TWO pals make £22.5million a year selling out of date food.
Entrepreneurs Andy Needham and Dan Cluderay flog clearance stock at a heavily discounted price.
The pair started Approved Food from market trader Dan’s back bedroom to help reduce grocery waste and make a tidy profit.
They bought the stock from Andy’s wholesale business and sold it online for up to 70 per cent cheaper than major supermarkets.
Hungry for success, they appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2015 hoping for £150,000 in exchange for 10 per cent of their business.
The multimillionaire panel couldn’t stomach the idea and unanimously said: “I’m out.”
But seven years later and the line-up are eating their words as Approved Food has achieved an annual turnover of £22.5m.
Andy, 57, said: “I’m sure the Dragons sometimes wonder, ‘what if?'”
Approved Food, which sells out of date but not “best before” products, later became part of the Surplus Group, which strives for a “world without waste”.
It now employs more than 90 staff, occupies a 52,000sqft unit in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, and has shipped over 1.2 million orders.
But the so-called experts failed to see it had potential and declined the opportunity to get in on the action early.
While health club mogul Duncan Bannatyne said he was “ready to throw his money” at Dan and Andy at the beginning of their pitch, he later declared he wouldn’t be investing.
Piers Linney, Peter Jones and Kelly Hoppen agreed it was the wrong time to part with their cash, so joined him by saying: “I’m out.”
And after Andy and Dan, 48, shared that their business was due to make a loss in its coming year, Deborah Meaden said: “I take risks, but you are braver than me.”
Reflecting on their “excruciating” time in the BBC den and their success since, Andy said he is almost glad they were rejected.
“People still talk about it now and we’re regularly known as one of the ’10 that got away’ which makes us feel proud,” he said.
“The two-hour grilling we got on the programme was edited down to just over nine minutes.
“Neither of us had watched the show for years so we didn’t realise it was no longer a serious investment environment but an entertainment show looking to win Baftas.
“We got to the studio at 7am and adrenaline had been pumping all day, but by 4.30pm to say we were drained would be an understatement.
“Then it was suddenly all a rush with no time to pee even.
“The lift doors opened to the full glare of the studio lights, the cameras, and the raging heat.”
I’m sure the Dragons sometimes wonder, ‘what if?’
Andy said within the first three minutes of filming, they delivered the “entertainment” the producers were after – with “hot sweats, brain freeze and fluffed lines”.
“You name it, we provided it,” he added.
“I still get the micky taken to this day, but we did manage to settle down and give a decent account of ourselves.
“Although we didn’t receive any offers, we weren’t concerned as we already had the majority of what we needed in place.
“And by the time our episode was aired in August 2015, we had completed all the things we talked about wanting to do while filming.
“Plus, the publicity that came once the episode was broadcast was fantastic and really showed the power of TV exposure.”
Andy also made a sly dig at Deborah and Piers after their “classic” comments about risk-taking and debt.
“We knew [we were braver than Deborah] because we built our business from scratch, not inherited it from family like her,” he said.
“And Piers was concerned about the level of debt he perceived we had, but it was a bit ironic as a few months later his own business went bust because of debt.”
Both Andy, from Barnsley, and Dan, from Worksop, Nottinghamshire, hope to grow Approved Food further in the coming years.
Andy said: “We want to continue to provide value for money, variety and convenience for the foreseeable future.
“Economically, times are the hardest I have ever seen with so many factors going the wrong way for everybody.
“I just hope the country can return to more stable times as soon as possible for everybody’s sake.”