Foodcycle's Story

Nutricia and FoodCycle logos

Behind every one of our nutritional solutions there is a dedicated team of people whose mission it is to make the lives of patients and healthcare professionals, easier. #NutriciaLife

Nutricia, through its parent company Danone, is partnering with FoodCycle in the UK in their mission to provide nutritious, sustainable meals to communities and, in doing so, help combat food poverty, food waste and loneliness.

We spoke to Foodcycle CEO, Sophie Tebbett, and Danone’s Sustainability and Social Innovation Manager, Ciara Murray, about FoodCycle’s mission, how the partnership came about, and the difference it’s making in communities.

What is FoodCycle?

“FoodCycle is a community dining organisation,” says Sophie. “What we do is really simple: we create an environment where anyone and everyone from the community is welcome to sit down over a delicious, nutritious, three course meal, and we want people to linger and luxuriate in that. We make these meals using surplus food; food that is perfectly good to eat, but would otherwise have gone to waste.

“As a charity, our vision is one of a society where no one is lonely or hungry. FoodCycle is not an emergency provision; when we launch a project, we want it to be there every single week. We're really keen on sustainability - not just environmentally, but also in terms of our service and making sure that once we start something, it continues and becomes a community asset.

“Sometimes people confuse us for a food bank, or don't really understand the concept of community dining. But as soon as you see FoodCycle in action, you understand the simple magic of just sitting down next to someone and making a universal connection through food. FoodCycle is about building that community cohesion, and we think that’s really, really important.”

How does it work?

“We have various partners that help us in collecting surplus food,” explains Sophie. “We have relationships with retailers, local independent stores and bigger food distribution groups such as City Harvest.

“After we get the food, it's like Ready Steady Cook; when you turn up at a FoodCycle meal, you don't know what you're going to cook. You might have two crates of broccoli, three apples, and a pear. Off you go and make something amazing! And what you end up with is fantastic, all because of the creativity, love and inspiration that people get when they're in the room. They just get on with it, and the results are restaurant quality - we’ve got volunteers using blow torches and mandolines!

“We want people to be excited about the food we’re giving them. All the food we make is vegetarian, because we want it to be inclusive - so anyone who comes to FoodCycle knows they will definitely be able to eat the meal. Another benefit of this is environmental; the Climate Committee has said that we need to reduce our meat consumption by 30% to hit global warming targets. So FoodCycle can be a great way of expanding people’s dietary horizons - particularly if they’re not used to vegetarian dishes - when we’re giving them these fantastic plates of vegetarian food.

“We also know that the government Eatwell Guide may not be affordable for many people on a lower income. If you're on Universal Credit, you may not be able to afford to eat in a way that conforms to that guide. As a result, we always pack our meals full of fresh fruit and veggies, so that we can help people to have healthier diets throughout the week. Any food that we don't cook with, we put into surplus bags that people can take home with them.”

Why did Danone partner with Foodcycle?

“Last year, globally, Danone introduced our new impact journey to help ensure we can be a force for good and make a positive impact. It has three main pillars: health, nature and people and communities,” explains Ciara. “We wanted to find a charity to partner with that embodies all those pillars and represents our central purpose, to nourish life by bringing health through food."

“It felt like it was going to be a real challenge to find a charity that unites all those elements - but that’s exactly what FoodCycle does. It brings together people as a community, in a way that is focused on providing them with nutritious meals. We’re very much believers in the idea that a varied, balanced diet and healthy lifestyle can have a significant impact on our health and there are so many long-term health conditions that can come about from poor diet*. Similarly, loneliness has a major impact on mental health. FoodCycle does an amazing job of tackling those two things together. 

“At the same time as addressing the health pillar of our impact journey, FoodCycle also speaks to our nature pillar by tackling food waste - which plays a significant role in the climate crisis. As a signatory of the Courtauld Commitment 2030, Danone is dedicated to reducing food waste by 50% by 2030 - and FoodCycle’s dedication to reducing food waste is  in sync with this goal.

“Finally, in terms of our people and communities pillar, the partnership helps Danone’s employees to give back - bringing in people from all parts of the business and enabling them to contribute to and be an integral part of their local communities. On a corporate level, it’s not just about Danone helping communities - it’s about Danone itself being part of that community too.”

How do Foodcycle and Danone/Nutricia work together?

“One of the most tangible ways Danone provides support to FoodCycle is through our volunteering,” says Ciara. “It's a part of our support that I'm really passionate about growing, because I think that once people see firsthand what FoodCycle does, there's no going back - you can't resist being a part of it!

“In 2023, Danone employees volunteered 318.5 hours with FoodCycle. We’re really focusing on growing that, so that more people engage with FoodCycle directly and can see its impact first-hand. Everyone who has done it says it’s a hard day’s work, but a really worthwhile day’s work that you come away from feeling like you’ve tangibly helped and made a difference.

“Danone also provides financial support; over our three-year partnership we are committed to providing £300,000 to help FoodCycle in developing projects and delivering meals. But we’re always looking at how we can go beyond volunteering and financial support, and finding ways that we can use our internal skills and business expertise to benefit FoodCycle.

“For example, we’ve been exploring how our IT and data teams can support FoodCycle by analysing survey data, helping understand what their biggest touchpoints are and how they can grow their programmes. Danone also provides communication support in terms of raising awareness of the FoodCycle message and mission.

“Something that we’ve been working on recently and are particularly excited about is providing our expert nutrition support and development to FoodCycle. We’ve been creating a booklet and resources that will provide volunteers and guests with the information they need to shop, cook and eat in the best way possible; not only providing an understanding of what constitutes healthy food, but why it is good for our body to have those things, and how we can obtain and use them in the most economical and sustainable way.”

How important were Danone’s values and B-Corp credentials to FoodCycle?

“At FoodCycle, we’re very careful who we partner with,” says Sophie. “We want to partner with organisations that truly believe in the values and things that they're saying, and which have an ethos and mission that aligns with ours. We have to be able to stand by what we're doing in the eyes of our volunteers, who all have very strong opinions on how we tackle food poverty, the environment and community issues.

“So it’s crucial that when we form a partnership, we form the right one - and we really have that with Danone and Nutricia. There's so much shared vision and interconnection between us, and we are proud to have joined forces in building stronger communities that tackle food poverty, food waste and climate change through the shared enjoyment of nutritious, healthy meals.”

*Bergman P, Brighenti S. Targeted Nutrition in Chronic Disease. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 5;12(6):1682.