In New Zealand, 29 percent of kids live in poverty and it’s an issue that impacts their education and their health. Poverty goes hand in hand with obesity, as those living in the most deprived areas are four times more likely to be obese than those living in the least deprived areas.
Bring in Lisa King, once corporate career woman now philanthropist, led by a dream to make a difference to those included in the statistics and alleviate poverty in New Zealand.
With the belief that clever business solutions can solve the big issues of tomorrow, King and her partner left their jobs and founded the entrepreneurial commercial entity Eat My Lunch in June last year, which is built around the idea of ‘buy one, give one’.
For every lunch purchased, one hungry school child receives a lunch, an idea it hoped would impact positive change by starting a social movement. The bigger it gets, the better it does.
In order to also take on the issue of obesity, inspired by New Zealand having the third highest adult obesity rate in the OECD—with one in three adults and one in 10 children under 14 obese—all the lunches are made with fresh, healthy ingredients.
However, if it was going to be viable and achieve its dream, it needed to scale quickly and with no marketing budget, so one of the challenges would be getting the word out.
Eat My Lunch pioneered a self-sustaining business model with doing good at its heart. It operates as an online food subscription service, with subscribers paying $12 for two lunches, one delivered to their workplace for them, and the other delivered to a low decile school for a Kiwi kid who would usually go without.
Not only is ‘buy one, give one’ easy to grasp with a tangible impact, it’s transparent by definition. This sets Eat My Lunch apart from other charities that lack transparency and don’t demonstrate where all donations go.
Being a start-up, a large range of external stakeholders were engaged for help, resource and support. These ranged from identifying partners, who would become minor shareholders, an agency, a logistics supply chain expert, to professional services such as a web developer, a design agency and a bank. Chef Michael Meredith is one of those shareholders and came on board to share his expertise on menu development and food catering. Also included in that help and support is the volunteers, who are required to put together the lunches. Creating a complex ‘just in time’ fresh supply chain delivering lunches across Auckland is no walk in the park, and in the beginning, it was friends and family who made it out of bed to make sandwiches at 6am.
Eat My Lunch considered itself possibly naive for believing people would be passionate enough to help, but it has since built up a roster of 1,200 volunteers with a two to three week waiting list to get into the kitchen.
The time volunteers have to wait for their chance to get into the kitchen contrasts one of the reasons Eat My Lunch works. Being a food delivery service, it provides a solution to today’s time-poor environment, in which people often eat at their desks. Convenience often means a trade-off for healthy food, but providing a nutritious meal to paying customers is just as important as providing good food to the kids. Also, it provides a solution for Kiwis who want to do good, but don’t know how.
However, in order for that difference to be made, customers first have to find out about it. With no budget for PR, social and word-of-mouth stories were developed for media outlets and Eat My Lunch invited the media into their house to watch and visit the schools where lunches were provided.
Eat My Lunch went down the B2B channel to target corporates with EDMs, LinkedIn posts and presentations to businesses. Further awareness was achieved by sample lunches being sent to influencers who drove both word-of-mouth and social activity. All the while, Eat My Lunch was sharing its story on Facebook.
Kiwi singer/songwriter and international sensation Lorde also harnessed her online following and achieved 116,000 likes across Instagram and Facebook for a post about her subscription to the service.
When the lunches get to the school, they are not only feeding a child in poverty, they are providing nutrients with fresh vegetable-based ingredients. Beyond the educational benefits of a full tummy, Eat My Lunch believes it’s the first time many of the kids have been exposed to fresh vegetables. This gave it a chance to change the taste buds of what it calls the ‘fast food generation’.
To increase the number of lunches it could produce and the kids it could feed, Eat My Lunch turned to crowd-funding platform PledgeMe, through which it ran the most pledged crowd funding campaign with over 2,500 pledgers raising $130,000. The funds were used to set up a commercial kitchen.
It has since launched the first lending-based crowd funding campaign on the platform and raised over $800,000 through ‘Lunch Bonds’. The bonds offer provides financial return to the lenders as well as lunches to kids. Lenders had the choice of either six percent interest per annum and have lunch given away each month on their behalf, or receive no interest and have two lunches given away each month.
Considering Eat My Lunch started operating out of its founders’ home, and was forced to raise money for a commercial space just a few months later, its success is visible before the numbers are even brought into play.
In the first six months it made 10,000 lunches, provided lunches to five schools and had 10,000 Facebook likes. Fast-forward another six months and it was up to 320,000 lunches, with 180,000 given to 32 low-decile schools in Auckland and Hamilton, and has over 33,000 Facebook likes.
Not only are those kids being fed, King previously told NZ Marketing that the kids’ skin is better, they’re healthier and it’s improved attendance rates. In fact, some schools have seen their lowest rates of absenteeism since Eat My Lunch started because parents are no longer embarrassed about sending them to school without lunch.
Soon, kids in Wellington will be seeing the benefits of the service, with money from the lending-based crowd funding campaign contributing to an expansion to the capital. Since its launch, people from around the country have been asking it to come to different parts of the country and Wellington, being very community minded, was very vocal about the idea.
Eat My Lunch’s success has also been supported by a number of awards including wins in the New Zealand Innovation Awards and New Zealand Sustainability Awards. King was also named a finalist in the New Zealander of the Year Awards and has also toured the country with New Zealand’s Innovation Heroes sharing her successes and failures. With both come lessons learned about owning a business and the right people to be surrounded by. For those looking to create their own social enterprise, King says: “Just do it. Learn by doing and be prepared to evolve and adapt quickly.”