Saving ugly produce from an early grave 🥕

How Hors Normes is saving organic products from becoming waste…

We all know that we vote with our wallets, or at least we do when we have a reason to consider the topic. What is by no means self-evident, are all those hidden votes that we cast by sticking with the status quo.

Sven & Grégoire have decided to tackle the rarely discussed topic of waste generated from food products that stray outside the limits of the grading system, by creating Hors Normes.
 

Thanks to you both for taking the time to share your experience with us!  To start right off the bat with a challenging question, the topic of food waste seems to be quite ubiquitous today, and it seems that many solutions are tackling the issue. Do you think that you are following up on an observation that many have done before you?

Agreed! Food waste exists and almost everyone is now aware of it! However, two things people are less aware of are that: food waste is still growing year after year, and we (consumers) only see a small part of this phenomenon. Around the world, about a third of what is produced is wasted, and half of it is lost upstream at the production and transformation steps, far from our eyes.

Food waste does not only impact farmers' and producers' revenues, but it also generates useless pollution. Water and energy are used to produce food for nothing. For instance, 8 to 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions are emitted to grow and transform food that will ultimately be wasted along the value chain...

Great initiatives have emerged in Europe to tackle food waste at the later stages of this value chain, such as Phenix or TooGoodToGo. But we were missing alternatives for farmers and producers to rehabilitate their "misshapen" produce, connecting them directly with consumers willing to make a change for the planet and get the best quality pantry at an affordable price. Misfits Market or Imperfect Foods (two great startups in the US) have paved the way for us! In particular, they inspired a model we love: offering consumers top-quality fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis and the opportunity to customize every delivery with other good products they need, always at a cheaper price and anti-waste.

  

So is that the framework that led you to choose your first focus? And why start with fruits and vegetables?

Choosing to source upstream allows us to address a huge part of the food waste problem while offering us the ability to focus entirely on the best quality. Our fruits and vegetables do not meet traditional standards for size and shape, but are 100% organic and grown in France. Similarly, the first cakes we sold, were deliciously cooked in Brittany by a family factory, but with a short best-by date (3 weeks).

We decided to start with fruits and vegetables for three main reasons:

  • High frequency purchase (a week or two maximum).

  • Large awareness around waste of fruits and vegetables and easy to explain.

  • Farmers are super easy to onboard and super agile for testing.

  

Food waste does not only impact farmers' and producers' revenues, but it also generates useless pollution.

 

As I mentioned earlier, we seem to have reached a collective awareness on food waste issues, is that a trend that benefits you today?

I would say that awareness has quickly raised over the last five years on the consumer side, thanks to powerful initiatives (for instance, "les légumes moches" campaign in France) and pioneers (such as Phenix). Hors Normes definitely benefits from that.

But being aware and acting against food waste are two different things. We are all more willing to go for greener habits if we are rewarded. That is why we want to offer our clients a better deal than just "eat our produce to do something good". We also want them to get the best quality produce at a way cheaper price...

 

On a personal level, did the two of you go through similar awareness journeys to what you observed in the public?

Grégoire and I have known each other for a long time (more than 10 years now) and we both have previous experiences in consulting and in Food Tech (Deliveroo and The Fork).

We were both aware of the food waste problem for sure, but I have to admit that we discovered the full scope of the phenomenon only when we looked at what we could to do have a positive impact leveraging our past experiences in Food Tech.

  

Since striving to have impact was at the heart of your desire to create Hors Normes, can you share with us the kind of impact you were aiming to have on your stakeholders?

We save good produce from food waste, for the good of producers and consumers.

Now, what does it mean for farmers and producers? Let's look at an example.
Last week, we met with Alexandre, a farmer in the North of France who directly sells his produce via 3 grocery stores in Lille. Still, he tends to throw away about 10% of his vegetables for aesthetic reasons! Finding a way to directly connect him to consumers not afraid of misshapen carrots or turnips is creating a significant source of revenue for him.
More generally, about 5 to 10% of the entire yield from farmers and producers is being wasted. So we generate additional revenues they deserve for all the effort they make to produce what we eat.

