Ready-made meal and meal-kit companies are bucking the lockdown blues and experiencing a surge in trade, with orders at some companies up more than 500 per cent since lockdown began.
As demand surges, some businesses have increased their people power. One meal-kit company has hired redundant former flight attendants, while another has set up an entire new boxing facility in just a week.
Jess Daniell, founder of Jess' Underground Kitchen, says the Auckland-based business has experienced a surge in online sales - selling up to 2000 meals per day.
She says the increase happened literally overnight as the country moved into level 4 lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.
"Our stores are closed, our catering arm has closed, and this is normally quite a busy time of year for us, but the real silver lining is that we have the production facilities to just be cooking healthy home-cooked style meals," Daniell told the Herald.
The business has been selling frozen meals online, and meets the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's criteria for essential services. Its meals are also sold in New World supermarkets.
Before lockdown, the company was selling about 70 meal options. It now has 25, and is making about 5000 meals a day on average.
"We have big shipping container freezers and they were full and they would empty out every day. It was mental. Our kitchen team are working so hard to keep on top of numbers and keep products in stock," Daniell said.
Jess' Underground Kitchen, which employs 35 staff, initially applied and received the Government's 12-week wage subsidy. It is now in the process of returning that funding as it is no longer needed.
"I wouldn't say that we are suddenly profiting off Covid-19, but we have managed to stay afloat and replace our other revenue streams with online ordering of frozen meals. We have managed to move all of our staff sideways within the business ... it's been a real bonus to keep all of our staff employed."
The Morningside business first started to see an increase in online orders in the week leading up to lockdown.
"On the Monday when they announced that we were going into level 4, we have never had such massive days - in our stores or online - it literally just went like a hockey stick straight up."
Daniell had to temporarily turn off deliveries to be able to keep up with demand until the first Monday of lockdown, and stockpiled packaging ahead of the move to alert level 4.
"Revenue, I would say that we're probably trading about the same, but we've just had a complete switch in focus. Having four stores open seven days a week and catering lots of events are important revenue streams, those have shut completely, but with the increase in frozen sales we've been able to float at that same level."
Rebecca Jones, founder of another ready-made meal firm, Village Kitchen, says online orders for her frozen meals have increased by 650 per cent during lockdown.
Like Jess' Underground Kitchen, she says the business got a surge in orders overnight as the country moved into lockdown. Jones says the first couple of weeks were hectic, but the business has since adapted to sell its meals in a bulk format.
"The first couple of weeks were huge and I think that was down to people panicking, but what we have seen is this continuation of people sending meals to others," Jones says.
Village Kitchen had been supplying meals to North Shore Hospital and St Margaret's Hospital and Rest Home thanks to an anonymous donation of $4500 to sponsor 450 meals for the frontline healthcare workers. The first meals were sent out on Thursday and more will be sent out next week.
Before lockdown, Village Kitchen delivered fresh ready-made meals throughout Auckland. Jones says the change to frozen meals and to nationwide distribution has brought additional opportunity and is a silver lining amid the pandemic.
Kevin Bowler, chief executive of popular meal-kit company My Food Bag, told the Herald during lockdown the business had delivered more than 100,000 meal kits.
While Bowler is tight-lipped on the company's customer numbers, he says the business now has thousands more customers than it did before lockdown and its customer base has grown by about 50 per cent.
Tonight #Gourmet #Foodies are tucking into this phenomenal Autumn Chicken with Roasted Potato & Brussels Salad, served with yummy Feta Whip! Holy Guacamole! What would be the cherry on top for you with this dish? #RecipeOfTheDay pic.twitter.com/SXH7aLnECf— My Food Bag NZ (@MyFoodBagNZ) May 15, 2018
To keep up with demand, My Food Bag has opened a second food box assembly centre in the Auckland suburb of Highbrook to reduce pressure on its Māngere location.
My Food Bag, which also has packing sites in Wellington and Christchurch, spent the week after Easter setting up the new site.
"We've seen growth out of all four sites," Bowler says.
"There are some constraints around the amount of boxes that we can pack and still be compliant with all of the Covid-19 health and safety guidelines."
Bowler says the company had expected an increase in order volumes before lockdown.
He says My Food Bag has noted a significant increase in orders for its gourmet boxes, which could be attributed to many people missing dining out.
"Products like My Food Bag Classic and Gourmet are the ones that people have really gravitated towards - the recipes that are more on the nice dining style of food as opposed to just feeding the family."
Thomas Dietz, chief executive of meal-kit company Woop, which has also experienced a surge in demand after lockdown, says sales of its own gourmet box have been popular during lockdown.
Mt Eden-based Woop, which has packing facilities in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, has expanded its team to meet demand.
Dietz told the Herald the company recently hired 100 staff, many flight attendants from Air New Zealand and Qantas, made redundant because of coronavirus.
"We've had unprecedented growth in orders ... it's been a dramatic increase so we've had to increase the capacity of the operations quite quickly."
He says the company is now sending out "tens of thousands" of orders each week.