Kindred spirits seize retail opportunity while tackling farm-stage food waste

14 April 2023

Bridget Lansell, Max Moolman and Gabe Tucker.

Fastrack graduates and Wonki entrepreneurs Bridget Lansell, Gabe Tucker and Max Moolman.

Australians don’t have much of an appetite for funny-looking fruit and veg. In fact, a staggering quarter of all produce doesn’t even make it off the farm because it looks a little ‘wonki’.

Enter Bridget Lansell, Max Moolman and Gabe Tucker – three kindred spirits intent on giving new life to the misshapen, marked and surplus food that doesn’t make the cut.

While they are still Monash Business School undergraduates, the trio have now graduated from the university’s Fastrack – a two-semester, globally recognised start-up program that cultivates entrepreneurial skills to help students launch a business in 24 weeks.

When the highly sought-after program launched in 2022, more than 1000 students from across Monash’s 10 faculties vied for 36 places. “There was a bit of a Big Brother vibe - they threw all of us in together, and we had to self- select into teams of three,” Mr Moolman said.

The team quickly realised they shared a desire to create a product that would have a positive impact on the environment and Wonki was born - a sustainable alcohol seltzer tackling the tricky problem of farm food waste.

“Last year, there was a huge hailstorm in NSW and 300 tonnes of oranges were dumped because the fruit had black marks,” Mr Moolman said.

“We realised that every season different crops might be affected, so we started to think about Wonki almost like a fashion label, with a new range every season tailored to whatever was headed for landfill.”

At the moment, that’s the delicious combination of cucumber and lime. “You would not believe the weird shapes cucumbers grow in!” Mr Moolman said.

But while the ingredients may be “visually defective” the end result is anything but.

“We’ve spent countless hours and iterations perfecting our aesthetic so that Wonki looks as good as it tastes,” he said.

Low-calorie alcoholic seltzers have boomed in popularity in the past few years, to the point where many large liquor brands are now bringing out their own options.

And Mr Moolman said partnering with Farmers Pick to source surplus produce, Market Juice for juicing, and Gypsy Hub for manufacturing had allowed Wonki to capitalise on the expertise and skill of industry leaders.

It’s an approach that mirrors the Fastrack program, which brings together experts in innovation, entrepreneurship and technology and a network of industry partners to coach and mentor students.

“For me, Fastrack was everything that I dreamed university could be, but it actually happened,” he said. “I’ve learned things that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”

Monash Business School Director of Entrepreneurship Professor David Gilbert said Fastrack was about transforming students into founders, and the Wonki team had nailed the remit. “Their value proposition spoke strongly to their customer base, and they developed a very tight and appealing brand identity that got people interested in what they were doing,” he said.

“But above all, they are a team of three good human beings who are a pleasure to be around.”

To find out more about Wonki and help make it a delicious reality, view their website.