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Guy: [00:00:01] You’re listening to Good Foodies, and this is episode number 6. In this bitesize episode we’re going to be speaking to Ilana Taub from Snact. We talked all about food waste and plastic and being a startup that is on the cutting edge of using new technology and always striving to make a difference.

Guy: [00:00:22] For details of anything we mention in the show don’t forget to check out the show notes at goodfoodies.co.uk. For now we’ll jump straight into my conversation with Ilana. And we started with some of the challenges they faced at the very beginning.

The Interview

Ilana: [00:00:37] When we start Snact we didn’t even know what to Google. I didn’t know what machines we needed, we knew nothing about food. It was like fine, let’s just get going somehow and then we’ll figure out what we need.

Ilana: [00:00:51] We both have backgrounds in sustainability and we’ve worked in different kinds of environmental roles up until we started Snact. And we saw that the food system had a lot of issues that needed tackling and so we wanted to create a company that existed to do that whilst obviously making delicious, nutritious products. But the core of Snact is really to drive environmental and social change. Now we’re looking at food waste, packaging waste and eventually we might even look at other issues in the food system as we grow.

Guy: [00:01:25] Can you tell me a little bit about those products that you make?

Ilana: [00:01:28] We make delicious snacks from surplus produce. So that’s the ugly unwanted fruit, the stuff that’s too big too small, wonky or just simply too abundant. So we work with farmers and pack houses to take that. And then we use it as ingredients in our two product ranges which are a Fruit Jerky and Banana Bars.

Ilana: [00:01:51] What’s also cool about our product is that we have a plastic free packaging which is basically home compostable which means you can throw it in your food compost like any other food scrap and it will behave just like a fruit peel. It will decompose in about six months.

Guy: [00:02:09] Interesting… Maybe we can talk a bit more about those a bit later on. But you’re tackling two of probably the biggest issues that are everywhere in the press at the moment. Food waste and plastic waste or packaging waste. Can you put it in context a little bit for us in terms of the scale of these problems?

Ilana: [00:02:31] Food waste wise, the most shared stat is that we waste about a third of all of all the food that we grow. This is the same in the UK, developed countries and developing countries. In the UK we waste about 1.4 million million bananas every single day. Which is crazy.

Guy: [00:02:54] Wow it’s such a huge number.

Ilana: [00:02:56] Yeah exactly. I think it’s probably the most memorable one. And it’s part of the reason why we launched banana bars. We wanted to do something specifically about bananas. When we realised, when you think of a banana that’s come from halfway across the world which takes a lot of energy and effort to grow them and pick them and so on, and then transport them here and then they just go to waste? It just seems ridiculous.

Guy: [00:03:28] It really does. Why is it that we throw so many bananas away? Is it just that we over order? Or we don’t really like bananas much? What’s the deal?

Ilana: [00:03:37] No, actually bananas are the most popular fruit in the world. They’re also the most popular fruit in the UK. And I think they’re even in the top five items bought in supermarkets across the world in food, non-food and so on. So bananas are super popular.

Ilana: [00:03:54] As you may know, bananas are quite tricky in terms of ripening. They ripen too fast or not fast enough. It’s a bit like avocado as in the supply chain bananas will go to waste because often retailers or whoever is buying bananas want them to be a certain level of ripeness for that stage of the supply chain. So again, you might notice in supermarkets usually bananas tend to be green or not very ripe.

And so bananas that will be ripe earlier than that will just going to waste because shops want them to have a certain shelf life when they get there. And then obviously people waste bananas at home as well. I can go much deeper into the reasons why we waste food but I’m not sure that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Guy: [00:04:39] Well I mean it’s a huge issue and there’s a lot of complexity to it of course. Yeah I’m sure we could talk for hours about the ins and outs of it. But this is just one part of the whole conversation around Snact and your brand and your mission.

The packaging is something that I really wanted to talk to you about because I think it’s quite an interesting story of how – from almost the very beginning – you wanted to tackle packaging as well as part of the problem. You didn’t want to deal with waste on one side and then create waste in another way. Can you tell me a little bit about the journey that you guys went on to try and solve the packaging problem as well?

Ilana: [00:05:22] Yeah. We were looking at an alternative to traditional plastic packaging because of exactly the way you put it. We didn’t want to create another source of waste and we couldn’t find anything that actually had the shelf life that we need that also protected the food like we needed to – and that we were able to print with themessaging that we wanted. We actually got to a point where we almost decided not to do Snact because we couldn’t find packaging!

