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Angus and Katie from Wonky Box (Design: Tina Tiller)
Angus and Katie from Wonky Box (Design: Tina Tiller)

KaiFebruary 22, 2024

How Wonky Box rescued over two million kilograms of imperfect produce

Angus and Katie from Wonky Box (Design: Tina Tiller)
Angus and Katie from Wonky Box (Design: Tina Tiller)

Alex Casey talks to Wonky Box co-founder Angus Simms and supplier Boyd Warren about finding the beauty in imperfect fruit and veg. 

It all started with a campervan and an empty bank account. Angus Simms and Katie Jackson were travelling around the South Island, both recent Covid returnees from the UK, when they ran out of money. Picking up some seasonal work harvesting hops in Nelson, they were shocked to discover just how many thousands of tonnes of produce were being discarded because of both unfair beauty standards and impractical logistics. 

While there is no local research on produce waste available, Simms draws from Australian data as a point of comparison. “Around 30% of produce that’s grown over there never even leaves the farm, due to cosmetic reasons or harvest surplus,” he explains. A resource on Love Food Hate Waste reports that as much as 350,000 tonnes of food by-products are going waste in Aotearoa, and that 12% of this (or 42,000 tonnes) is avoidable. 

After discovering the scale of produce waste, the pair began knocking on the doors of growers and using that same van to pick up unloved produce and assembling them into curated boxes of nutritious, yet wonky, fruit and vegetables around the Wellington region. Three years later, Wonky Box has fulfilment warehouses in three locations around the country, and has diverted over two million kilograms of fruit and vegetables from becoming waste. 

With the cost of living and the climate crisis bearing down on New Zealanders, Simms says that the growth of Wonky Box reflects our changing values – it’s no coincidence that Countdown promised a permanent discount on their Odd Bunch produce just last year. “I think Kiwi households now have a real desire to reduce waste, save a bit of money and probably eat a bit more healthy,” he says. “There’s a bit of mystery behind it too – all we can promise is that you’re going to get value.”

The enthusiasm for Wonky Box has most recently seen them expand into the South Island, opening a fulfilment centre in Christchurch at the start of 2024. Apart from those living rurally, the entire South Island can now too receive a small, medium or large selection of imperfect fruit and vegetables to their door every week. Although the contents of the box changes depending on supply, customers can expect a heads up two days before delivery to get their meal planning sorted. 

“It’s so good to be finally up and running,” says Simms. “There’s just been such a positive vibe about getting to suppliers and customers down there.” 

One of those southern suppliers to Wonky Box is Nova Trust, a residential programme that provides recovery and treatment services to people suffering from addiction. For the last 20 years, the Nova Trust rehabilitation centre has been based on a farm in Templeton, allowing for the whai ora (people seeking wellness) to spend several hours every day tending to field crops including beetroot and pumpkin, and indoor crops such as chillies and cucumbers. 

Some Wonky veg from Nova Trust (Photos: Supplied)

“It helps them get back into real world routines, work together on team goals, and just get a few of those good life and employment skills,” explains Boyd Warren, commercial manager of Nova Trust. “There’s a recurring theme that people enjoy getting their hands in the earth and doing mahi as part of a team.” Each cohort can have anywhere from 20-30 people, and Warren says there’s always a lot of enthusiasm for the horticulture elements of the programme. 

Simms at Wonky Box became aware of Nova Trust in another twist of serendipity. Having pulled over to take a phone call on the outskirts of Christchurch, he and his colleague Anna immediately noticed the large tunnel greenhouses on the property. “If you’re in the produce world, you know quite quickly that must be someone growing indoor crops,” he says. “So Anna just strolled on up the driveway and went and knocked on the door.” 

That’s how Nova Trust became the first South Island supplier to Wonky Box. “Turning what would have been waste into part of the food supply is a really neat thing,” says Warren. “Because the cost to grow an imperfect cucumber is the same as to grow a perfect one.” Since the partnership, Warren estimates “a couple thousand” imperfect cucumbers have been redirected from waste every month – and they only provide 2% of the country’s supply.  

As well as the sustainability benefits of the collaboration, there’s also the satisfaction in both the Nova Trust growers knowing where their food is going and Wonky Box consumers knowing who has lovingly tended to the crooked cucumbers that arrive on their doorstep each week. “Our whai ora are a grassroots bunch, so they really enjoy this sort of kaupapa,” says Warren. “They’ll go through all the produce and say ‘is this one for Wonky Box, is this one for Foodstuffs?’

“It’s pretty cool to see.”

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