Charlotte Danks was just 20 when she opened her first Affordable Foods shop in June 2015 in Newquay in Cornwall where she lives.
In Cornwall, most of the work is seasonal and despite having good qualifications Charlotte was unable to find a full-time job. Then she saw an item on Dragon’s Den where a man was selling food rejected by supermarkets on-line.
“I always wanted a career where I could help out the community and benefit others.
“I saw something on the Dragon’s Den where this guy sells online and I saw the perfect opportunity to bring it down to Cornwall,” Charlotte says.
Charlotte started by contacting loads of distribution centres and wholesalers all around the country. She said: “I opened my first shop in June last year and I just took a gamble really, but luckily it has paid off and has gone better than I expected.”
Affordable Foods sell products which are close to or past their best before date, damaged products or products that supermarkets just don’t want anymore because the packaging is changing or a promotional offer has expired.
Charlotte said: “When I first opened my shop in Bodmin I got a lot of criticism, people didn’t really understand the concept of my business they thought I was selling out of date products and that I was trying to poison people.”
“They need to understand that best before and use by dates are completely different. Best before is just an advisory and you can consume some products 100 years after their best before date if they are in a tin.”
Charlotte has a sign on her wall with a statement from Sam Montell, nutritionist for the Foods Standards Agency saying: “Shops are allowed to sell food after its best-before date has passed. Best-before dates are concerned with quality rather than safety, so it doesn’t mean that the food is dangerous if the date has passed.”
Food waste is a major issue. According to a government advisory body Waste & Resources Action Programme, in the UK, we throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, the majority of which could have been eaten.
Best before dates are not related to food safety. It just means there is a possibility that the product may diminish its flavour and texture after that date and nothing more. Everything you see in an Affordable Foods store would be wasted in landfill.
Jason Bettison, 44, has lived in Bodmin all his life. Following an assault, he relies on Affordable Food to feed himself on a budget.
Jason said: “This shop means so much to me in Bodmin because I am on sickness benefit and money is very tight and this shop is helping me to eat and survive on lovely food that is good food.
“I rely on a lot of cereal and it saves me a fortune in this shop I am just a single man living on my own. I am saving about £25 a fortnight on my food budget.”
Charlotte has opened 5 shops so far in Newquay, Truro, Bude, Bodmin and St Austell and she has big plans to expand further.
“I originally only intended to open shops in Cornwall but I get thousands of emails asking me to open shops in other counties so from January 2017 the possibility to franchise Affordable Foods is going to be available.”
Charlotte is currently in the process of getting her business recognised as a social enterprise which may allow her to get her a reduction in her business rates. According to the Social Enterprise Alliance website: “A social enterprise is an organization or initiative that marries the social mission of a non-profit or government program with the market-driven approach of a business.”
Charlotte said: “I asked about getting reduced business rates as I am going through the process of becoming a social enterprise as whatever little profit is made is invested back into the business. Unfortunately, I was turned down which was a bit of a kick in the teeth but I have enough support behind me from my regular customers that it is not going to put a stop to anything.”