In today’s interview, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Hannah McCollum, Founder of ChicP.
ChicP combines two of my favourite things – eliminating food waste, and hummus. Oooh, hummus. So creamy. So good.
Hannah’s innovative business supports local farmers by taking their unwanted wonky veggies, and turns it into delicious pots of heaven. I’m always amazed at small businesses coming up with big ideas that big suppliers and supermarkets seemingly can’t do, and her new way of thinking made her a prime candidate for my interview series.
So, if you’re anything like me, i.e. a bit of a nerd around sustainable agriculture, you’ll love our interview:
1. How did you get started in food sustainability – what sparked your interest?
I’ve always been interested in food waste – at school, I was the sort of person that would pull half-eaten crisp bags out of bins and ask, “Guys, why are you throwing this away?!”And no-one had sparked that interest in me at all – it has all been a voyage of common sense. Why would you do something that doesn’t make sense for the environment? Eat it, finish it.
It was the same with resources – I don’t keep the tap running while cleaning my teeth. I turn off lights when I leave the house. It’s come completely naturally and I’ve never been able to understand why people didn’t do that. With the growing population, there’s more and more resources being used, so I’m so aware of things running out; I want to preserve everything.
Then I did a cooking course and I did a lot of food jobs, events, private parties… And there used to be so much food that was wasted at these events, it would really get to me. They wouldn’t give it to staff, they wouldn’t be allowed to reuse it… it was disgusting – criminal even – the amount of good quality meat and fish that would be thrown away.
So then when I started doing private cooking jobs, I would always turn my leftovers into dips and hummus. I briefly left the food world for a job in Central London, but I knew I had to go back and work on food sustainability, there needed to be more done to help raise awareness around food waste, and also directly help the problem by working with surplus food and veg myself.
2. Why did you choose hummus as your main product? Is it your favourite food, or is it perhaps a great vehicle for reducing food waste?
I love hummus, and yes, it’s an extremely versatile product.
I was always making hummus with my leftovers, so it felt like the obvious answer. It’s very easy to turn leftovers into hummus and dips, and it works for a wide range of food products too. And the demand for hummus is growing, it’s a big market.
Hummus is also a quick sell – it’s not like ketchup, it doesn’t take five months to finish it – so the more people buy it, the more it can tell the story about food waste and change things.
3. I love the style of ChicP – the design combines looking good and doing good! I did wonder though… do you say “chick-pea” or “chic-pea”?
I do actually say “chickpea” but then explain it as “chic-pea”. The idea is we’re putting the chic into chickpeas!
While we’re primarily a food business, I also use ChicP as a platform – we put on events to educate people around food waste, in schools, offices, speaking directly to people and inviting them to reduce their impact. It’s a great way to open more doors.
4. Because food and food waste is a seasonal issue, do you have to change your product line depending on the seasons?
I chose to focus my core range – Beetroot & Horseradish, Carrot Ginger & Turmeric, and Herby – on British vegetables that are generally grown all year round. This was the key decision maker when we first developed a range of 10 different flavours using surplus from London markets.
We do have seasonal variations that come out too – currently, it’s Chilli & Pumpkin – but because a lot of this raw surplus can be taken from fresh and frozen, we can still use it throughout the entire year until it’s run out. It’s why we say our hummus’ are 30% raw vegetables from surplus, and we can then change things dependent on supply.
5. And finally, because food sustainability is such a large problem to solve, is there anyone who inspires you or would be worth reading up on?
I think Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is an amazing pioneer of farm to fork, sustainability across all areas – their new Veg Power campaign is encouraging children to eat more vegetables, and his approach is healthy, fresh, and natural. It’s always about using everything and being experimental in cooking! Treating nature, the world, and the environment as it should be treated. He’s always pioneering new campaigns tackling serious issues – even the recyclability of coffee cups.
Thomasina Miers is very similar. And also Gill Meller who works on River Cottage with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a perfect example of using foraging and food waste in cooking. As a country girl at heart, they really inspire me and what I do.