The team behind food-tech start-up Lilo aimed to go global from the get-go.
IT’S A STRANGE old world. Soaring food prices, people going hungry, yet perfectly good produce around the country is being dumped into landfill or left to rot on the ground. Depending on the vagaries of weather, access to markets and staff, 10 to 40 percent of fruit crops in Aotearoa go to waste. There’s also the “perfectly good” component – the idea that only uniformly shaped, blemish-free produce should grace our shelves.
It was a wasted opportunity, thought Cleo Gilmour, who was based in Shanghai marketing New Zealand FMCG brands in China before Covid hit. It turns out her friends, designer Russell Haines and Alex Worker, who is ex-Fonterra, were having similar thoughts. They formed Lilo, a food-tech business that transforms nutritious “waste” produce into value-added, single-serve plant-based products. Their aspirations were global from the get-go.
Early last year, Lilo won the start-up category of FoodStarter, a pitch-style competition that whittles down more than 200 applicants to 10 finalists and, finally, a winner. Run by Christchurch-based incubator the Ministry of Awesome, and New World, the prize included national distribution through New World, product development support, mentorship and co-working space at GridAKL. “It’s a great launching pad that validated us early on,” says Gilmour, Lilo’s general manager of sales and marketing.
A business that transforms nutritious “waste” produce into value added, single-serve plant-based products.
However, corralling food waste from around the country to be consistent and viable for large-scale production is a logistical challenge and one they’re still ironing out. There’s an app in development to connect growers with the company. And in a complicated economic climate, there have been inevitable bumps in the road in launching Future Cakes, a three-layer, plant-based cheesecake. With inflation and transport costs just some of those hurdles, it’s almost a “which one to pick?” scenario, says Gilmour, who cites the lack of scale-up facilities in Aotearoa as the biggest hurdle.
“Machinery that makes a single-serve, three-layer cheesecake is quite hard to come by,” she says, wryly. This wouldn’t be a New Zealand story without a number eight wire component, which is where their manufacturing partner Rangiora Bakery steps in. The company’s engineers came to the rescue by rigging up a temporary machine when the arrival of a key component of the cheesecake making machine from the US was delayed. It was so effective they were able to successfully launch the single-serve cheesecakes into New World supermarkets throughout the country in September last year.
While all three business partners have invested in the company, they couldn’t have developed Future Cakes without a chunk of equity. That assistance came in the form of funding from Big Idea Ventures, Singapore’s largest alternative-protein fund, which invests in innovative companies working in that space. It takes Lilo closer to realising its global ambitions.
As found February’s addition of Air NZ Kia Ora Magazine: https://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/kia-ora-magazine