A Spotify for your groceries: 'Food is also medicine'
'A cheese sandwich, an apple and a glass of milk. How can that be a lunch? For Indians, something like that is nothing more than a snack.' Says Purvi Sankhla. She participated in the Tilburg University Challenge with her start-up Yopla.
In India, a future as a chartered accountant awaited her. But once working for a large company in the metropolis of Bangalore, Purvi Sankhla felt that there was more to the world than profit and loss statements. 'I oriented myself to an MBA course. To a professor I spoke I asked what he had studied. "Sustainability, in the Netherlands" was his answer. Suddenly I thought: that sounds like something for me! That's how I ended up in Tilburg a few years ago.'
That choice of sustainability was less accidental than it might seem now. In her youth, Purvi lived in rural India, close to nature. She went on hikes through the Himalayas. When she moved to the big city - and in India cities are mega large - she noticed firsthand what pollution means. In Tilburg she studied strategic management with an emphasis on sustainability. Developing more sustainable business models was what interested me most. Apart from my nationality, what made me different from my fellow students was my background as a chartered accountant. I'm crazy about numbers and big data. From the mix of who I am and what I was trained for, the idea for Yopla was born.
Yopla stands for "your planet, your plan. To explain how it works, Purvi refers to Spotify. 'Why is Spotify so great? Not only because you can find all the music there is, but mainly because the algorithm learns more and more about who you are and what you like to listen to. Spotify comes up with music suggestions that you might not think of yourself, but that suit your taste. At the same time, you as the user remain in control. I would like to see something similar for food: an algorithm that helps you with your daily shopping and simultaneously helps to reduce your ecological footprint. Food is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gases. It makes quite a difference which food choices you make: some products are much more polluting than others.'
Not 'advising' but 'showing'
A well-known example is meat. Its production is certainly not sustainable. It takes a lot of energy and water, tropical rainforests are often sacrificed to grow cattle feed, and cattle emit a lot of greenhouse gases. Purvi: 'But Yopla is not saying you can't eat meat anymore. We do help you make choices to reduce your footprint. For example, if you like to eat meat several times a week, then Yopla will show you - I don't like the word "advise" because the customer can very well make choices himself - what your CO2 savings will be if you only eat seasonal vegetables. Those are much more sustainable than vegetables that have to be imported from far away or grown in greenhouses.'
In the future, Purvi plans to extend the algorithm behind Yopla to other products. Important, she says, is that the algorithm is fed with independent data. 'A lot of information about food comes from the food industry itself,' she explains. 'We enrich that information with scientific insights and, above all, with experiences from users themselves. Yopla wants to be a community of people who want to eat and live healthier without having to think about it all day.' Purvi's goal is to put healthy and sustainable living 'on autopilot'. Users get personalized recipes and shopping lists. This also indirectly helps to combat waste: Yopla in fact also tells you how much of something you should buy. Again, this is based on what the algorithm gradually learns about the user.
Where lunch is a cheese sandwich....
With Yopla, Purvi participated in the Tilburg University Challenge spring 2022. She won the Ideation Award, 2000 euros that she invested in her company. Finally, the question to what extent her Indian roots are visible in Yopla. Purvi: 'I think only in an indirect way. Nutrition is very important to Indians. We say, "food is also a medicine", it helps to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. In my country, we pay an awful lot of attention to food and its preparation. It did surprise me in the Netherlands. I had to get used to the way you eat lunch. A slice of bread with cheese, an apple and a glass of milk. In 5 minutes you're done! For Indians this is nothing more than a snack. It's a wonder that you are so healthy! By the way, these days I also lunch with a cheese sandwich...'
CV Purvi Sankhla
Study: accountancy (India, 2012-2015), Strategic management (Tilburg, 2019-2021)
Company: Yopla (incorporated January 2022)
Opinion: 'Think of Yopla as a personalized Hello Fresh in a Spotify environment.'