And what about consumers? We all know that good and healthy food - like organic and locally grown vegetables - tends to be very expensive. It means that some of us cannot afford to buy good-quality products and others end up spending quite a budget on premium foods.
We want these people to find a solution through Hors Normes's offer: the best quality products at a way cheaper price, to be simply put.

 

Alexandre […] tends to throw away about 10% of his vegetables for aesthetic reasons!

 

Since we all know that most of what that matters in a project is the execution, what was your starting point to ensure that your goals would be met?

We focused on building an easy-to-use and easy-to-adjust product. Consumers simply select the type of box they want to get, a frequency and how they want to collect it (in a pickup store or at home). Then we take care of everything. This way, the only thing they need to do is let us know if they want to skip a box or pause / stop their free subscription.

On the operational side, we started by doing everything on our own: finding the products, preparing the boxes, and delivering them, so that we could see first hand what the tricky steps were, and so that we could directly interact with clients. Today, boxes are prepared by an insertion centre, and we get some help for last-mile delivery. The entire team continues to frequently talk with our clients.

We also wanted to establish real partnerships with farmers. We often meet with them and built strong collaborations with them. Now we have become their go-to person when they face waste risks (shape, aesthetic defaults, or overproduction).

 

It seems that you went above and beyond to get close to both sides of the experience. But as your clients are your ultimate judges, did you use these interactions to receive direct feedback from your partners and customers?

In fact, both farmers and consumers feel part of a community.

As mentioned, we have long-lasting and frequent relations with the farmers. I think we have saved more than ten types of vegetables (and counting) with our very first farmer, Fabien Dijon.

On the other side, our clients are still (and will remain) the ones helping us to decide what we should focus on (new offers, service improvement, etc.). We are lucky to have a large variety of customers: from the young working couple willing to act for the environment through what they buy and eager to not spend their whole food budget, to the mother or father of 2 or 3 kids looking for very healthy products at an affordable price.
Still, I think the feedback I most often hear when I talk to them is: "why are these products refused by the normal distribution circuit? They look perfect!". Yes, the grading sensitivity of the food industry is not so well known...

 

So you do already have an impact on many people. Is that the way you want to keep on growing Hors Normes in the future?

We want to grow this virtuous model, focusing on 3 axes:

  • Save more and more types of products. Almost every type of product is impacted by food waste. Would it be shape, packaging or best-by date, we know that we can act to save almost everything you can find in a supermarket. Ultimately, we want to offer our clients the opportunity to shop everything they get from a supermarket with Hors Normes, benefiting from our value proposition: the best quality products at a cheaper price.

  • Grow the community. Our current clients love our solution, let's get tested by thousands of others!

  • Increase our geographical footprint. We tested our product in Paris, but we aim to be available throughout Europe, as France is far from been an exception. To do so, we will need to replicate our model, which means to find the right partners, set up our operations, and build new consumer communities.

 

The feedback I most often hear when I talk to [our customers] is: "why are these products refused by the normal distribution circuit? They look perfect!"

 

There are industries in which you can build explicit barriers to entry with one asset, and those in which dominance is established through a myriad of small details and improvements. How do you envision your journey towards reaching the scale that you just described?

In line with this vision, we set up a handful of priorities to secure dominance in our market:

  • To replicate what we did with fruits and vegetables, we need to develop partnerships to source other great food products which face waste risks.

  • To go to the next level, we need to build flawless logistics to cope with way larger volumes and still highly satisfy our customers.

  • To easily propose and sell a large number of products, we then need the Tech required to manage this diversity.

  • Last but not least, we need to boost notoriety and our consumer community.

 

I cannot let you leave without asking how I could try some of your products…

In just a few clicks!
You can select the type of box you want to try on our website, how often you want to get it delivered and where. And don't worry: you can skip a delivery, pause and even delete your subscription at any time...
If you try a basket this week, you may be able to taste the amazing pomelos from Bertrand, our Corsican citrus producer!

  

Thank you for your time (and for your latest basket)!