How a fruit picker, a freak storm and a bank have saved millions of kilos of food
Started by Angus Simms and Katie Jackson in 2021 Wonky Box began after the couple spent a summer picking fruit and hops in Nelson. After a freak hailstorm, Simms saw growers left with produce they couldn’t sell due to minor blemishes. “It seemed crazy that supermarkets could reject fruit with tiny blemishes or scarring,” says Simms.
Spotting the gap in the market, during New Zealand’s second COVID lockdown in 2021 the couple contacted Levin market gardens who usually sell their produce at Wellington and Lower Hutt weekend markets, “They couldn’t sell their produce because of lockdown, so we boxed it up and started selling it, initially to friends and family and then via social media.”
To date, Simms estimates the company has rescued around 1.9 million kg of produce from going to waste, and calls the produce mountain they have saved and sold on “the equivalent of 15 blue whales”.
Watch our episode on Wonky Box in our Business for Better series, created in partnership with TVNZ Sunday.
Tom Williams, Head of Sustainable Finance at Kiwibank says "we were instantly struck by the simple beauty of the idea to buy food with perfectly good nutritional value that would have otherwise gone to waste and sell it to consumers.
“New Zealand has abundant resources but, as a country we're not necessarily smart with how we use it, across all sectors and industries.
“There’s a lot of talk about the need to reduce food waste and hunger. Well, here it is. It’s a triple win, for the growers who would have previously got nothing for their wasted produce; for customers who get perfectly good fruit and vegetables cheaper in these days of a cost of living crisis; and it’s a win for the environment because they’re saving produce that would otherwise rot. Wonky Box were ready to pounce and fix things and that was and is a huge opportunity.
"Angus, Katie and their team have highlighted a clear failure of the market. I mean, it’s obvious, why throw away something of value, not just in a financial sense, but from a nutritional perspective?"
The simple ingenuity of Wonky Box’s idea can be seen when Simms analyses the huge amount of food waste. “In Australia, it’s estimated around 30 per cent of produce never leaves the farm and it’s reasonable to expect it’s much the same here.”
Rescuing produce that’s too big, too small, too ugly, an odd shape or simply surplus to requirements is a win for customers who get cheaper fruit and vegetables, which is great in this economic climate.Angus Simms, Co-founder of Wonky Box
Someone else needed to recognise that opportunity to help the business grow. Simms admits that having the backing of Kiwibank from day one has been a key factor in their success.
"When we started, we rang every bank to talk about what we were doing and Kiwibank was the only one that bothered to call us back. They seemed genuinely interested in our idea and were keen to support us all the way."
Simms says Kiwibank’s onboarding process was seamless “Kiwibank’s app is also super user-friendly, allowing us to check our balances, pay bills and transfer money when we need to.”
Joanna Greaves, Kiwibank’s General Manager Business Banking, says it was an easy ‘yes’ to partner with Wonky Box.
"Our purpose is Kiwi helping Kiwi be better off. What I loved about Angus and Katie was that they identified an opportunity that aligned with their passion for reducing food waste, then wrapped that opportunity in energy, enthusiasm and expertise."
In addition to her General Manager role, Greaves also runs a pasture-raised egg business with her husband and four children on their Manawatu lifestyle block, so understands how hard it is to get a small business off the ground.
Along with a great idea and passion, Angus and Katie also have grit and resilience which, in my experience, is what underpins success.Joanna Greaves, General Manager Business Banking