FOOD enterprises are flying the flag for Oxfordshire in a national business competition. Brother and sister John and Ashley Cavers set up Wonky Fruit to transform tons of unwanted fruit and veg into sauces, relishes and chutneys.

The pair came up with the idea after becoming frustrated with the amount of food waste that ends up in landfill.

Miss Cavers, a marketing communications executive, said: “Up to 40 per cent of fruit and veg which are the wrong shape, too small or just surplus to needs, are discarded.

“We thought ‘What about turning them into something else?’”

She and web developer Mr Cavers, from Sandhills, teamed up with professional caterer Laura Snook to create recipes including chilli tomato relish, red onion chutney and spiced apple jelly.

Miss Cavers, from Combe, added: “Our chutneys and relishes have a healthy shelf life, so we’re not creating more waste with products that expire in a few days.”

Wonky Fruit is involved in a trial with a major supermarket to collect surplus fruit and veg from its stores around the county.

Now the team is hoping to attract enough public votes to reach the next round of Richard Branson’s VOOM2016 business contest.

Ultimately, they could win a share of a £1m prize fund plus an opportunity to pitch to the Virgin boss.

They also want to hear from local farmers and suppliers looking for new markets for left-over or imperfect fruit and vegetables.

In future, they plan to work with schools and community groups to harvest wild fruit, raise money for good causes and educate future generations about the food chain.

Customers will also be able to trace where the ‘ugly’ fruit or veg for each Wonky Fruit jar comes from, by entering a six-digit code into the website.

Another innovative start-up hoping to win over the public for Branson’s VOOM2016, is Oxford Science Park-based Firestar.

Bio-tech entrepreneur Dr Andrew Guise and fellow director Tom Baker are taking on energy drink giants Red Bull and Monster with their new energy-boosting sweet.

With 95 per cent less sugar, Firestar has less than 10 calories per serving, compared to more than 220 for a typical energy drink and is considerably cheaper, at £1 a time.

Oxford Mail:

  • Dr Andrew Guise, founder and director of Firestar, which has produced an energy sweet 

And as Dr Guise pointed out, it is small enough to be carried in a wallet or purse.

But the biggest difference is the technology, which allows caffeine to be released slowly over a four-hour period, rather than immediately in a rush.

As a result, there are no jitters or severe ‘come down’, says Dr Guise.

He said: “I saw popular energy drinks, which are 500ml of sugarfilled rubbish and are only going to cause you harm in the long term and thought ‘That’s horrible’.

“I decided there had to be a better way of getting caffeine into people.”

He set about using his pharmaceutical know-how to tackle the issue and the duo raised an impressive £150,000 on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube last April.

Since then, they have managed to get their product stocked in 40 branches of leisure retailer Sports Direct.

It is also being sold in two petrol forecourt chains across Ireland and via the firm’s own website. www. A deal with a number of WH Smith stores is also under discussion.

The crystal-based sweets come in cola, cherry and mint flavours.

The formula allows caffeine to be ‘trapped’ in tiny microcapsules, so that it is not released until after swallowed.

This has the dual effect of eliminating the caffeine aftertaste – which in traditional fizzy energy drinks has to be masked with sugar – and smoothing-out and prolonging the energy lift.

Dr Guise added: “Our product has been endorsed by dentists because it has hardly any sugar, compared to energy drinks which sometimes contain the equivalent of 15 heaped teaspoons of sugar.”

He says sports enthusiasts are particularly keen on Firestar, as it allows them to get an energy boost “without having to chug down 500ml of fizzy liquid”