But after some debating we decided to just do it with traditional plastic packaging and bite the bullet for a few months whilst we continue searching for alternatives. And luckily we did because it was three months after that we found Tipa which is a company that we work with now on the compostable packaging.

And then it took us about another three to five months to do different tests and trials on the format that we needed. So about nine months after we launched our products we launched the compostable packaging and that was over- maybe two years ago or a year and a half ago something like that. So it was well in advance of all this plastic waste frenzy that’s been in the press recently.

Guy: [00:06:48] So you were pioneers before before it became a big topic. You were already trying to tackle it. And so did you end up working with Tipa to develop and invent a completely new style of packaging? Or was that something that they were already working on?

Ilana: [00:07:04] Yeah they were already working on that and they were working with another company that we work with in the UK called Parkside. And so that’s the two partners that we have in this but they have been working on this for a few years. We just came along and were the first company in the UK to decide to bring this to market. The material existed but it hadn’t been used for a product like ours before.

Guy: [00:07:32] But it had been tested for food?

Ilana: [00:07:35] Yeah yeah. It had been tested for food and it also had all the certificates for food safety and so on because, obviously, that’s probably the most important part is that it’s food safe.

Guy: [00:07:50] Yeah absolutely. And were there any challenges in that process of trying to find the perfect packaging that is safe and that that is still printable so you can put your amazing branding all over it? Were there any points along the journey where it was really difficult and you maybe didn’t even know if it was going to come together the way that you needed?

Ilana: [00:08:10] Yeah. Plenty! It looks like plastic, it acts like plastic but it actually is quite different. And in the packing process – I mean this is getting very technical – but the way it flows in packing machines is actually quite different. And so we had a lot of trial and a lot of error as well. And in getting up and running and getting it to the speed that you need to make it financially viable.

Especially with the banana bars – that was later on – but it delayed the launch of our banana bars by a month actually. Packers had been working with one type of material for years, or even decades, and then this new material was just slightly different. We’ve had to be part of that learning process.

Guy: [00:09:04] Yeah, very challenging and you mentioned, making sure it’s financially viable. I assume that because this is a different thing with new requirements and it’s new to everybody, including the packers and the people who make the machines. It must be more expensive right?

Ilana: [00:09:21] So in terms of the actual cost of the pack itself, if you put next to each other one pack of fruit jerky made with plastic and one made with our compostable film, the difference is only 1p. It’s a marginal difference actually. Sure, if a big company took it on and you take 1p times a billion packs of crisps then obviously it adds up. People saying it’s more expensive as an excuse, is not a good excuse. And for a small company like ours, like I was saying with the banana bars, we were delayed by months because we had to figure out how to use these machines.

Ilana: [00:09:59] And so the operational cost behind it is more expensive. But it’s not something that large companies can’t overcome. If more and more people end up using this kind of packaging then obviously the cost would also come down and then packers would be even more used to using this then the overall difference will come down. It’s come down already quite quickly even in the time that we’ve been using it.

Guy: [00:10:24] Well that’s great to hear from your side but why aren’t more people using this? I mean it sounds like a no brainer if the cost is a marginal difference. Why aren’t more people doing this?

Ilana: [00:10:35] I think because it’s still quite new. I really hope that in the next couple of years we’ll see a lot more companies that are taking it on board. As there’s been so much awareness raising and there’s been so much in the media I think a lot of companies are waking up to it and they’ll see that it’s actually not that much more expensive. I think it’s because it’s still so new.

We launched our product at the end of 2015 and like I said we couldn’t use this material. So it was 2016, that’s only two years ago, that we started using it. So hopefully in the next couple of years we’ll see a huge boom of this kind of packaging and other alternatives because this is just one solution but there are other packaging solutions as well.

Guy: [00:11:21] Yeah I saw some cool stuff recently. I can’t remember who it was that launched it but I saw a plant-based pizza box in the news recently which sounded kinda cool.

Ilana: [00:11:30] Oh really. When you start looking around there’s a lot of cool alternatives and new packaging solutions. There’s edible packaging, there’s all sorts of things.

Guy: [00:11:40] And it’s great that you guys have been on the cutting edge here. You’re picking this stuff up and wanting to use it before it’s even available and then being some of the first people to use it. And I guess in the short term you can almost use that as a bit of a differentiator.

