Say no to waste. Serve a vegetable dip!

Globally, a third of all food is thrown away. 45% of fruit and vegetables end up in the bin. Food waste… for Helena Gheeraert, an alumnus of our Masters in General Management, it sounds as appealing as fingernails being scraped across a chalkboard. Demonstrations, petitions or strong opinion pieces? No, that's not enough to make a difference. Helena actually wanted to roll up her sleeves and get stuck in. The result: Wonky, a range of delicious and healthy dips made of vegetables which would otherwise be thrown away. Killing two birds with one stone, as it were: less food is wasted and it makes healthy snacking a lot easier too.

Helena Gheeraert - Wonky
Helena Gheeraert (second from the right)

Major problem

Making the world a better place starts with yourself: consumers are responsible for the majority of waste these days. We buy too much, prepare excessively large portions, and interpret sell-by dates incorrectly. As a result, we are responsible for 42% of all food waste. At 39%, producers are questionably in second place. Consumers can do a great deal to avoid waste, says Helena: “Buy a little less, don't throw leftovers away (eat them instead), turn broccoli stems into soup etc. Food waste in the production chain, on the other hand, is less visible and harder to tackle. So this is what Wonky focuses on.”

The name Wonky was not chosen at random: “Vegetables which don't satisfy certain aesthetic criteria, such as yellow peppers with dark spots, never make it onto the shelves. And cubed carrots which aren't precisely the right dimensions won't make it into a pack of frozen vegetables. Apart from that, they are perfectly delicious and healthy. Surely it's a terrible pity to let them go to waste?”

Scratching the itch

Although Helena studied language and literature, she already felt an itch at that time. “Corporate life, something in management, seemed more my kind of thing.” She therefore completed a Masters in General Management and then started working for Proximus as a management trainee. But the itch still needed scratching. “I wanted to see results more quickly, be in the driving seat myself and above all have a greater social impact.” She made the decision to leave two years later and set up Wonky in October 2016.

Flying start

Her driving force was the desire to give vegetables which would otherwise be thrown away a second chance. There is also an increasing demand for healthy snacks, so she came up with the idea of making vegetable dips. “I started out by looking for vegetable suppliers. It goes without saying that you need a steady supply – you can't have 100 kilos of carrots one week and absolutely nothing the week after. And then you automatically end up with processing and packaging companies.” Although Helena started experimenting with all kinds of recipes in her own kitchen, she soon joined forces with a proper producer. The first two dips were launched in December 2016 and barely one year later, she was already supplying 50 delicatessens in the Ghent area and several caterers, including the biggest in Belgium. 

Lion's den

But there was still more potential in Wonky, and Helena wanted the opportunity to grow. When the producers of De Leeuwenkuil (Lion's Den – based on the British show Dragons’ Den and broadcast on channel Vier) invited her to take part, she still had a few doubts. “But Wonky is an excellent B2C brand, so the show was a great opportunity to make the dips known to a wider audience. And of course I wanted to know what five experienced entrepreneurs thought of my business model.” 

So she did take part. In a three-minute pitch, she had to convince a panel of five experts to invest in Wonky. She was asking for 80,000 euro in exchange for 5% of the shares. Three of the five ‘lions’ took the bait and offered her no less than 300,000 euro for 37.5% of the shares. An offer you can’t refuse.

Retail breakthrough

Helena looks back fondly at the experience: “It was great to take part. I learned so much and gained plenty of valuable tips.” And the show clearly also made her think. One of the lions advised her to start selling the Wonky dips in supermarkets too. During the recordings she didn't think this was such a great idea, but today you can buy the dips in Colruyt and Spar all over Belgium. So what happened?

“I realised it would be much more efficient to ‘rescue’ vegetables on a larger scale through the supermarkets,” responds Helena. “Instead of joining forces with the lions, I opted for much closer collaboration with one of my producers who has good contacts with supermarkets all over Europe. That's how we got a foot in the retail door.”

Confidence

Wonky has made impressive progress in just a short time. In Helena's opinion, the Masters in General Management helped her in all kinds of ways. “During that year, I learned everything I know about business models, financial planning, starting and running a business, project management etc.”

It's hard to say whether it would have failed without the Masters. “It would certainly have taken a lot longer. And perhaps I wouldn't have had the courage to do it in the first place. The Masters gave me the confidence I needed.”

Heading for six tons and… abroad

In the beginning, Helena did everything herself. These days, she has contracted out the operational side of the business and focuses only on the marketing, storytelling and communication. “It's what I'm best at and I really enjoy it. It's the ideal situation,”, she beams.

More than five tons of vegetables have already been saved. You can track the counter on the website . The pepper and carrot dips are selling well and there are another two in the pipeline. Together with her production partner, Helena is also planning to launch Wonky abroad: in the Netherlands, France and Scandinavia. After all, there are still plenty of vegetables to be saved!

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