IWNG Sustainable Businesses in Rotterdam series is continuing with an interview about SavFood. One of the buzzwords when it comes to sustainability is circular economy. In businesses, economies, and product design, the approach is changing from conventional to circular.
SavFood has 2 co-founders and their ambition is to fight food waste. Sarah Ashraf candidly spoke about how her passion for community health, circularity and sustainability translates into a value adding business idea.
The interview is lightly edited for clarity and context.
Ahmer and Sarah Ashraf founded SavFood because they are concerned about the way food is wasted at all levels. To make the world a better place, their central idea is to reduce the amount of food that is wasted.
This translated into new and innovative products from excess produce, potential waste and residual flows from the food processing industry. “We have prior experience of working with dehydration techniques to formulate food products such as vegetable powders, enhanced drink formulations as well as nutrient rich supplement from fresh produce,” said Sarah.
They have already reached one milestone in their combat against the waste of food by introducing their first product ‘Prumbs’. It is an entirely circular alternative to breadcrumbs made from rescued potato peels.
‘We are talking to various funding agencies for subsidies and grants. We would like to focus on coming up with new formulations that can be disruptive as well as solve the problem of excessive amounts of food waste,” says Sarah. ” One of our main goals would be to create partnerships and reach visibility as a circular economy business. We can do this by learning from other successful startups in the same area.”
Choosing the Netherlands as the location to start up their business therefore might not come as a surprise anymore. According to Sarah, the country as a whole is a hub for innovation, and Rotterdam in particular is the food capital of the world. “Furthermore, there is a great focus from the policymakers on supporting a circular economy. In our opinion it is imperative that a lot of support is given to startups that are trying to solve social problems, so they continue to research and come up with innovative solutions, and thankfully we have found that here in the Netherlands.”
An Interview with Sarah from SavFood
Sarah had a lot to say about starting a sustainably-minded food company as an expat in the Netherlands. You can learn more about Sarah’s work on the SavFood website!
Congratulations on your projects and achievements. From the listed projects on your website, which one is the most exciting and impactful one? Could you please elaborate further on its meaning for you?
When we created a natural food supplement from the excess produce that goes to waste locally in Pakistan, that was a very exciting project. Ahmer has worked on micro-nutrient supplementation brands and I helped with the drinks fortification. It was very exciting for both of us to save produce and use it to meet the micro-nutrient requirements in the local population. Although, we did not go far with a wide implementation of this project we learnt a great deal from it.
In the Netherlands, we were very happy to focus on the stream of potato peels. As we know it is a very large waste stream and often ends up in very low value usage. So, ”Prumbs” as a result ended up being the first minimum viable product (MVP) that we created.
It is a great way to utilize the peels if we treat them and produce them as a food coating much like breadcrumbs, but with the added value of it being dietary fiber-rich and gluten-free. We ended up getting a lot of good feedback from the market and went ahead with further fine-tuning our product samples.
We are now in the lab and experimenting with other uses of potato peels as well as looking at other waste streams which is very, very exciting!
What are the partnership opportunities you get in The Netherlands?
We were very lucky to have found a supplier of potato peels who is located in Rotterdam, the city we are based in. In addition to being a supplier, the processor also committed to help us in finding solutions and supported our idea so it was a win win for both of us.
We got a lot of businesses to try our product, such as De Krekerij and Falafval – both of which are located in Rotterdam and are startups. That was very encouraging. We also got bigger companies interested in trying our product so that was a very good for building initial traction.
Apart from this, we got The Hague University of Applied Sciences to partner with us for internship opportunities in our startup. We were able to get some really highly qualified advisors for our board.
And most of all, we were embraced by the City of Rotterdam as we were one of the winners of the CityLab010 competition. That not only validated our idea, but also played a huge role in strengthening our faith that circular businesses and ideas get a lot of support.
So, in short, I think it was a combination of luck and what the Netherlands has to offer. There is a lot of innovation happening in the country. Rotterdam is the food capital of the world and that makes it easier for us to find a lot of opportunities!
Will you also partner with other countries and to apply the same idea for their local waste?
We would love to. It will actually be a dream come true for us if we are able to implement this across multiple countries. We would like to create value there as well by sharing our knowledge and experience.
Our main goal remains to reduce all kinds of food waste, not just from an environmental and value perspective but also from a human perspective. We want to work on programs that benefit people and reduce hunger in the world. If we are able to do that in any way we can, it will be our greatest achievement.
How did Covid-19 impact your business and maybe help to evolve your business?
Food and e-commerce are two industries that have not been impacted as much as the other industries. But to say it did not impact us would be an understatement.
At the very initial stage of our business development that we are in, it did impact us a great deal. We were unable to work, to go out, to get customers, basically, and to do anything in order to move forward. There were several other ideas related to food that we wanted to work on to support ourselves during our product development. However; we were unable to carry them out.
So yes, the impact was great on starting our company. We had to change our plans, rethink how to continue working, and obviously use up our savings and look for support to sustain ourselves.
What is the biggest challenge in your journey as SavFood?
We have the same set of challenges that any other start-up faces, coupled with a new country, a new environment and other fears and anxieties entrepreneurs go through. Our biggest challenge, however, is how to protect our ideas while talking to partners and how to find the right partners, such as for product development and processing.
How IWNG Can Help SavFood Thrive
As an organization that wants to help female entrepreneurs in Rotterdam. We understand the power of networking when it comes to building a successful business. So we also asked Sarah how our members can support SavFood:
“We are looking to network with organisations that understand our journey and can offer support in any way. As a female entrepreneur, things can be more difficult for you. If there are members in the network who believe in our idea or our mission and can offer any kind of help, guidance, we will be open to that.”
“Also, I think if we can get an opportunity to work with the members just for feedback on our products that would be great. We can see how we can leverage that platform for our other product ideas that we wish to develop. New products from food waste should have a great audience with the network!”
Want to help Sarah develop her products? Get in touch with her!