In today’s time-strapped economy, our lives are full with our careers, social engagements, extracurricular activities…the list goes on. While we are expending our energy tending to these engagements, where do you we find time to nourish our bodies?
This is where Fresh Prep could help. The Founders came together with the goal of providing fresh, seasonal ingredients directly to your door so you can cook amazing meals for everyone in under thirty minutes. If you already spend thirty minutes waiting in line to dine out at popular restaurants, why not enjoy the option of eating home-cooked meals in the comfort of your own home?
The instructions seem easy enough: choose from Fresh Prep’s selection of recipes, have the ingredients delivered to you, follow simple steps to cook the meal. The menu items offered on Fresh Prep include mouth-watering creations such as Turkey Poblano Chili, Curried Shrimp and Basmati Rice, and White Bean and Orecchiette Pasta. You don’t have to be a master chef to cook these scrumptious items. From just $9 per meal, we would say Fresh Prep saves us time, money, and allows us to eat better - what’s not to love?
We had the pleasure of sitting down with the Co-Founders Becky Switzer, Dhruv Sood and Husein Rahemtulla, to chat about the story behind their business venture.
P: Pendulum Magazine
P: Tell us how Fresh Prep started. What were you doing prior to starting this business? How did you guys come together on the idea of meal delivery?
DHRUV: We had the idea back in university, but it remained dormant for a bit. After university I went the traditional route in my discipline to work as a research associate and Husein managed two family-owned hotels on the island. We would meet and discuss various business ventures spurred from discussing ideas around how to further improve the hotels, and eventually remembered the idea we had way back when. Husein was excited about the possibilities right away and the timeline worked well for me to get involved as well. We decided to give it everything we have and our very first day working on it together was us driving a truck over to the sunshine coast to pick up sinks and fridges for the facility. Quite a drastic change from the suit-wearing office job just the day before.
P: Where did you get the funding to start the business? How much time did you spend planning before officially launching the business?
DHRUV: We started off with our own savings but very quickly realized that wouldn’t cut it. We then went to family and friends and found great support. Conscious of the source of our funds, we carefully designed our business model and managed our expenses, and bootstrapped our way until we began to build out our larger facility.
Since the industry was so new and untested, there wasn’t much we could plan without testing. As a result, we ‘launched’ quickly. Whether it was an ‘official’ launch depends on your answer to the question “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” After our launch we served maybe 5-10 customers weekly for months before we perfected the product and started ramping up.
P: What role does each of you take on at Fresh Prep? Are there areas of the business where all three of you take responsibility of?
DHRUV: I am responsible for the finances, automation, and growth related capital expenditures. I love dreaming up solutions, and designing and building stuff and I get to do just that! Husein takes on the people side of things. He ensures our employees and customers have a great experience by establishing a value oriented company culture, and ensuring the right people are in place for operations to run smooth and deliveries to get out on time. Together, me and Husein determine the company’s strategy and long-term vision. Becky currently leads the culinary team and ultimately determines the variety of recipes our customers rave about. She oversees recipe development, integrates new food partnerships, and manages our purchasing team and supplier relationships.
P: Meal delivery was a new type of service in Canada at the time. How did the market respond to Fresh Prep?
DHRUV: Even when we first launched Fresh Prep, meal kits were becoming an increasingly competitive market. Four years later, and it’s more competitive than we anticipated but since the beginning the market has responded well to our product. We have a few key differences in how we’ve structured our service that customers really appreciate and have become important aspects of our entire model. An example of this would be the fact that we have our own driver fleet and don’t rely on other delivery methods, like Canada Post, to deliver to our customers. This added level of personalization provides not only more flexibility and customization on the customer’s end, but has created yet another level of customer-facing employees which truly completes our entire experience, from start to finish.
P: Who is your target audience?
HUSEIN: The majority of our customers are women who are working professionals or raising young families. That said, our vision for Fresh Prep is an everyday dinner habit for a much wider range of people - basically anyone who gets hungry!
P: Did you face any challenges getting the business off the ground? How did you overcome them?
HUSEIN: I think the biggest challenge was the healthy dose of skepticism we were met with when starting it. Some people thought it was a really cool idea, but most thought we were crazy. I’d say the naïveté of youth was great to overcome it because we believed there was no challenge too big. I think going in and approaching it as a learning experience was important— we were going to give it everything we had but if it didn’t pan out we’d at least have learned a ton and were young enough to recover.
