Walk into the Mindful Chef offices when the team are creating new recipes and you are immediately hit by the mouth-watering smell of cooking food and you can’t help but feel the passion for what they’re doing.
It was only five years ago in the summer of 2014 that the concept of Mindful Chef was born. Three school friends were back in Devon for the summer and helped a family friend on a small fishing trawler. On returning to the village with their catch, they would text approximately 200 customers who, if interested, would turn up at the dock to buy what had been caught.
One of the founders Myles Hopper says “this was the eureka moment – we thought this is how food should be sourced; direct from supplier to the customer without it being on the shelves and in big warehouses for weeks on end. We’d seen recipe boxes in the US and could see that was a way to get food to fork really quickly, but we wanted to do it differently.”
The different element was health. With this new idea, it was key that they solve the pain point of healthy eating that a lot of people struggle with, by giving them tasty food to make a healthy lifestyle more sustainable and achievable. The health aspect has naturally attracted sportspeople to the brand; both Sir Andy Murray and Victoria Pendleton CBE are investors, they are partnered with the English Institute of Sport and they have a number of other GB athletes and sports professionals as their customers.
Five years on, they have impressive year on year growth and are delivering over 25,000 meals a week (all gluten free and dairy free) to their customers throughout most of mainland UK, seven days a week.
To achieve this monumental growth, they have had to go through various pinch points to be able to scale up the business. In 2016 and then later in 2017, they raised investment using crowdfunding platforms. Most recently, at the end of 2018 they received £6 million in funding from private equity firm Piper.
When asked about their biggest challenges over the years, Myles says “I think scaling on a limited budget. I think we’ve done a really good job getting to where we have in terms of growing the business and revenue with what is actually a limited amount of money spent.”
In the last year they have increased their permanent members of staff from just 12 to 40, a dramatic increase in just one year. This is a long way from the start of their business when they did everything themselves. At one point they were packing approximately 1,000 boxes a week, which involved over 30,000 ingredients moving through their warehouse every single week!
Now with a bigger team they are able to delegate some of the workload but they are still very much involved. When looking at new suppliers, both Myles and Giles will visit them to make sure that they are the right fit with the brand.
As Myles comments “we can’t just work with anyone. Look at our name – Mindful Chef – they have to fit in with us and our values and what we’re trying to achieve. We’re an ethical business trying to do things better which is a lot harder doing it that way; it’s more difficult to get really good margins. For example when you buy free range chickens or 100% grass fed beef then it’s a lot more expensive.”
They are a company with strong values. Partnering with the One Feeds Two campaign, the business has donated 1.8 million school meals to children in poverty in Malawi. Myles describes this as his biggest achievement from a personal point of view.
Whilst the company has grown, it still retains a feel of being a responsive, fast moving start-up. They recently launched frozen meals and it only took a couple of months to launch and test the idea. They can do the same with other new products and services, unlike some of their larger competitors.
Myles comments “Lots of people may think it’s easy to start up a food ordering business but under the surface, operationally and logistically, when you look at what happens in terms of back end tech systems such as ordering systems and forecasting systems, it’s really not.”
Precise forecasting is key to the business. The recipes are planned three months in advance. Reducing waste is a clear focus, which means working closely with their suppliers to make sure they don’t over order but making sure they have enough; it’s a fine balance to get right.
With the growth over the last year, they have had to make sure they work with professional advisers that can support them and grow with them. One has been engaging PKF Francis Clark as their accountancy, tax and business adviser. The firm has been providing the company with statutory accounts, audit, corporation tax (including R&D credits), VAT work, advice on the impact of IR35 legislation and support on the tax implications and reporting requirements arising from the investment rounds.
Myles says “It is a good fit and it works really well. We feel valued essentially. So if you speak to the guys they get back to you with comprehensive answers – very helpful and it works well.
“I feel that they understand us and importantly, speak our language. We use them there as a resource. It’s great to be able to call on a firm with all the different specialist areas, but have one main contact that you can work closely with.”
Nick Farrant, Partner and Head of food and drink at PKF Francis Clark said “it’s been a real pleasure working with the team at Mindful Chef over the last year. It’s a great business and one that we feel we can help with their growth to the next level and beyond.”
So what are the next steps for Mindful Chef? Their frozen meals are going well and they’re looking to extend the range as well as being in the midst of developing a family range of meals.
Myles says “if we can have a positive impact on people’s lives, then that is going to make the business worthwhile. 2019 has been a real transition in terms of the team and we’re excited by what’s to come.”