From the food they eat to the clothes they buy, wellness-centric consumers are thinking more about the environmental impact of their decisions than ever before. Among the brands helping them do this is Karma, an app that connects individuals with surplus food from restaurants, cafes and grocery stores to enjoy at half the regular price.
We spoke to co-founder Elsa Bernadotte about the business' journey from a spark of an idea to over one million users.
What is Karma's mission statement?
Our mission at Karma is super clear: we want to eliminate food waste throughout the food chain.
Over a third of all food globally ends up in the bin, contributing to 8% of greenhouse gases. It can feel like an overwhelming crisis, but at Karma we believe that no matter how small each action is, the collective impact can be huge in driving change.
That’s why we created the company. To make it easier for people to protect the planet on an individual level. Our retailers can reduce their waste by uploading food that would otherwise end up in the bin, and our customers can eat in a way that is planet-positive while saving money.
What inspired the concept of your brand?
The four of us knew we wanted to use our technical skills and entrepreneurial backgrounds to build something that could have a positive impact on humanity.
Once we realised just how big of an issue food waste actually is, and that no one was really solving it on a global scale - that became our mission.
For us, Karma is about succeeding by doing good. Cause and effect. We chose the chameleon as our logo to represent adaptability and in extension a change in mindset for how we consume food. Once upon a time, great cooking was born out of being creative enough to make something delicious with the resources at hand, a mindset that we seem to have forgotten along the way of unlimited choices. This is what Karma is about - taking better use of and adapting to the food resources available and making sure that food produced is food consumed.
Tell us about the moment you knew your business had the power to change lives?
I knew Karma could really make a difference when we hit our first 1M users. It was a huge moment for us and proved that together we can create real change in society.
In February this year, we have rescued 900 tonnes of edible food from landfill and in doing so reduced CO2 levels caused by food waste by 1,300 tonnes. We couldn’t have done this by ourselves. It relies on our partners and our customers coming together to change behaviour for the better. We are so proud of what we have achieved so far, even though we know there is still a long way to go.
What has been the greatest innovation within your sector in the past five years?
After Karma, you mean? Well, I think the biggest ongoing innovation in the food sector has to be the move towards plant-based products. It has exploded across the UK, and has opened the doors for so many more people to consider a diet that reduces or eliminates meat completely.
Recently, I have become vegetarian in response to the environmental crisis - but I have been hugely inspired by the delicious and creative options that don’t compromise on my chosen diet.
How has wellness become a way of life for your consumers?
For many of our customers, Karma is a way to consciously purchase in a way that is positive for the planet. I think it is all part of a growing awareness of how our consumption affects how we feel, and the world around us.
We have seen a growing trend towards consumers spending with companies and brands that align with their values. That’s why we are always looking to work with partners who are looking at innovative and exciting ways to be sustainable. Our biggest partner in London, Coco Di Mama, for example - have just recently banned all plastic bottles from their stores. Those are the companies that are thinking differently, and leading the way.
What is your mantra in life?
I’m a very reflective person, so I am constantly thinking about how to improve myself and be a role model for the company. If I had to pick one mantra though, I think it would be, life begins where your comfort zone ends.
It’s how we started Karma, and how society will move forward in response to new challenges. It keeps me on the edge of my seat and makes me excited for the future!
Do you think there is a responsibility for brands to use business as a force for good?
I believe that the power of change is in rethinking how the world does business. Big corporations move slowly, we all know this. But what about nimble start ups? What if instead of just focusing on profit, they focused on impact and profit?
Virtual economies and the marketplace model is one answer for this. Pool together the supply, and bring it to the demand in a simple functional way. Profitable and rewarding.
That’s where Karma comes in, and what inspired us to think differently about the problem of food waste.
What do you know now about running your business that you wish you had known at the start?
For all entrepreneurs, I think there is always going to be unknowns and things that you have to learn along the way. That’s what keeps things interesting, and what forces you to look at challenges in creative ways.
That being said, I really do wish I had known that things always take twice as long and cost three times as much as you think they will. As a tech company, we are always looking for ways to be faster and more efficient than we have been before… but to know in advance that some things take time would have helped us to plan in advance!
What do you think is the next big thing in the world of wellness?
I think the next big thing will be the democratisation of health data, and with that the growth of wearables for managing specific health issues. It’s incredibly exciting to see the start of advances towards wearables for epidermal glucose measurements which would have huge benefits for those suffering with diabetes.
As the market for wearables grows, from the mainstream Fitbit to actual FDA approved medical devices - I think tech is on the brink of completely disrupting the healthcare industry. In fact, some market reports are suggesting that medical wearables will be a $12.1 billion market by 2021, so expect to see some huge innovations in the near future.
What are you most excited to discover at this year's Balance Festival?
It’s such a pleasure to be returning to Balance Festival for the second time in 2020. Last year, we had the chance to meet so many new people and spread the word about Karma, as we had just launched in the UK. This year, the team is excited to meet many more like-minded people and to be inspired by other companies doing brilliant things.