Moving Boundaries

‘We want to encourage people to trust their senses more’

The cooperation between METRO and SIRPLUS began in 2017 when the salvaged food markets and the online shop for so-called ‘salvaged foods’ were launched. Right now everyone is talking about wasting food and how to avoid it, which is why we seized the moment to ask what SIRPLUS is doing today. As it turns out – a lot. In an interview, founder Raphael Fellmer tells us how he and his team hope to save the world – one store at a time.

Three extraordinary peppers in red and green

Supermarkets, events, a catering service, educational work, plans to open franchise stores, a six-figure total of impact investors – a lot has happened over the last two years for SIRPLUS. Has the fight against food waste gone mainstream?

Oh yeah, no doubt! And we are incredibly grateful for that! We see a growing number of initiatives and more and more reports about it. In the two years since we started, the topic has garnered a great deal of awareness by companies, in politics, but also among people at home. Statistically, 50 per cent of food waste occurs at home, because a lot of people do not know the difference between the expiry date and the best-before date – or are simply careless with food. And this is exactly where our educational work comes in.

At your rescue tours and seminars, you show people that ‘expired’ food is not automatically bad. How can one check whether a food item can still be eaten after the best-before date?

It all comes down to using your senses. Of course, compliance with the cold chain is mandatory for food that has to be chilled – this is what the government prescribes and it also makes sense. Almost everything that is packaged or canned can be stored and eaten well beyond the best-before date. The same goes for products in glass bottles. Or salt – which lasts forever! Through our work we want to encourage people to trust their senses more and to appreciate food as more than a means of survival.


In your stores and online shop, however, you no longer only sell salvaged food, but also so-called savior equipment – in other words, you buy additional sustainable products. What is that all about?

We do this for ecological and economic reasons. Of course, we eventually want to turn a profit. So far, we have only incurred debt. A purchase that only consists of salvaged food is always a mystery box. For example, at any given time we may have a large selection of soy oat drinks and super-cool craft beers along with ten different chip packs – but not the full range of products that busy people expect when they are shopping. And then they go to a supermarket or organic shops – which is fine, but does not support us and our mission. We want to offer our customers a whole line of future-friendly products, which is why we made the decision to sell these eco-friendly products.

 

Through our work we want to encourage people to trust their senses more and to appreciate food as more than a means of survival.

Raphael Fellmer

And what are some examples of these products?

Amongst other things, we feature eco-toilet paper from Goldeimer in collaboration with Viva con Agua. By purchasing this, our customers support sanitary projects in Africa. We also have menstrual cups for women, many of whom do not even know they exist, as well as traditional razors with a razor blade, bamboo toothbrushes and natural soap without plastic packaging. For some time now, we have also had a package-free corner where we sell rice, pasta and other dry products. We have expanded the assortment to the most common organic foods such as olive oil, salt, vinegar and so on. Basically everything you need on a daily basis. When people realise that they can get all these items from us, they will decide more often to go shopping at SIRPLUS and consequently purchase salvaged food more often.


What criteria do you use to select the locations for your shops?

It is very important to us that we are not only present in places where people live in a bubble of sustainability, but also in heavily trafficked areas where people only come into marginal contact with the topic – or perhaps not at all. When opportunity knocks, we also ‘save’ rooms – for example our flagship store in Schlossstraße in Steglitz: We moved into a former Rossmann store and took over all the furnishing. Admittedly, the store is a bit too big for us, but we can hold events there and invite inspiring people to introduce new aspects of sustainability to our customers and those who are not yet our customers.

To what extent has your customer base changed in recent years?

60 to 70 per cent still act out of conviction – people who really care about their ecological footprint and who stand behind it wholeheartedly. Of course, saving money is also an important issue for many of them. We deliberately place our stores in busy shopping streets and malls, such as our store in the East Side Mall on Warschauer Straße. This is precisely why we are also able to reach people who have not yet been extensively involved with future-friendly lifestyles and are not aware that half of the food in Europe is being wasted. As an impact start-up, we do not just want to tell people: ‘Come to us and we will save the world!’ We also want to inspire them to do something about it in their own everyday lives – that is the much bigger picture!


When do you expect for the first SIRPLUS franchise stores to open?

Probably in summer 2020.


And how many parties interested in them are there already?

More than 120!

Good to know: What is an impact start-up?

Impact start-ups develop solutions for social, ecological and societal problems. They are companies – that is true. But, besides profit, they have the mission of promoting change and improvement around the world.

Do most of them come from big cities or also from small towns?

Most of them actually come from big cities. But we also have requests from people who want to become franchise masters for whole federal states. There is great interest in our idea, which shows us that we are moving in the right direction. Our partners are also looking forward to working with us on a regional level – not just in Berlin, but throughout Germany.

You also frequently receive requests from schools – what kinds of activities do you do with children and teenagers?

Wasting food is a very haptic topic, which is why conveying its importance to children is so easy. When they see how much food is being thrown away, it leaves a lasting effect on them – especially when they see that a lot of it can be avoided if you look at it with some sensibility and common sense. School classes often come to visits us. We tell them about the waste of food and show them our salvaged food market. Then we move on to the practical part, where they can help out and create a delicious meal from the salvaged food – everyone likes that.

School classes can help out and create a delicious meal from the salvaged food – everyone likes that.

Raphael Fellmer

Speaking of meals, how exactly does your catering service work?

It is quite simple! If a company or a private person chooses our offer, our catering partners buy the ingredients from us to cook the dishes.


You have just successfully completed the second round of crowdfunding for the development of your franchise concept and collected a six-figure sum from three well-known impact investors who are convinced of your mission. How does it feel to know that you are actually making the world a better place?

Absolutely fantastic! We are really giving it all we got. We are grateful for our customers – because without them this would not be possible. And we really appreciate the more than 600 companies that support us – especially METRO who has been there since day one. The time to move in baby steps is over. The world is on fire. And we are ready to take big steps to save it.

Put simply… This is how SIRPLUS works

Retailers – such as METRO – and food producers donate products they can no longer sell to food banks. SIRPLUS buys what the food banks do not collect for a small fee to comply with the sales tax chain and to ensure that no food ends up in the waste. All food items are checked by roughly 100 SIRPLUS employees and everything that can still be eaten or drunk is sold – at an average price that is 40 per cent below the original retail price.

About ... Raphael Fellmer

Raphael Fellmer was born in 1983 in Berlin. Since 2010 and a total of 5.5 years, Raphael has traveled through the world without money. During and after his money strike, he launched several initiatives to combat food waste. His Impact Startup Sirplus founded Raphael in 2016.


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