Wonky Box – an object lesson in how a good business idea can bear fruit (literally) to the benefit of growers, customers and the environment.
The beauty of a good business idea like Wonky Box – one that opens a door that seemed permanently closed – is its simplicity.
So says Tom Williams, Head of Sustainable Finance at Kiwibank, whose championing of Wonky Box’s clever commercial use of fruit and vegetables, rejected by supermarkets or which would otherwise have gone to waste, is a classic illustration of the sort of work banks should be doing in backing business ideas benefitting people and the environment.
Started by Wellingtonian Angus Simms and his British partner Katie Jackson in 2021, Wonky Box’s unloved fruit and veg, rescued from waste and delivered to doorsteps, has proven a hit with customers and growers alike. To date, Simms estimates the company has rescued around 1.9 million kg of produce from going to waste, with growers unable to find a buyer, and calls the produce mountain they have saved and sold on “the equivalent of 15 blue whales”.
Williams says Kiwibank was instantly struck by the simple beauty of the idea to buy wasted food of perfectly good nutritional value and sell it to consumers. “New Zealand has abundant resources, plenty of food, whether that be primary or other production – but as a country we are not necessarily smart with how we use it, a common thing across all sectors and industries.”
Supermarkets commonly refuse fruit and vegetables with blemishes, scarring or which simply don’t look right – but which still have undeniable nutritional value. If growers can’t sell it, it goes to waste.
“Angus, Katie and their team have taken something that already exists – and jumped into a market with all this perfectly good produce. They’ve highlighted a clear failure of the market. I mean, it’s obvious, why throw away something of value, not just in a financial sense, but from a nutritional perspective?
“There’s a lot of talk about the need to reduce food waste and hunger. Well, here it is. It’s a triple win – for the growers who would previously have got nothing for their wasted produce; for customers who get perfectly good fruit and veg cheaper in these days of a cost-of-living crisis; and it’s a win for the environment because they’re saving produce that would otherwise rot. Wonky Box were ready to pounce and fix things and that was and is a huge opportunity.”
The bank’s role, Williams says, is to make it easy for them to do business: “Our role should be about making it easier as opposed to making it harder. That’s something you look for, rather than looking for reasons to say no – especially with new businesses and small businesses where it is hardest to prove to a bank why we should give you anything. But we don't look for reasons to say no. We say ‘yes’.”
The simple ingenuity of Wonky Box’s idea can be seen when Simms analyses the huge amount of food waste here: “In Australia, it’s estimated around 30 per cent of produce never leaves the farm and it’s reasonable to expect it’s much the same here. Rescuing produce that’s too big, too small, too ugly, an odd shape or simply surplus to requirements is a win for customers who get cheaper fruit and veg, which is great in this economic climate. It’s also a saving for growers who get paid for produce that wouldn’t normally make it to market.”
Wonky Box began after Simms and Jackson returned from an eight-year OE where Simms worked in London’s Fintech sector helping small and medium businesses grow. The couple spent a summer picking fruit and hops in Nelson but, after a freak hailstorm, Simms saw growers left with produce they couldn’t sell due to minor blemishes. “It seemed crazy that supermarkets could reject fruit with tiny blemishes or scarring,” says Simms.
Spotting the gap in the market, during New Zealand’s second lockdown in 2021 the couple contacted Levin market gardens – who usually sell their produce at Wellington and Lower Hutt weekend markets. “They couldn’t sell their produce because of lockdown, so we boxed it up and started selling it, initially to friends and family and then via social media.”
However, someone else needed to recognise that opportunity to help the business grow. Simms admits that having the backing of Kiwibank from day one has been a key factor in their success. “When we started, we rang every bank to talk about what we were doing and Kiwibank was the only one that bothered to call us back. They seemed genuinely interested in our idea and were keen to support us all the way.”
Fast forward two years and Wonky Box now employs around 40 staff at its distribution centres in Wellington, Auckland and, from early January, Christchurch. Customers can choose between three sizes of box which contain a range of vegetables and fruit from local growers that can be ordered weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
Simms says Kiwibank’s onboarding process – of getting transactional factors such as payroll, supplier and customer payment systems organised - was seamless: “Kiwibank’s app is also super-user-friendly, allowing us to check our balances, pay bills and transfer money when we need to.”
Joanna Greaves, Kiwibank’s GM Business Banking, says it was an easy ‘yes’ to partner with Wonky Box.
“Our purpose is Kiwi helping Kiwi be better off. What I specifically loved about Angus and Katie was that they identified an opportunity that aligned with their passion for reducing food waste, then wrapped that opportunity in energy, enthusiasm and expertise.”
In addition to her GM role, Greaves also runs a pasture-raised egg business with her husband and four children on their Manawatu lifestyle block, so understands how hard it is to get a small business off the ground: “Along with a great idea and passion, Angus and Katie also have grit and resilience which, in my experience, is what underpins success. Kiwibank was proud to partner with them to provide the transactional services that allow them to manage their subscriptions and to make and receive payments easily and securely.
“That frees them up to spend their time and energy on things that matter to them, such as supporting growers and fighting food waste.”
Having a seamless transactional service also allows the couple to understand how their business is performing. “This enables them to track and categorise their expenses, understand those trends and monitor financial performance. That allows them flexibility and the convenience to conduct business activity anywhere at any time. So if they’re out in a paddock with growers or on the road, they can monitor their business activity and conduct business from anywhere.”
As Wonky Box expands, so too will Kiwibank’s support, Greaves says. “We will be here to support them on the next stage of their journey of growth.
“Supporting Kiwi business to enhance the prosperity of New Zealanders is what gets us out of bed every morning.”
Watch the full episode in Kiwibank's series, Business for Better, and learn more about how Wonky Box is leading the way in how they do business for better kiwibank.co.nz/businessforbetter.
This article was proudly brought to you by Kiwibank, who believe sustainability and profitability go hand-in-hand when creating a future-proof business. That's why Kiwibank support Kiwi businesses making a positive impact on the environment, their customers and their employees. This is business banking for better #ThisisKiwi.