James Barthorpe’s experience with surplus food led him to co-found the Food Circle Supermarket. He explains how his start up is having an environmental and economic impact.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Food Circle Supermarket is an online store for healthy and “free from” foods, with a twist – the twist is that we sell surplus food that would otherwise potentially be destined for waste due to being overproduced, close to its Best Before Date, or is in packaging that has since been re-designed.
Our customers win because we are able to sell this food at discounts of over 50% off the normal retail price, and our partners (the manufacturers) recover some cost for products that they may ordinarily throw away.
Probably the biggest benefit of all is for the environment, as we divert food from disposal and make sure it fulfils its original purpose – being eaten.
What did you do before you started this business?
I worked within the food & drink industry for over 3 years, specifically within the surplus food sector.
That experience not only equipped me with the knowledge of the industry and how surplus food works, but also with the passion to do something about a big environmental and economic issue.
What inspired you to start up?
It’s linked to the last question really – my experience within the food & drink and discovering a passion for making a difference with regards to surplus food and food waste.
I was (and still am) in my mid-20’s and didn’t want to look back in 10 years and wonder “what if?”, so I took the leap!
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
Grandma, think about those books you read on healthy food and nutrition, and think about all the online shopping you do on your iPad. Combine them together, and make it much cheaper because the food might be in an old packaging design or may have been de-listed by normal supermarkets!
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We’re very lucky that lots of support is available locally (in South Yorkshire). We have had help from Business Sheffield, Rotherham Investment & Development Office, the Enterprise Team at my former university Sheffield Hallam, and a variety of other fantastic people from the local business community who are always happy to act as mentors and give advice.
We also ask friends and family – they are all online shoppers so are a treasure trove of customer insight!
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
It’s not been easy and is rightly identified as one of the biggest barriers. We started the business using personal savings that we had carefully accumulated while still working our full-time jobs.
We have since taken out a start-up loan to grease the wheels, but to scale up to the next level we will be on the lookout for further finance or possibly investment, as well as re-investing our profits.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Undoubtedly the amazing brands we have built working relationships with, even at a very early stage. We didn’t expect the likes of Trek, Nakd Wholefoods, Grenade and Pulsin to come on board this early. It has shown us that people are receptive and willing to give you the time of day if you go about it in the right way.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
There are a few similar businesses out there, but we don’t know of any that sell surplus food & drink online that is all 100% in date. All of our products being in-date is something we are fully committed to as we believe it guarantees quality for the customer and is good for helping manufacturers be pro-active rather than reactive about potential waste.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It’s great! You take on full responsibility for your own motivation, performance, and appraisal, which takes some getting used to at first. But the freedom of making your own decisions and managing your own time is the best bit. Plus, getting your hands dirty and just getting on with stuff is enjoyable!
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
Hopefully we will have scaled the business significantly, with a much bigger combined office and warehouse, a team of passionate and motivated people around us, a much larger customer base, and a greatly more diverse product range.
Ultimately all of that would mean we were stopping significantly more food and drink from potentially being disposed of, which is what we are aiming for! I think the public are more aware of the issue of food waste than ever, and it’s a hot topic politically and in the press, so I think the world is moving in the right direction for businesses and organisations like ours.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Take advice on board, and filter it carefully.
Be willing to make sacrifices.
Take the leap and go for it!
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