mobile app. The idea is to reduce the initial cost by at least 40-50% so the end user can ensure the food is not wasted. There is no delivery service involved, so the end consumer can just go to the place and pick up their food.”
How does the app work?
“FoodObox is a mobile app for end users. You can create an account for free. The app is available for iOS and Android. After you set up an account, you can see what locations have something available in a surprise box. It’s a surprise box because you rarely know what’s left at the end of the day. As a baker, you don’t know whether it will be a croissant with chocolate or butter. But you know there will be something that doesn’t sell out. That’s why they offer a surprise box. The only thing known is the original price and the price after the discount. A box usually costs 5 euros before the discount and 2.50-3 euros after the discount. In it there are good products based on what the different places offer. This can be a cake, a lunch menu, a brownie or something else. The customer pays when picking up the food.”
Where can you find them in Bulgaria?
“We started in Sofia. Then we received questions about why we weren’t in Varna or Plovdiv. Things have evolved in such a way that our team has grown and we currently have locations in 10 different locations including Stara Zagora, Pernik, Shumen, Burgas and Ruse among others. Wherever there is interest or a request to participate elsewhere in Bulgaria, we will respond. Everyone can participate indefinitely. Our idea is to save food all over Bulgaria.”
What was the hardest thing you had to overcome?
“We face all sorts of difficulties. In the beginning, the most difficult thing was to introduce an unconventional idea into the Bulgarian society, because such an app didn’t exist in Bulgaria. This concept is very well known abroad, many people have been using it for a long time and it has become a habit for some. But a certain skepticism was appropriate here. On the one hand, end consumers reacted somewhat negatively to the idea that they were buying a box of food that was about to spoil. They imagined there would be leftovers, mold, expired shelf life and the like. But actually it’s about offering perfectly good food every day that isn’t sold out.
On the other hand, the companies liked the idea but would try to negotiate when to participate or they wanted to see if it worked with other companies first. There was some waiting as to who would attend first. Later some better known brands joined, like Harmonica, one of the biggest producers of organic food in Bulgaria. This proved to be an icebreaker and soon more and more restaurants and brands started getting involved and even contacting us.”
Where are you now?
“Currently we have reached our first third level. As a start-up, we initially invested our own personal resources. We’ve been doing two jobs for a long time just to pay the bills. At the moment we want to find more funds that will allow us to grow outside of Bulgaria as well. We want to enter some neighboring markets. Overall, we are looking for financing opportunities to grow and grow the business.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“I see huge potential in Eastern Europe, because such apps have been around in Western Europe for quite some time. It’s nothing new. They are even very well developed, but somehow in Eastern Europe, starting from Poland to the south-east, there is not much interest from larger companies. I believe that Romania, Greece, Serbia and Macedonia are good markets and should not be underestimated. Why shouldn’t we be the market leader in Eastern Europe and be able to compare ourselves to these big western companies that are recognized all over the world?”
Are you working on something else at the moment?
“It is very important for us to solve the problem of food waste. One way to do this is to educate people. We have focused our efforts on young children. From September we will be organizing classes for children between the first and fourth grades so that they can develop good food preservation habits from a young age.
I think that’s very important – not just using food that would otherwise be thrown away, but also not wasting food.
We start with 10 pilot lessons in 10 different Bulgarian schools. We also plan to test first, second, third and fourth graders to see what the children understand best of what we are saying. The foodObox team will give the lessons. We plan to leave flashcards in schools so the information stays with the kids longer.”