Giuseppe Baidoo and Claudio Owusu are the founders of Gusto Snacks, which recently made its debut onto the Startups 100 Index, in 98th spot.
The Index comprises 100 of the fastest-growth UK startups for 2024 that have demonstrated heavy-duty market potential. According to the organisers, despite a particularly challenging landscape in 2023, the group collectively managed to secure £186m in funding, proving their long-term potential to positively transform lives.
And transformation is definitely the focus of Baidoo and Owusu, who are setting out to actively fight unnecessary food waste by upcycling it into health-forward snacks.
“Our ethos and core values are to build a company that respects the planet and people in all aspects. We aim to give back to our planet and society as much as we take,” Baidoo told Bakery&Snacks.
Owusu added their commitment to sustainability is not confined to environmental aspects alone.
“The ethos of our company extends across every facet of our operations, from the very structure of our organization to the wellbeing of our employees,” he said.
“We believe that by embracing sustainability at all levels, we can make a more significant and lasting impact on both people and the planet.”
The core of the business
Officially launching in 2021 into a market still reeling from the pandemic, Gusto creates a range of air-dried fruit crisps from some of the almost 3.1m tons of produce that is discarded at farm level in the UK every year for aesthetic reasons, despite being perfectly edible. In fact, for every Gusto snack sold, the London-based producer claims that approximately 30g of apples are saved from the landfill.
“My co-founder and I came from Italy and started from scratch in a country we knew nothing about,” Baidoo told this site.
“We learned how to work together, support each other, and be there for one another when needed the most. We maintained persistence in our work ethics, had the courage to dream big and achieved more with less. This is the culture we foster at Gusto Snacks, and we aim for everyone who joins the company to be a part of it.”
The seed of creating a food waste-fighting brand was first planted during a fruit-picking session in Kent, after Baidoo witnessed firsthand how much fruit never makes it onto our plates. He was shocked by the sheer volume of produce that is picked but never makes it to retail.
His background was in national service in Italy where he was involved in sourcing unsold food – that is still perfectly fit for human consumption – from supermarkets to deliver to families in need. He continued this work after moving to the UK, working with charities focused on the same cause.
“These experiences fueled my urge to create something to help combat the fight against food waste,” said Baidoo – a dream that became a reality when he crossed paths with Owusu.
Both born and raised in Italy to Ghanaian parents, the pair share a love for sports. Having played semi-professional football (Owusu) and basketball (Baidoo) during their teens, they dreamed of going professional. However, the challenges of being independent and self-reliant in London meant a shift in focus to education and pursuing degrees in sports management (Owusu) and product design (Baidoo) at St. Mary’s Twickenham University.
They also both worked night shifts at a Tesco warehouse in Barking & Dagenham, which is where they came up with the concept to help orchard owners reduce their waste. It was during their final year that they decided to embark on their entrepreneurial journey.
“The business was registered in 2018, but we spent three years rigorously researching the food market,” said Baidoo.
“We created a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and tested it with over 300 consumers. Additionally, we presented and pitched Gusto Snacks in front of a panel of judges, winning awards in competitions such as Santander Universities and Shell Livewire to kickstart the business.
“After securing the initial funding, we launched the business in December 2021 when the pandemic was still dominant. We were initially skeptical about launching our products as some shops were still shut. Despite this, we managed to launch online and make our initial sales.”
Fast forward and the London-based brand – which is currently valued at £1.2m – today is available in major supermarkets across the UK, including Selfridges and WHSmith, as well as on Amazon.
But that’s just the cherry on the top. Gusto has an ambitious aim to have helped improve one million consumer diets by 2026. To get there, it’s targeting the fast-growing market of consumers who are both health and environment focused.
The founders are typical Gen Zers, which feel deeply about environmental protection more than any other age group.
“The passion comes from our personal experiences,” said Baidoo.
“Having experienced firsthand the issue of food waste at the farm level and having worked with different charities, we realized the problem of a lack of food in our society. This realization is the fuel that ignites our motivation to do our part in bringing about a change in our society through our company.”
Gusto’s air-dried apple crisps are classified as upcycled snacks.
“We repurpose fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste due to aesthetics, such as shape, size and color, bringing them back into the food system in a more sustainable way. By doing so, we actively contribute to the circular economy.”
“To date, we have saved over four tons of apples from going to waste, equivalent to 50,000 units of apples. Our goal is to save over 60,000 tonnes of fruit in the next five years, furthering our commitment to reducing food waste and promoting sustainability.”
Beyond the sustainability angle, transforming ‘ugly’ fruit into healthy snacks has caught the attention of pop celebs like Justin Timberlake and leans into several top trends forecast for 2024.
Gusto’s crisps are vegan, gluten-free, contain no added sugar and are packed with nutrients and flavor – true to fruit it is made from.
“Our aim is to offer snacks that serve as a healthier alternative to traditional potato crisps (chips), without the downside of excess oil and fat, while still replicating the crunchiness – we achieve this by air-drying our apples – and providing unique and exciting flavours,” said Owusu.
The current portfolio consists of variants made with mango juice, chocolate & salted caramel, coconut and passion fruit & mango.
“We are excited to announce the launch of a new flavour next month,” he added. Watch this space.
With their ambition set on taking a bite of the massive EU snacks sector, Gusto Snacks is certainly making impressive strides within a very short time period. So I asked Baidoo what advice he would give aspiring founders in the snacks arena.
“Start small and test your products on a smaller scale to gather as much feedback as possible before committing to larger orders,” he said.
“We began in our kitchen, testing in our local markets before scaling up. This approach provided us with the opportunity to make and learn from mistakes on a smaller scale, refining our strategy before taking on larger commitments.
“While trends may suggest a certain direction, the actual performance of products in the market can be different. Therefore, don't hesitate to go out there to engage with customers. They are on your side and their insights are invaluable.”