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Interview with Mireia Barba, founder of Espigoladors

Espigoladors has developed a production model
that brings together and addresses three current social needs: food waste; lack of access to wholesome, healthy and nutritious food for groups at risk of social exclusion, and the lack of opportunities available to these groups. Our aim is to create a social enterprise that upholds the dignity of people and raises awareness and understanding among the general public of the topical issue of food waste.
In Spain, 7.7 tons of food are thrown away every year that could have been eaten or put to other uses. At the same time, 27% of the Spanish population are at risk of poverty and some 50% of young people are unemployed.
These shocking statistics prompted us to find a solution: why can’t young people at risk of social exclusion provide opportunities for ugly and imperfect fruit and vegetables and vice versa, why can’t our imperfect fruit and vegetables provide these young people with opportunities? Our business model is based on collecting fruit and vegetables that are rejected for a variety of reasons, including a decrease in sales or because they do not meet the strict criteria in terms of specific form and colour. Between 90 and 95% of the produce is passed to social organisations to promote healthy eating among groups at risk, and 10% is transformed into high quality preserves that are sold under the brand name És Im-perfect.
The creation of a brand of food products – És Im-perfect – is a real business opportunity, being the first brand of preserves that makes and sells high quality products from imperfect produce. It does so in collaboration with groups at risk of social exclusion amb la col·laboració de col·lectius en risc d’exclusió social, and, additionally, they are endorsed by the famous chef Ada Parellada.
Our social enterprise aims to influence different parts and agents of the food chain. Firstly, companies and the primary sector as we collect the fruit and vegetables that are rejected and therefore reduce the level of food waste in these sectors. We also want to have an impact on the end consumer. The consumer is the final link in the chain and has the power to change consumer habits and trends. Through buying our products, consumers also think critically about the topical issue of food waste and, i, at the same time, eat in a healthy and sustainable way.
We compete under the same conditions as a social enterprise, not just in terms of price, but also with regard to design, quality and delivery times. We follow a “craft” business model which means our team may be slower in terms of production,
and we also have a further handicap: we collect fruit and vegetables that have been discarded and are therefore not able to guarantee consistency in terms of product type. The market demands fast turnaround times and consistent products. We offer quality products, like traditional companies, but unlike these companies, we also offer added value in terms of the social and environmental impact. We believe traditional companies should adopt a more flexible approach when working with social enterprises like ours.
Although financial profit is necessary and essential, it is not our objective. Instead it is simply the means of achieving our social mission which is to fight food waste, and of carrying out our activity and ensuring a sustainable business model. We work to earn as much profit as possible but, unlike a traditional company, profits are not divided up among the partners but instead reinvested to increase the company’s social and environmental impact.
I don’t think it is necessary to rely on public funding or subsidies but it is necessary to get things started, and up until the business model becomes self-sustainable. What is necessary, however, is greater involvement and support from public authorities as it is clear that we are generating a social and environmental positive impact in the areas we work in.
in the end, it is a social movement against food waste. We connect people to fields that are only 10 kilometres from Barcelona – places few people even knew existed – so it raises awareness of a local primary sector and, at the same time, through these activities and through buying our products, , people realise that a lot of food is wasted that could have been eaten and that it should be used rather than being thrown away.
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