Student’s venture delivers fresh food, comfort

Paul Mayne//Western News

Ivey Business School HBA student Divyansh Ojha is the founder of FoodFund, an entrepreneurial venture that gathers fruits and vegetables – both the imperfect in appearance and the surplus in nature – from southwestern Ontario farmers and delivers them weekly to the homes of subscribers within 70 kilometres of London.

Editor’s note: Visit the official Western COVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

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If there were 30 hours in a day, it still wouldn’t be enough for Divyansh Ojha.

“Things were going OK. We were growing at a normal place and hitting our targets fine. We were in a good position to expand to other communities,” said the Ivey Business School HBA student.

“But come the first week of March, things flipped.”

Ojha is the founder of FoodFund, an entrepreneurial venture that gathers fruits and vegetables – both the imperfect in appearance and the surplus in nature – from southwestern Ontario farmers and delivers them weekly to the homes of subscribers within 70 kilometres of London.

What started as a good idea has exploded under the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January, the FoodFund team delivered close to 500 boxes each week. This past week, they were nearing 1,500 – and climbing.

“Demand seems to be doubling every other week. Those numbers are absurd. We need to decide how long before we cannot accept any new subscriptions and focus on what we have. There’s only so much we can do,” he said. “But our team, which we now have more than 25 employees, has responded big time in ensuring people get the food they need.”

Across the country, social-distancing efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 have turned grocery store visits into, at best, a frustrating affair fraught with angst or, at worst, a life-risking adventure for the most vulnerable.

For many, grocery pickup and delivery services have become a lifeline. Yet, high demand has some customers experiencing longer than usual wait times, think days, not hours.

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Ojha embraces the demand – but he has mixed feelings about the recent success.

“It’s such a moral dilemma,” he said. “I don’t want growth off the back of fear; I don’t want growth off the back of people getting sick; I don’t want growth off the back of people having no options.

“I want growth because they see our service is genuinely valuable, more sustainable and a smarter way to shop for food.”

Ojha is proud to be keeping his promise since he began the business back in 2017.

“We haven’t raised our prices in 137 weeks. That is something we hold ourselves to, that vision, to make produce accessible and reduce waste,” he said. “People still have to eat. They still need food. You can’t do something like that (raise prices) during this time.”

While currently no evidence of food-borne transmission of COVID-19, Ojha’s team washes the fruits and vegetables, as well as regulates social distancing within the 6,000 square-foot warehouse, where all employees wear gloves. There is daily sanitization of all equipment.

The delivery team has no face-to-face interaction with customers; all orders are left on porches and the team text messages their arrival.

The team remains motived knowing they are meeting a vital need. A few thank-you signs taped to doors upon making deliveries have also been a huge moral boost.

“When you’ve been tasked to go out and deliver 150 boxes in a shift, when you would normally be doing only 50, when you get to your 90th delivery and you see something like that – that someone took the time to create a thank you for us – it gives you a sense of purpose that you’re doing this for a reason and it’s making a difference.”