From Cradle to Cradle to Cradle to…..

This is a remarkable success story with an unexpected start but a sustainable outcome.

When I first saw this story, I was struck by how brilliant the business approach was in its simplicity and how it helped to minimise waste. Yet, it seemed like the Dragon’s Den television panel did not fully appreciate the possible consumer audience, the contributions to sustainability and minimizing waste, and the potential “profitability.” In some ways, it also seems as if there’s a question of whether it was “sufficiently” profitable enough to be of interest to the Dragon’s Den.

Basically, this entrepreneur recognised there was a market for goods that had gone past their “expiry date.” In this context, he explains that there are two separate “expiry dates” in that there are: (1) the “best before” date which means that the food will be at its optimum before that date and acts as a guide to the quality; and (2) the “use by” date which is concerned with the safety aspect (e.g., the “use by” date that means food has to be eaten by then or it could make one ill, which is the case with fish and meat, for example). Many food businesses will not sell items beyond their “best before” date, so they try to quickly discount and rid themselves of these products before the “best before” date passes. Once this date passes, the product “ends” or is discarded for the purposes of these “fresh food” businesses. Their website states that “we only trade in products that have a ‘Best Before’ date which is quite literally the manufacturers estimate that the premium quality of its product may start to deteriorate. We do not sell chilled or frozen “Use By” products.”

For this entrepreneurs’ business “Approved Food,” these products are actually the beginning of a new life cycle for these products, such as From Cradle to Cradle. Approved Food has been a hit online by selling these products which are considered “waste” of regular markets. So basically, the waste of regular markets are actually the lifeblood or starting materials of Approved Food. It is essentially the same product, but the distinction might be based on freshness. Thus, early life of the product could be a “fresh food” product designation and later in its life it is a “less fresh” food product. Approved Food’s products “start” once the “best before” expiry dates are close or have passed.

Whilst the article talks about their consumer audience being “food-thrifty mums” and “other savvy shoppers,” the key was to launch this business as an online business to broaden the consumer audience from the local regions. This entrepreneur recognized that products he had access to were not of interest to a local region of Doncaster, but would have appeal to regions outside of the local region. By operating online, he brought the product to a consumer audience that would buy the products.

I applaud this business for recognizing this opportunity and for minimizing what would otherwise be wasted. But if “other savvy shoppers” includes charitable kitchens that are providing free food to the poor and homeless, I am actually a bit torn. Charitable kitchens would normally receive donated foods for free directly from the “fresh food” business, yet Approved Food could intercalate another layer between charitable kitchens and fresh food businesses. However, there appears to be a distinction. Approved Food appears to recognise its limitations and states “’We don’t touch food that has a limited shelf life such as fresh chicken and fresh fish, but we do sell hardy vegetables.” Therefore, “fresh foods” that are quickly perishable and may be discounted at the end of the day still appear to remain the province of the charitable kitchen.

Yet, after reviewing their website at, it appears that they carry a vast array of products. They state:

“Approved Food is the largest online retailer of short dated and residual stock food and drinks. We want to be more than just an online retailer, we want to be as synonymous to online grocery as Google is to search and Facebook is to social networking. The majority of our stock is short-dated or past its best before date we are able to buy in large quantities and pass considerable savings on to our customers….”

It appears that an interesting sufficiently profitable enterprise grew from recognizing that one organisation’s discards or waste could be used to start a new market. Now if they could only find a beneficial use for foods which go beyond their “use by”…perhaps as compost or other fertilizer? They say one person’s ceiling is another person’s floor, so who knows what other new enterprise might possibly arise from one person’s “waste”?

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