Picky eaters: how one app highlights sustainable and ethical venues
This article is part of our Going Against the Grain series, which tells the stories of companies bold enough to break business norms and try new ideas. To explore the rest of the series, click here.
Natasha Zone is the CEO and founder of onezone, a “curated discovery app” that compiles lists of the best bars and restaurants in major cities around the world. The 30-year-old entrepreneur says more and more: “Young people care about where they spend their money and what brands and businesses they support.”
In fact, environmental and social governance (ESG) certification is now a key consideration for consumers. According to a YouGov survey, 69% of Gen Z consumers in the UK are willing to pay more for green food and drink, compared to 53% of Baby Boomers. Glassdoor’s global survey of millennials and Gen Z, meanwhile, found that 76% of respondents feel that a diverse workforce is an important factor in forming their opinion of a company.
To tap into this market, the onezone app allows users to filter businesses based on a range of ESG criteria, such as the sustainability of their supply chain and the ethnic or gender composition of their management teams.
There is an in-app booking feature for “onezone approved” locations, Zone explains. “Our users can do everything in one place. The idea is to make it easy to organize your exploration from start to finish, from research to booking, all in one go.”
The app is currently only available on Apple’s iOS system, but since its launch in April 2021, it has achieved over 135,000 downloads. According to Zone, the Android version of the app will be released later this year.
Investors in onezone, which now employs a team of eight, include Lord Waheed Alli, former chairman of Asos, and Clerkenwell Boy, one of London’s biggest food and hospitality social media influencers. At the time of writing, the app is available in London, Paris, Lisbon, Berlin and Barcelona, but the aim is to make it popular worldwide.
A filter for quality
Zone, who studied politics and philosophy at the London School of Economics, previously worked in private family offices, planning travel and hospitality itineraries for various clients.
Where open forums like Google or Tripadvisor run the risk of negative reviews “distracting from the information you’re looking for,” Zone muses, his app was meant to separate the wheat from the chaff. “We’ve done the hard work so users don’t have to,” he claims.
“Most people only write reviews about the restaurant if they have had a negative experience. On the other hand, if they had a great dining experience, they will probably thank the staff and maybe just tell a few friends. I think it’s all worked out for consumers who don’t necessarily trust what they read on those platforms and for restaurants who don’t want to be there.”
Driven by the “pillars of diversity and convenience”, Zone wants onezone to be the benchmark for places to eat and drink. “It’s not like some of the seasonal media summaries you see,” he says. “We’re constantly updating, changing, and highlighting places and people with interesting causes and stories.”
According to Zone, onezone has a team of “expert curators” who “have an instinct for quality”. He acknowledges that onezone users will have to take a leap of faith and “trust” his team’s judgments as to which location is best for their city, but he’s confident those judgments will be borne out. The app also allows users to make suggestions and provide feedback, he points out, which he and his team regularly review.
What happens if the user has a negative experience with a onezone-listed location? And what if a location on the onezone list suddenly does something that doesn’t match the app’s core values? “We look at each situation individually,” says Zone. “You can’t defend against someone, somewhere, sometime not being at their best. That’s just the natural risk of exiting. We need to see if there is such a trend in the same place. If a company does something that doesn’t fit our value system, we remove them from the app. We’ve done it before. If a company does not meet our standards [for behaviour, social responsibility or inclusive practices] then he left.”
People have the right to choose
The basic version of onezone is free to use, but users can upgrade to the premium version for £3.99 a month. Premium subscribers can redeem a range of rewards including free food and drinks at many onezone locations. Zone points out, “If you cash in on a cocktail, you’ve already more than made your money back.”
However, it seems strange, especially in the context of the cost of living crisis, that young people would be so willing to sign up for advice on where to go. “People have a finite amount of money,” Zone muses. “I don’t think they’re necessarily paying for advice, but more for peace of mind. People may not go out as much as they used to, so when they do, they want to make sure that where they go is great. People are being deliberate and selective now rather than taking the risk of getting it wrong.”
A woman with ambition
Six of onezone’s eight employees are women, which Zone says was a conscious decision. As a female “techno-preneur”, she encourages more women to “take the leap” and realize their visions.
“There are probably too many women who doubt themselves,” she notes. “I’m looking for women to join our board, but it’s hard to find them. I see few women in hospitality and technology, so I really want to highlight them [on the app]. I am determined to have a strong team of women and find the mentors and leaders who will show the next generation what is possible.”
According to Zone, the lack of precedent could make investors nervous. “It’s not that I think they are [potential business partners] no faith in women. It’s more that they don’t see women [in the tech industry] as often. It is very important to start normalizing this sight,” he adds.
As an ambitious founder, Zone says his “obsession and passion” are key drivers of the business. “The idea is that you can land in any city in the world and the app will cover it,” he says. “Amsterdam is our next city. We hope to launch our US operation later this year.”
A good year for Zone 2023 “looks like the size of the onezone community and the company will continue to drive development by discovering independent and minority-owned businesses in cities around the world. We are raising £1.5m in seed funding to do this.”