Snact: How A Fruit Jerky Company Confronts the Uncomfortable Truth of Food Waste in the UK
One of the many rules in the guidebook of supermarkets is that vegetables or fruits that have passed the ideal shelf life or do not fit into the aesthetic criteria will be discarded straight to the landfill. These misfits are actually perfectly edible food and the only problem is that they are either “too ripe” or don’t look pretty enough to be sold. Such is the reality where one-third of the food we grow in the world are wasted due to complexities in our global food system. “Farmers will always grow a bit more food because they need to make sure they can supply their order and growing food isn’t a perfect science. There are always messed ups and reasons why food are wasted, such as things get damaged in packaging”, said Ilana Taub, co-founder of Snact.
Brewing Up A Storm
In Britain, the problem of food poverty is vast while 5 million people live in hunger. Yet, about 15 tonnes of food are wasted in the UK everyday. Seeing the problem of food waste, Ilana and her long-time friend Michael Minch-Dixon decided to act on the failure of food system together and Snact was launched in 2013 in Brixon, London. “Neither of us had any experience in the food business. We came from a sustainability background that focused on environmental and social issues, Mike was working in renewable energy and I was working in sustainable finance. We’ve been friends for a very long time and we came to this point where we wanted to start our own business. Our interest is in food sustainability, in particular of food waste. So we started from there — what can we do about food waste and where can we start?”
So What‘s Fruit Jerky?
The duo source surplus fruit in wholesale markets and uses them to produce healthy fruit snacks, which are known as “fruit jerky”. “We first started selling Snact at local food markets such as Bit Beyond market in Spitalfields and Lower Marsh. Lots of people came up to our stall and thought our snacks were beef jerky! So we decided to call it fruit jerky instead. It’s not a usual thing that everyone usually would try as they don’t know what to expect, but most people are pleasantly surprised after tasting our products.” The jerky is similar to a British candy called Fruit Roll-Up, except it’s made with 100% real fruits, no preservatives and sugar-free. “The fruits are blended, dehydrated and cut into thin slices. They’re more like crisps and what makes it fun to munch on is that there are a lot more flavors than you would expect. It tastes really close to the actual fruit and your first bite might taste of apple while the other tastes of raspberry.”
Food Business v.s. Parenting
On her blog where she documents her journey as a food entrepreneur and food waste guru, Ilana compared the similarities between starting a business and the “traditional ups and downs of parenting”. There were little sleeps — countless nights of staying up late reading “all things related to food manufacturing” and waking up at 5:30 in the morning just to go to the market to get surplus fruit. Going out became a luxury, partly because of a crazy packed schedule and partly because whatever profit you make would go straight back to investing in order to grow the business. During our Skype chat, Ilana told me about the difficulties of running Snact in its infant phase without any experience in the food industry. “Everything was a challenge. We had no idea how to do it and we learned things as we went along, such as renting a commercial kitchen and sourcing all by ourselves. There are a lot of fucked ups; especially while cooking at home and making a product that you can sell is not the same thing. So there are lots of trials and errors improvising things on the spot.”
One of the many trials was experimenting with making different kinds of fruit jerky such as papaya and citrus fruits. While papaya gives a perfect texture as jerky, the smell is described as repugnant as “cheesy feet or vomit”. Citrus fruits are also not ideal for making fruit jerky because the texture is too liquidy. “We spent a lot of time figuring out which fruits go well together. It’s all about balance and getting the right texture.” Ilana also mentioned how grateful she is with the immense support and help she received from fellows in the food industry. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is to keep talking to everyone who have worked in the food industry, people who have just started their business recently or those who have been in the industry for 20 years.”
High Hopes For the Future
Snact’s Fruit Jerky currently comes in two flavors: Apple Raspberry and Apple Mango. “We did a lot more flavors when we were doing production in a commercial kitchen in Hackney. The fruit jerky was based on whatever flavors of fruits that we could get at the markets on that day. Now that we’ve started outsourcing and manufacturing, we’re making bigger batches but with fewer types of fruits.” Snact recently just got their first big batch delivered (20,000 packs of delicious fruit jerky!) and over this year, Ilana and Michael are planning to bring out a few more flavors when the time is right. Using food as a powerful tool to drive change, the next goal of Snact would be employing people affected by food poverty as their business expands. As Ilana says, it‘s about “lots of little actions coming together to create something much bigger“. We can hardly wait to see more of Snact’s initiatives in the coming future.