It’s 2 p.m. in Auckland and Lisa King has just been around to Eat My Lunch’s new retail store, Grab And Go. King, founder of Eat My Lunch, and her team launched their first brick and mortar location in mid-July to fill a gap in the market for business lunch options: they’re catering to a segment of the market that makes impulse lunch decisions.
King started her business online four years ago to feed hungry kids in New Zealand. The concept is simple: buy your lunch online, and in return, give lunch to a Kiwi kid in need. One in four Kiwi kids, about 290,000, live in poverty and thousands go to school every day without lunch. “Everything we do has to enable us to give a lunch,” says King.
When the business launched in June 2015, Uber Eats didn’t exist in New Zealand. “There was a need for the convenience of having food delivered to you,” says King. The team started with a three-year vision and three-year projections, which were met in the first 12 weeks of business.
Her team learned quickly that even though people can order online two days in advance and have food delivered to their offices, there’s still a significant portion of the lunch market that isn’t served. “People aren’t deciding what they’re going to eat until they walk out the door that day and ask themselves, ‘what am I going to have for lunch?’ We were missing out on that part of the market.” Thirty-three per cent of lunch purchases are impulse according to a New Zealand restaurant and hospitality report.
One of Eat My Lunch’s shareholders is a major supermarket chain in New Zealand and presented an opportunity to open a store in Britomart, a mix of boutiques and eateries in the city’s central business district. King looked to grab-and-go options like Pret A Manger of the United Kingdom for inspiration and took the chance to trial the concept in supermarkets in 2018 before launching the retail location.
In conversation with King, she shares how the team developed the concept, what they’ve learned so far, and their goals for the concept looking ahead:
In our online model, lunch turns up in a box. Customers can choose a meat or vegetarian meal for about $15, but they don’t get to choose chicken or beef or type of vegetables.
The retail model is different. People spend $14 and that can be on anything they want - such as two coffees and a pastry for breakfast or lunch - versus specifically buying a lunch. Then a Kiwi kid in need gets a lunch.
In retail you have to give customers a choice. When people stand in your store, they want to choose what they’re going to eat, and they want to see what they’re eating. Our online lunches come in a brown craft box, so customers can’t see the food until their food arrives. We’ve had to redesign our product offering in the retail model to have more choice and to make the food visible. We also have supplementary offerings that complement the food - like drinks, snacks, and coffee.
The current grab-and-go lunch scenario is Subway, cafes, and poke bowls. There are queues everywhere for lunch options, so we’re trying to remove the wait for people so they can pick and take what they want. Our food is made fresh every morning and it’s often the healthy, fresh, and most convenient of lunch options.
HOW WE GOT STARTED
Before we opened a retail location, we needed to understand what capabilities were required to make this business successful, because it’s a pivot on our core online operation. Logistics and production are a major consideration. Our lunches are made in the morning by 9:30 a.m. to be delivered by our courier drivers. For the store, we have to make everything and have it delivered to the store by 6:30 a.m., because the store opens at 7 a.m.
We had to ask ourselves, “since our core business is online, will this store add or detract from our B2B customers? And, how do we deliver the customer experience in a physical environment?” With our online business we deliver an experience through storytelling and the food. In terms of focus and resources we asked, “do we have the capacity?”
We hired people for the store separate from our current team. We needed someone to run the store and hire and train baristas. The skills and experiences were different than what we had to do for the online business, and we’ve had to lean on others for support through a steep learning process. Since this is our trial store, we wanted to minimize our investment: we’ll see if it works, take the learnings, and roll out from there.
WHAT WE’RE REALIZING TWO WEEKS INTO LAUNCH
There are things now where we’re realizing, “we should’ve done that, or maybe we should’ve done it another way.” For example, we have to think about the experience for the customer when they walk into the store, and the store is a funny shape. You walk up the stairs and it's a U-shape.
We had discussions about where to put the counter, chiller cabinets for the food, and the waiting area. At the moment when you walk up the stairs, you see the food in a display, the counter to the left and the waiting area to the right--that looked great on paper [laughs]. Then when the fit-out happened, I was like, “ugh, we should have put the counter in the middle, so that there’s a flow: you go to the left get your food, go to the counter and order your coffee, and move on to the waiting area to the right.
OPPORTUNITIES WE’RE SEEING
Discovering new customer needs: We have two types of customers online. One is corporate - catering for meetings and functions and that’s still our core online business. The other is individual. We’re finding with individuals, who are ordering online, that although their lunches were delivered every week, often their plans change. They told us that because they weren’t in the office when their lunches arrived, that they had to give their meal to someone else or miss out that day. Now people are saying, “I don’t need to order online, I can come to the store.”
Giving back to the community: At the beginning of our business, we needed people to help and now volunteers have grown into a key part of our business. Most of our volunteers are our customers, and we have a two-to-three month waiting list. That’s one of the more special parts of the business: the amount of support that we’ve had from the wider community and the kind of collaborations we’re able to do, such as having brand ambassadors (Paralympic Gold Medalist Liam Malone and professional boxer Joseph Parker. When we decided we were going to open the store and have baristas, we created the opportunity for someone with a disability - we’re happy to be able to extend the impact and do good beyond the kids we’re feeding.
Integrating both businesses: We’ve recognized opportunities to leverage the store with our B2B customers, who have different needs. For example, there are things we can offer with the store that we can’t offer online, like coffee. We’ve learned that some of our customers offer free coffee days for their staff, so we’re inquiring about how they can order through our store. This business is on top of the lunches they’re offering online--through little things like that where we’re finding big opportunities and synergies.
WHERE WE’RE HEADED
If this goes well and we meet expectations, we’re already talking about where the next store could go. We need to determine criteria for the location, density, and foot traffic, and how these considerations fit with locations and cities. In terms of a repeatable and scalable model, if we can get his one working and apply the learnings, then new stores are something we could roll out quickly.
At the moment we’re feeding 2,500 kids every day. I hope we can feed 10,000 kids every day in the next three to four years, and even then that will be meeting half the need in New Zealand.
BY THE NUMBERS
1M lunches given to hungry Kiwi kids
10,000 lunches in the first six months of business
18,000 volunteers over four years
50 full-time staff
35 volunteers, who come in every morning, who are also customers
2 famous subscribers: Lorde and Jacinda Arden