Supplier relationships are the key to scale.
While options and food delivery may not appear to have a lot in common, Rob’s background as a trader held part of the solution to the supply/demand problem.
When Robert Grieg-Gran set up the Mindful Chef, along with two Devon school friends, he quickly realised the biggest problem. Customers wanted choice, the option to change their mind within a couple of days of their delivery date, but supply chains weren’t flexible – growers needed information weeks or months in advance. If the business was going to grow, they needed to resolve this problem.
While options and food delivery may not appear to have a lot in common, Rob’s background as a trader held part of the solution. Not only had it alerted him to the broad global trends, food delivery and wellness, that led to the business in the first place, it also helped him devise the algorithms that addressed the supply/demand problem.
Not that they could solve the problem completely. The pandemic saw demand accelerate from 40,000 meals per week to 150,000. Rob says: “The supply chain fell over. It happened in waves, with proteins the first to go. We had to do a lot of scrambling, calling in favours and thinking on our feet. It was a wild time for a few months.”
Entrepreneurship had already been a goal, even if he didn’t immediately find the right idea. “Giles, my co-founder, and I had talked about doing something for four or five years. We had talked about a number of different businesses, written business plans, but it wasn’t until Mindful Chef that we found something we could really get excited about. We thought it would be a fun and interesting business – it gave us the naïve optimism we needed!” he says.
The two trends – food delivery and wellness – were still in their infancy. “There was a lot of money chasing the wellness trend across the world and tying the two together, making healthy eating easy through delivery services, seemed to have a lot of potential.”
The group started small in 2011 – just three recipes and only in SW postcodes. They worked on getting feedback from 50 or 100 people. They would listen, change it and listen more. However, Rob always had an eye on the scalability of the business. Going to Covent Garden market each morning wasn’t an option as the business grew. Supplier relationships were the key to scale.
Was he a foodie? “Giles and I were the customers of the product. We both understood what good, healthy food looked like. However, Myles was the one from a personal training and nutrition background.”
They have had to adapt over the years. In 2011, Rob says, the group imagined its customer being younger, urban, ‘dual income, no kids’, who cared about looking good on the beach: “They would eat mindfully to complement their training schedule or Soul Cycle. However, we’ve found that our customer base has actually became older, more rural. 70% of them were outside London, many in their late 40s. In some cases the kids had flown and they had embraced healthy eating on longevity grounds. This older group would spend more. They would also be more vocal on Facebook.” As a result, they started to pay more attention to family meals.
From here, the team has ambitions to hit £150m in sales by 2024. Nestle took a stake in November 2020, which should help the group grow its range of ‘other’ options - ready meals, soups and broths, smoothies. Rob says: “We didn’t have breakfasts and we really wanted to make ourselves relevant across all meal occasions.” In the longer-term, he’d love to take the brand internationally, but is keen to crack the product proposition for the UK first.
What have been the secrets of their success? Hard work has been key, says Rob: “We were really prepared to knuckle down and put in a shift. Today, we gloss over how hard it was, but we would start packing boxes at 6am on a Saturday. It was just tough, gruelling work.” They were also careful that ‘perfection wasn’t the enemy of good’: “Everything we did just had to be a little bit better than before and eventually iterated to something really good.”
As well as listening and soliciting feedback, the trio also developed decision-making short-cuts. They could be candid with each other and make decisions quickly. It meant bad ideas were scrapped and they found what stuck early on. It’s been a winning formula. Mindful Chef has firmly built its place in the competitive world of online deliveries.
More success stories
Mervyn Williamson’s path to entrepreneurship was unusual in that he didn’t pursue a ‘big idea’, but just had an inkling that business travel could be done better, in a more personalised and skilful way. He has been proved right, particularly during the most significant crisis that has faced the travel industry in memory.