© foodObox
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About foodObox

  • Founders: Jane Dimitrova and Velin Kerkov
  • Founded in: 2021
  • Employees: 12
  • Money raised: -
  • Ultimate goal: Reduce food waste.

Food waste is a problem that seems like it could be easily handled. Yet, this is not the case. Many businesses from the hospitality sector discard unsold food every day. The Bulgarian start-up foodObox has decided to act and do something about this. They want to help the food industry and have developed an online mobile app. It can easily connect food producers such as bakeries and restaurants to the end user. Consequently, consumers can buy unsold food for a lower price. Both parties can benefit from the app this way.

Today, Jane Dimitrova, co-founder of foodObox tells us how everything started and where the company is heading in this episode of start-up-of-the-day.

Jane Dimitrova © foodObox

How did the idea for foodObox come about?

“I was living for a few years in Italy and studying there. As a student, I didn’t have much time to cook and I had a limited budget. I was looking for a way to eat cheaply and save time. And then I found a local app which was very popular not only amongst students but also with a lot of other people. And in fact, this app in Italy connected restaurants with end users. I started using it and really liked it. When I came back to Bulgaria, I found out that there isn’t something like this here, so I decided to create it. I had already studied economics and business, and have a master’s in start-up development. Somehow I’ve always wanted to set up my own business and if it has a social impact, that would be even better.”

What problem are you solving?

“Our mission is to cut down on food waste. One-third of the food in the world is usually thrown away. Plenty of restaurants, bakeries, and stores that have food left over that isn’t sold. There are different reasons for that – expiry date or the lunch menu hasn’t sold out completely, or a certain cake is 2 days old. This food can be sold via our mobile app to end users. The idea is to reduce the original cost by at least 40-50%, so the end user can make sure that the food s not wasted. No delivery service is involved so the end user can just walk over to the place and pick up their food.”

How does the app work?

“FoodObox is a mobile app for end users. They can make an account for free. The app is available for iOS and Android. After you set up an account, then you can see which places have something available in a surprise box. It is a surprise box because very rarely do you know what is going to be left over at the end of the day. As a baker, you don’t know whether if it’s going to be a croissant with chocolate or butter. But you know there will be something that isn’t sold out.  That’s why they offer a surprise box. The only thing that is known, is the original price and the price after the discount. Usually, a box costs 5 euros before the discount and 2.50-3 euros after the discount. In it, there are good products that are based on what the different places are offering. It could be a cake, or a lunch menu, a brownie, or something else. The customer pays when they pick up the food.” 

Where can people find you in Bulgaria?

“We started out in Sofia. Then we started receiving questions about why we weren’t in Varna or Plovdiv. Things turned out in such a way that our team grew and currently we have sites in 10 different locations which include Stara Zagora, Pernik, Shumen, Burgas, and Ruse, amongst others. Wherever there is interest or an inquiry to take part somewhere else in Bulgaria, we will cater to that. Everyone can join in without any limits. Our idea is to save food in all of Bulgaria.”

What was the hardest thing you had to overcome?

“We’ve faced all sorts of difficulties. In the beginning, the hardest thing was to introduce an unconventional idea to Bulgarian society, because an app like this 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 there was a dose of skepticism here. On the one hand, end users were a bit negative about the idea that they would be buying a box with food that is just about to get spoiled. They imagined that there would be leftovers, mold, expired shelf life, and things like that. But in fact, the idea is to offer perfectly good food each day that isn’t sold out.

On the other hand, businesses liked the idea but they would try bargaining about when to take part or they first wanted to see if it worked out with other businesses. There was a bit of wait-and-see attitude to see who would take part first. Later, some more recognizable brands joined in, such as Harmonica, one of the biggest producers of organic foods in Bulgaria. This proved to be an icebreaker and soon more and more other restaurants and brands started to take part and even reach out to us.” 

Where are you now?

“At the moment, we’ve reached our first external funding stage. As a start-up, we first invested our own personal resources. We were working two jobs for a long time just to pay the bills. At the moment, we want to find some more funding that will enable us to grow even outside of Bulgaria. We want to enter some of the neighboring markets. On the whole, we are looking for funding to grow and to scale up the business.” 

The team of foodObox celebrating one year © foodObox

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

“I see a huge potential in Eastern Europe because in Western Europe there have already been apps like this around for quite some time. It is not something new. They are even really well-developed but somehow in Eastern Europe, starting from Poland and going south-east, there isn’t much interest from bigger corporations. I believe that Romania, Greece, Serbia, and Macedonia are good markets and shouldn’t be underestimated. Why shouldn’t we be the marker leader in Eastern Europe and be able to compare ourselves to these big Western companies that are recognized around the world?”

Are you working on something else at the moment?

“For us, it is very important to solve the food waste problem. One way to do this is to educate people. We have directed our efforts towards young children. Starting in September, we will be organizing lessons for children between the first and fourth grades so they can start developing good habits for preserving food from a young age.

I believe that this is very important – not only to use food that would otherwise be thrown away but also not to waste any food. 

We will start out by giving 10 pilot lessons in 10 different Bulgarian schools. We also plan to test the first, second, third, and fourth grades to see what the children understand the most about what we’re saying. The foodObox team is going to give the lessons. We plan to leave information flashcards behind at the schools so that the information stays with the children for a longer period of time.”