Sophie Andre, founder and director of Elysia Catering, went from delivering breakfast bags to people’s workplaces in London to feeding the likes of Airbnb, WeWork, and government agencies, while creating a smaller circular economy hub in the supply chain for food otherwise wasted.
Named after the Ancient Greeks’ location of the blissful afterlife, Elysia Catering is a social enterprise. To date, its breakfasts and aperitifs have “saved from waste more than seven metric tons of artisan British food and served over 19,000 people around London,” according to the company’s website.
Setting up a food project in London, where the survival rate of businesses over five years is 39.3 percent—the lowest in the United Kingdom according to the Office for National Statistics—is no easy feat. But the city also provides fertile ground for waste-cutting initiatives, as its food and environment strategies aim to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030. The U.K.’s food industry throws away 1.9 million metric tons of food annually, of which almost 58 percent is avoidable, according to U.K. charity WRAP.
Sophie arrived in London in 2016 and wanted to open up shop and serve high-quality, but accessible food. “Organic was very expensive, so I got in touch with small farmers to work together and look at different options, making it easier for the location and price,” she said to Food Tank. Collaborating with two farmers revealed that a lot of good produce was going to waste because of imperfections or minor damage, Andre explains, which led her to think that she could tackle these losses from the retail side.
Deciding to make breakfasts for London’s office people, she then approached a baker in Borough Market, one of London’s oldest wholesale and artisan food markets, who had leftover sourdough bread. “Bakeries have massive amounts of surplus—it’s very cheap to bake and it costs much more to store,” Andre says.
The sourdough and the marmalade Andre was making herself were the starting point for the office delivered breakfasts, but everything took off just a few months later after she got a gig to cater for an 80-people event. “11 bites per person. I thought I can do it,” she says about the switch to more diverse audiences and foods.
Partnerships with more suppliers in London and Somerset followed, including with cheesemongers and beverage producers. “It opened the perspective of the business. There are a lot of leftover ingredients across all sectors, all high-quality products in surplus for different reasons. Something always goes wrong,” Andre suggests with regard to accidents in food packaging that don’t affect the quality, but make them ineligible for use by suppliers or don’t make the supermarket shelf cut.
Elysia buys everything at slightly discounted prices and picks up or gets the food delivered. “We definitely want to support the suppliers and what we pay for goes directly to their margins.” Providing value for all those along the supply chain “within a dynamic ethical food ecosystem” is part of Elysia’s mission.
And catering with food surplus is not done randomly. Menus change seasonally, and range from confit chicken on spiced bread to quiche and cured meats, all the way to beer made out of surplus bread. Elysia’s work has won a Green Apple Award for Environmental Best Practice 2018 and was shortlisted for other awards for their sustainable resource management.
Andre thinks there is still a lot of space on the market for similar businesses tackling waste.
“There is a gigantic quantity of surplus food and definitely room for other businesses to make use it. It would be great to see other players joining this market as it would be a very good sign for London’s battle on waste.”