“This is just the beginning for online grocery services”: Interview with Mindful Chef’s co-founder Giles Humphries

Mindful Chef co-founders Giles Humphries and Miles Hopper

With all of us in Europe confined to our homes during the past few months, food delivery services have boomed. Whether it’s online grocery delivery, restaurant delivery services like Glovo, or pre-prepared food boxes with all ingredients weighed out ready for cooking, the sector is certainly riding the wave.

But this could be more than just a temporary shift, fuelled by a short-term need. Within the lockdown bubble, potentially long-term social and cultural changes are also taking place. Slowing down has been something that many of us have had to get used to, and the way we consume food has been part of that. Rediscovering the joy of cooking at home and a renewed conversation around our impact on the planet have meant that having locally produced, waste free, recipe boxes delivered to our homes is something that consumers could continue to buy into long after the crisis is over.

Mindful Chef is one of these health-focused recipe box startups that was launched in London in 2015 by school friends Giles Humphries, Myles Hopper and Robert Grieg-Gran. The startup delivers ethically sourced ingredients from small UK farms and producers, additionally donating school meals to children in poverty for every meal ordered. Now, with 40 staff and having delivered +2 million meals, they were voted the UK’s number 1 recipe box. We were able to speak to co-founder Giles Humphries about how this pandemic has pulled the sector forward 3-5 years, how hundreds of thousands of people have now tried food boxes and the challenges of ‘new normal’.

Hi Giles, thank you for joining us! Firstly, could you jump quickly into how you started, and what life was like for you before the pandemic?

We started the business in 2015, spotting an opportunity within the largest vertical of consumer spending – the grocery sector. We noticed that the sector’s penetration was, at the time, just 5% of all spending online. This was crazy given that there is an entire generation coming through as adults in the working world who grew up with smartphones (unlike us!). So we said, this market is ripe for disruption and we want to lead the way. It was a bold move to leave our jobs there and then, given the size of the market and obvious logistical challenges (operating fresh perishable goods in a just-in-time delivery model is incredibly complex) but if we could crack it, we knew we would be at the forefront of a very exciting space.

We entered the recipe box space as the sole provider focussing on the healthy end of the market. We knew others filled their boxes with cheap stodgy fillers like pasta and burger buns, and we wanted to provide a genuinely healthy solution to help people maintain a balanced diet – so we focussed exclusively on that end of the market. We grew the business from our apartment over 5 years with €9 million investment to a team of 40 staff and an ARR of €28 million pre COVID-19.

When the pandemic hit the UK, how did you adapt? Were there any particular challenges or opportunities?

In the space of a week the business leapt in size. New customer acquisition jumped, returning customer winback rates soared and organic traffic went through the roof. We turned off all marketing and focussed on operationally being able to deliver our healthy meals across the UK.

The most obvious challenges were scaling up our team and ensuring our supply chains were able to cope. We doubled the size of the team – focussing on operations and customer care – and spent day and night working with old and new suppliers to meet demand. In three weeks the business trebled in size to a €84 million ARR and we have held there ever since. The challenge now is about ensuring we continue to deliver at this level for this ‘new normal’. 

What national or European trends have you seen emerge in your sector since the crisis began?

The clear trend we have seen is the adoption of online grocery delivery services in a very short timeframe. We believe, looking at independent consultants estimates, that this has pulled our industry forward by around 3-5 years overnight. There is also a renewed focus upon health; our post-checkout poll indicates that people now more than ever are focussed upon health and wellbeing – our service fits perfectly into that consumer need.

Can you describe how you see the ‘new normal’ for the food box sector in the next 12- 24 months?

We believe this growth has introduced hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of new customers across Europe to the concept of online grocery delivery and has enabled these consumers to understand how these services work and crucially to trust that they are reliable, safe and fundamentally a better way to shop.

The feedback we see on our 5 star rated Trustpilot page is very revealing: people using phrases such as “I’ve never grocery shopped online before, but after trying it for the last month I realise it removes so much unnecessary wasted time and planning every week that I’m now hooked for the long term!” We see this being a core part of the new normal.

It’s quite easy to order prepared food from restaurants, straight to your house. How do you see the food box sector competing with restaurant delivery market in the next 12-24 months? What are your advantages?

Lockdown has encouraged more people than ever before to get back into the habit of cooking for themselves. Cooking is a joyful experience that you share with others over the dinner table. It initiates conversation and brings people together.

Of course people will go back to their favourite restaurants but as more people have experienced how easy it is to have food delivered to their door, and the enjoyment of cooking it themselves, we think the market is only going to continue growing.

Coming back to your startup now, what does the rest of 2020 and 2021 hold for Mindful Chef? 

2020 and 2021 are going to be 2 of our most exciting years yet. We’re growing our amazing team of individuals, moving into a new office space and will look to see how we can make Mindful Chef even more relevant across the week. Our frozen meals and smoothies range has been a huge hit with customers and we’ll continue to find more ways of making healthy eating easy