Rebecca Jones talks about how her health conditions and lack of time prompted her to create a ready-made food business.
What does your business do?
Village Kitchen prepares and cooks a fresh meal every day and delivers it to busy office workers and busy parents across Auckland and the North Shore. It launched in July 2015 and took about 18 months of devising with tiny children before I finally started the business.
What was the motivation for starting the business?
I had suffered chronic health conditions, bowel conditions and also cealiac disease and when I moved back to Auckland in 2007 to start my family, I had three kids very close together; I had a newborn, a toddler and a preschooler, all at home. My husband is Dutch and my family is in Taupo so we had no family support.
My mother used to come and stay every now and then and she would cook us a beautiful meal each night so that was where the seed was planted.
I was busy so found myself eating snacks rather than proper food so my conditions flared up and I just craved an actual dinner. We ate a lot of mince and takeaways.
I knew I couldn't have been alone, and we soon discovered that it wasn't just busy parents; there were so many people that lacked time to make a good meal, so that's where it started and we built up pretty quickly.
How did you start the business?
There was a local guy, Jeremy Schmid, who owned restaurants and I rang him out of the blue one day, as I knew he had an amazing kitchen near by, and he said 'yeah sure, come in, you can rent it from me' so I bought some packaging and did a soft launch. I remember dropping tea towels to a couple of blocks in Devonport in letter boxes. We had a few recipes that we loved and just started it one day.
On our first day, we had three orders and only one of them was an actual paying customer and then after three months, we were doing 60 to 70 meals a day.
How big is your team?
I've got a couple of full-time chefs, and two drivers and an IT developer on contract.
How many meals do you sell each day?
We sell several hundred meals per week. We grew very quickly from hardly any meals to 60 or 70 a day and then after a year 120 to 50 a day. At that time, our pricing was completely off, effectively putting out a product which was not covering our costs, so at the beginning of 2017 we did several months market research and assessed where our products should be and adjusted our pricing.
We did lose customers but did also gain the people who needed us in their lives; the very busy corporate workers, the double working parents. It was probably the hardest thing I've had to do because I'd a built a relationship with all of our customers but it turned out to be the best thing we could have done because we're back on track and every week we get new customers.
How did you work out how to value your meals?
We knew what the ingredients cost and we knew the labour involved in making everything from scratch so worked back from there. A single portion of one of our meals is $19.90 and a double portion is $37.80 then we've got a flat $3 delivery fee. There's more and more of these companies coming into the market but in 2017 we were looking at the likes of My Food Bags and those were more expensive than the meals we were selling that only needed to be popped in the oven.
Do you view meal preparation services as competition?
I do, I don't know if I should. I can't compete with the likes of My Food Bag, they are an absolute machine with so much momentum and noise and are amazing and I look up to them and think 'wow, look what they have done'...of course, we have competition but I try not to focus too much - it's a rabbit hole that you don't want to go down.
What are your long-term plans for Village Kitchen?
We're really busy but I feel like we're just at the beginning. We want to be on every busy worker's dinner plate. We have big plans but for the short term we are focusing on Auckland. We would like to expand to Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton but that's far, far down the track.
What advice do you give to others thinking of starting a business?
Find a problem in your life and see if people are having the same problem, and solve it. Running a business is a rollercoaster but if you stick with it you will be successful.