Foodinate is an innovative social enterprise, designed to make having an impact on food poverty in the UK as easy as dining at your favourite restaurants. The premise is simple: every time a Foodinate branded meal is bought in a participating restaurant, another meal is donated to those in need. The restaurant agrees to cover the cost of the donated meal, so all the diner has to do is order a meal from the menu that’s been marked with a Foodinate logo. The meals funded by the program are then served by a variety of food-giving charities across the country. Find out why founder Caroline Stevenson, really goes that extra mile.
Hey Caroline, can you just give us a brief overview of who you are and what you do?
Hi! Sure. My name is Caroline, I’m 25 and I’m the founder of Foodinate – a social enterprise teaming-up with restaurants to create a sustainable impact on food poverty in the UK. It’s a simple meal-for-meal program – for every “Foodinate” branded meal enjoyed in a restaurant, we ensure a meal is provided for a local person in need. The best part is that it doesn’t cost the customer anything extra since the restaurant agrees to cover the cost of the donated meal!
We also work with events venues, whereby for every person attending an event at a “Foodinated” venue, we ensure a meal is provided for a person in need.
It was whilst growing up in Manchester that you began to notice just how many people were homeless and without food that you became concerned. Can you talk us through the early development stages of how you began to put the innovative idea together for Foodinate?
I guess the first thing to say is that growing up I always had a million crazy ideas whizzing around in my head, and I’ve always had some sort of enterprising activity on the go ever since I was 5 and going around selling weird “perfumes” I made out of bathroom products to the neighbours! However, I’ve never felt a bigger sense of urgency to get out there and start something new than the times I’d see someone sleeping by the side of the road, going hungry or begging for money and food. Seeing that brings out a physical reaction in me and it always has – I get tensed-up and my brain goes into overdrive.
So, I’ve always been trying to think of a sustainable idea to address the issue in a positive way but the ideas I was coming up with were always so complicated and difficult to implement. However, once I started thinking about how crazy it is that we’re already going out to eat in the UK approximately 1.4 billion times per year, yet all these people are going without food.I simplified my ideas down and came up with the idea for Foodinate – which I believed to be a simple way to link the two sides of the same coin together.
Foodinate has been identified as being a revolutionary solution to tackle food poverty in Britain,what do you feel are still the fundamental contributing factors as to why there is so much food poverty.
Gosh. There are many layers of complexity. Considering we live in the 7th richest country in the whole entire world, yet more than 13 million people are living below the poverty line, I believe there’s a clear argument that the wealth of our country is not being spent in the right places. The last few years have seen big cuts to services that were providing a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable sectors of society, ensuring many of those who were previously “on the borderline” of homelessness have now fallen below that line, meaning one big difference now, as far as the general population is concerned, is that the problem is much more visible.
Additionally, when you consider the increased cost of living, funding cuts for mental health services and the massive affordable housing shortage – it’s really no surprise. This might sound a bit strange but in my ideal world, Foodinate would go out of business because it would mean our service wouldn’t be needed anymore. I can only hope that day comes.
In 2015, the Booth Centre (the homeless centre serving the meals generated by Foodinate in Manchester), had more than 220 people coming each week for both breakfasts and lunches, which was up 30 percent from the year previously, what are the statistics showing to this present day?
Booth Centre currently serves around 750 meals per week – around 460 of which are funded by Foodinate.
You initially launched the pilot study in September 2015, can you talk to us about the trials and tribulations you have encountered so far?
Trying to create something out of nothing is always going to be an uphill battle, particularly if it’s something disruptive and new. The charity sector is a bit of a dinosaur – it’s been doing things a certain way for a long, long time and it’s very slow to move with the times. Foodinate is a great example of how “social enterprise” models can create enormous, scalable social impact by approaching the non-profit world with a different mindset. I believe by not being donation-reliant, and instead creating a commercially-savvy business model that can serve a commercial purpose at the same time as a social purpose, you can achieve far more sustainable – and scalable – social impact.
I’d also say that being a female and a young person adds a couple of extra layers in terms of being underestimated and having to constantly prove yourself. However, that’s also my favourite part – I kind of live for that moment when I’m having a meeting with someone and I see the look in their eyes change – the moment they start to really listen and take me seriously. It’s such a great feeling. I love that.
What has been the most rewarding winning moment for you?
There has been many so it’s hard to pick just one (and I realise that is an amazing problem to have!) I would say winning the Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2015 because it was such an honour so early on. It was right after the pilot study and I was so shocked I think I actually forgot how to walk for a moment when they called me up to the stage! Additionally, I would say the reaction from the general public (we have received hundreds of messages of support and encouragement from people all over the UK), and it’s always extremely rewarding to visit the centres and see and speak to the people receiving the Foodinate meals – it makes the impact we are having that much more real and it’s always a proud moment.
Finally, congratulations on winning the RBS and Entrepreneurial Spark 2016 ‘Boost a Business award, how do you feel that has helped with raising awareness and further exposure to Foodinate?
Thank you! Honestly the way that contest played out from start to finish was an incredibly exciting ride – out of the 5 finalists we won with a massive 67% of the total vote, received over 132 messages of support and encouragement from people all over the UK (a couple even as far as India) and I was flown to Edinburgh for the Scottish Business Awards where I got to meet the lovely Leonardo DiCaprio! We’ve won 9 awards now and with each one, it brings an incredible feeling of honour, pride and of course awareness to the initiative! We have such a supportive community around us and people really want to shout about what we are doing – it’s an amazing feeling.