Ariane Nikpur, who is part of the On Purpose London team, met with Sophie Andre, a social enterprise caterer in London.
Sophie Andre set up Elysia in 2016 and since then has been catering quality artisan food made out of British surplus ingredients. She works with 25 producers who supply her with produce that is not fit for the market. Sophie transforms this food into delicious breakfast or canapés and delivers it to offices and events across London on a bicycle.
I met Sophie at the Impact Hub Islington, where she is based when she is not busy preparing her food or catering at a venue. She has catered for two of our On Purpose events before and I wanted to find out what led her to set up her social enterprise, what she loves about her work and the ambitions she has for her business.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Sophie, I am French and arrived in London in 2016. I studied Economics in the UK and then lived in the USA, Senegal and France where I worked in start-ups. Elysia is my first own social venture, which I set up here in London in 2016.
Tell us about Elysia.
Elysia is a food social start-up. We make breakfasts, lunches and canapés with local artisan food surplus. For instance, we rescue pears that don’t fit the conventional standards of beauty, organic granola discarded due to overproduction, British cheese that was sampled during the maturing process and many more local produces. We cater for small and large events and deliver by bicycle all around London.
Why did you set up Elysia?
When I arrived in London I had the chance to meet with many entrepreneurs and food producers. I visited farms, cheesemongers, bakers etc., learnt about the food production process and the importance of natural and handmade food for our health and the planet.
I also had the chance to learn about surplus food. Surplus can happen for many reasons — it can be due to the shape/colour of the produce or slight imperfections that do not fit the conventional standard of beauty. It can also result from “unfair trading practice” which happens when a client cancels part of their order a few weeks before harvest for instance. It is then difficult for producers to quickly find a secondary market. Other reasons can be overproduction, past best before date product, damaged packaging…
With this experience and learning, I understood there were market inefficiencies causing wastage of delicious and completely edible food. I wanted to create a win-win situation for the producers, the clients and the environment — the idea of buying natural surplus food at a discounted price from the producers to transform it and sell it back at an affordable price was born.
What do you love about your job?
I love to meet so many different people, who are also interested in food and especially in food sustainability. I also like to build lasting relationship with my producers and to delivery high quality and healthy food to my clients. My days are also very varied — either I prepare food and cater in the mornings and evenings, meet producers or potential clients or I am at my desk at Impact Hub Islington. So every day is different and that’s what I love.
Surprisingly, the business side of everything is where my passion lies, and I am not a cook, so have sought mentorship to help and advise me on this side of the business. I was lucky to be mentored by Emily Roux, who is a successful chef in London and whose grandfather set up the first French restaurant in London. She is advising me on the recipes and always happy to jump on a call.
What is your vision for Elysia and where do you see your business in 5 years?
10 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK and 60% is avoidable and could be eaten. There is a lot of work to do!
I believe there is the potential to grow the company to a much larger scale and my ambition is to do so within the next two years by joining forces with other food professionals.
One route to develop the business is to work with restaurants, cafes and other catering companies and supply them with artisanal surplus food. We look forward to working with them on reducing food waste, and are launching a pilot project this spring.
Our mission within five years is to increase awareness about artisanal food, natural produce and surplus to an international audience (UK and Canada).
What has been your biggest challenge until now?
When I arrived in London and started working on the project, I had a lot of uncertainties and doubts on the route to take. I did not know the food industry and had never started my own company before — it can be quite daunting to start a business while having to cover living costs in London. However, this situation also encourages you to find solutions quickly! I had the chance to meet people who have the experience in the food industry and were happy to share their knowledge. It gave me confidence to approach suppliers, clients and get the business started.
What is the most important lesson you learned since setting up Elysia?
Quality is everything — customers can buy once for the mission of company which is reducing food waste and supporting local producers. However I strongly believe that a client will come back and recommend the business thanks to the quality of the food and an excellent customer service. We want to give to our partners, clients and their guests the best experience possible with food and develop a genuine relationship, which is something I usually find quite rare.
We are making decisions for the business from the way we work with our producers to the delivery service by always keeping this value in mind.
Elysia caters for breakfast and evening events and delivers their food to your venue on a bicycle. You can order your food online, or contact Sophie Andre at email@example.com or 07425 280 958.