You can say “well not only are we trying to reduce food waste or food surplus we’re also fighting against plastic waste and and our stuff is compostable” and that’s unique and interesting. So is it something that you use in your in your marketing messages as a way to differentiate yourselves at the moment?

Ilana: [00:12:14] Yeah absolutely and especially the plastic one. Since Blue Planet came out at the end of last year, yeah 100%. We’ve seen a lot more people that are interested in reducing the amount of plastic they use and so it just makes sense to use that messaging. We’ve gotten so much PR – so much free PR – from doing what we do. And recently we were on BBC News, we were on BBC World Service, we were in the Guardian, and that’s only because of our mission to tackle plastic waste and food waste as well.

Guy: [00:12:53] Yeah and it all fits so nicely together. You did a big rebrand recently didn’t you? And have really gone much more into that. What do you call it? Snactivism, isn’t it? Where you’ve got this delicious protest as your hashtag that you use on social media.

And it’s like the whole thing just really came together. And it doesn’t feel activisty and pushy and “we’re better than you”. It just it feels like a movement that some people just really get behind.

Ilana: [00:13:23] I’m glad that you say that. I hope that’s how it feels. We really don’t want to be pushy. While we’re tackling serious issues and everything we do come from a very serious place, the last thing you want is more doom and gloom and we never really share any photos or any horrible facts about how the world is going. The world’s not in a great place though we never share that.

We’re much more about positive alternatives and solutions and showing people that there’s lots of little things that they can do and that we can all take small actions or small steps that eventually add up to something bigger. That’s the philosophy behind Snact. At the end of the day we’re just making a snack. We’re not solving climate change or things like that.

Guy: [00:14:15] No but I think it’s absolutely the right approach. I mean we use a very similar tone of voice on Eco & Beyond which is all about those ethical and sustainable and planet friendly choices and exactly the same idea. Do something, whether it’s small or whether it’s large. If you do lots of small things or if you even just do one then it can all make a difference. It all adds up.

Guy: [00:14:38] So you guys have got an amazing mission which I think is something that everyone can get behind. You’ve got a brilliant brand, really really striking bright colours, beautiful packaging – compostable packaging as well. The products are great. You’ve got a successful crowdfunding campaign under your belt. What is next for Snact?

Ilana: [00:15:00] I guess going back to the point that I said at the beginning, food waste and plastic waste are things that we’re looking at right now. But there are plenty of challenges in the food system so we’re always on the lookout for what’s next then what’s going to be the next impact that we want to have as well. Yeah. That’s next. Let’s see what the next challenge that we’re going to take on and what delicious products will bring out to tackle that.

Guy: [00:15:26] Cool, fantastic. Can you give us any indication of what you are looking at? Maybe you haven’t decided which direction to go yet but are there any other issues that you can mention?

Ilana: [00:15:38] I mean one that we’ve been looking at – which is still on food waste – is the waste in developing countries. Because a lot of fruit gets wasted in developing countries for other reasons, usually because of poor infrastructure. And obviously there is a huge burden on farmers and smallholder farmers. So we’d quite like to find a way to go and do something about that.

Guy: [00:16:01] Well, we we wish you all the best with it. It’s a fantastic mission and I’m sure you guys are making a real impact with all the stuff that you do. It’s fantastic to hear the story and to be able to see it unfolding. So very exciting. Thank you. One thing we could perhaps wrap up with is, if you were to give some advice to somebody who is just starting out – or maybe they have a big dream or a big mission but they’re not entirely sure how to get started. What advice would you give them?

Ilana: [00:16:31] My advice is always the same: just get going. It’s easy to say, but one of the stumbling blocks when you get started is that you don’t really know what you should be doing or you don’t really know what to do. And the reason why you just get going is because actually just by doing something, you figure out what the other things are that you need to do.

So figure out one or two small steps that you need to get going and then, as it happens, as the rest of your plan or the rest of your story unfolds and you become clear on what it is you need to do. And there’s no perfect time to start which is another thing to know. People might be like “it’s not quite finished” or “I’m not really 100% clear on what this is”. Well no one is, just get going and see where it takes you.

Guy: [00:17:21] Ilana Taub from Snact. And you can find out more about them at snact.co.uk. While we’re talking about links if you want to get any details or notes or links from anything that we talked about today just head over to the show notes at goodfoodies.co.uk.