P: Fresh ingredients is an important aspect of your business. But with dishes varying every week and the option for customers to skip any week they want, how do you manage so that the right amount of produce is ordered and nothing goes to waste?
BECKY: It’s not easy! We have some very talented individuals on our team that ensure our orders are forecasted properly and we purchase only what we’ll need for the week. We have great relationships with our local suppliers too, and that really helps us run a tight ship.
P: You use seasonal ingredients in your recipes - was it tough developing relationships with your ingredient sources? Where do you source ingredients from? How do you choose your sources?
BECKY: Because our business model is a relatively new one, it was certainly challenging dealing with suppliers who had little knowledge of what a meal kit was, or what it entailed from a purchasing standpoint. It was a learning curve for us, but also for our suppliers, but after a few years, things have definitely gotten smoother. In terms of choosing suppliers, quality is always our #1 priority. If it’s not something we’d want to cook with or use in our own homes then you won’t see it on our menu. We avoid all processed foods, and our philosophy from the beginning has been to stick with nutritious, unprocessed, whole and natural foods. Ensuring that our partners align with our food philosophy has been key when vetting new suppliers and local collaborations.
P: Were there any difficulties getting chefs on board since meal delivery was still a relatively new concept? Has your recipe development team grown to meet customer demands?
BECKY: Our recipe development team has doubled in size in the last year. We see Fresh Prep as a great scaling platform for the creativity of chefs. They’re able to offer thousands of people their recipes each week without the typical exhausting chef lifestyle. Not having to operate a physical restaurant they are freed to focus on their creativity as chefs. Because of this we received many, many talented applicants. Balancing a team of creatives creates a unique challenge. From the beginning, we’ve worked hard to make sure that our recipes stand out from the crowd. We have to balance nutrition, flavour, price of ingredients and variety so each of our team members needs to be well-versed and experienced with all of these aspects of recipe development.
P: How does the process of meal planning look like? Do you guys plan out meals months in advance? What are the considerations that go into choosing ingredients and creating dishes?
BECKY: There are a ton of variables that need to be considered with menu planning such as ensuring dietary restrictions are met, seasonality / quality of produce and proteins, pricing, variety, appeal and approachability, health, timing, and about a million other things. We do plan our menus months in advance so that we can ensure we have all our ducks in a row before the menu goes live. Every recipe is triple tested and approved by our staff and families before making it into our clients’ homes. Bottom line, if it isn’t delicious, it doesn’t go on the menu.
P: The meal delivery sector is becoming increasingly competitive. What would you say is a key thing Fresh Prep is doing that makes you continue to grow and stand out from other businesses?
HUSEIN: From day one we’ve had a unique model relative to the rest of the meal kit industry. Our emphasis on quality and convenience is something that’s backed up by hard numbers - we spend more for better quality, fresher ingredients than our competitors and offer unparalleled value by doing most of the prep work (chopping, slicing, dicing etc.) involved with cooking. Most competition send whole ingredients that require prep prior to cooking at the same or higher price point than us.
A more environmentally sustainable model using reusable packaging and local deliveries is also something we take a lot of pride in and are continuing to innovate on further.
P: What advice can you give on those want to start a business in this field?
HUSEIN: For starting any business the aphorism from the Arthur theme song (my favourite show) has a lot of truth to it: “Believe in yourself, that’s the place to start.” If you don’t, then success is improbable. Believe in your ability and vision and make all your actions purposeful: do all the small things to start making your goal a reality.
P: What is in the works for Fresh Prep?
HUSEIN: Two major areas of focus for Fresh Prep are product innovation and geographic expansion.
From the product standpoint, offering additional wholesome foods and other products we believe in for delivery to our customers. Also, innovating on our packaging to extend our leadership position as one of the most environmentally friendly meal kit companies in the world. Expansion wise we’re gearing up to launching in Victoria this Fall and a larger Western Canadian expansion early next year. We’re excited to feed more people better food.
We want to thank the Fresh Prep team for taking the time to share their business lessons with us, shining a light on how aspiring entrepreneurs can deal with the constant challenges of starting, running, and growing a business. To find out more about Fresh Prep or to start ordering easy-to-make, fresh and healthy meals at home today, visit their website here.
Photos courtesy of Fresh Prep.