Updated: Dec 23, 2020
How sustainable London start-up changed tracks during the pandemic.
We caught up with Martin Holden-White who started the UK's only plant-based recipe kit company, Grubby, back in 2019.
Thanks for finding time for us to have a chat. I wondered, could we start by hearing a bit about your background, Martin, and how Grubby started out?
Yes sure, so I started out working in restaurants when I was 16 and studied Hospitality at uni. After that I worked in corporate catering and it was in this role that I kept seeing a problem we are familiar with: what to have for dinner after a hard day’s work. Many of us end up choosing expensive takeaways or bickering with partners about what to grab from the supermarket on the way home. I kept getting this niggling feeling that I had to do something about this! That feeling kept coming back and I knew I’d live a life of regret if I didn’t do something with my idea. So I started Grubby 2 year’s ago, with my own money. To be quite frank with everyone, plant-based food was relatively new to me too. I was approaching the whole thing very much from a beginner’s perspective and I found so many of the recipes out there were really complicated- huge ingredients lists. So I knew, with Grubby, I wanted to make all of that more accessible for everyone.
And so you were originally aimed at targeting the office market?
Yes, first off, it was something people could grab from our office ‘pick-up points' as they left work. I ended up getting £100K of funding through an investor who is part of the angel entrepreneur group, Supper Club. We were getting ready for a big client launch on 23rd March this year, then…
Yes. Things have been a bit different since we were all plunged in to that first lockdown to say the least. How did you guys cope? You’ve obviously taken a different approach to business since then.
Yes, it’s been tough at times. But we had the idea of giving away Grubby meal kits to the NHS and our investor fully supported us and through a Justgiving campaign so we were able to give away 1000 meals in London NHS Hospitals during 2020 and we’re all extremely proud of that. We’ve pivoted our business model to cater for the domestic market. We started out with just 8 customers in week 1 and we now have over 500.
That's huge. You’re certainly offering something a bit different, when you look at your website, it's clear that you've considered sustainability right through your service, from the ingredients, to the packaging and the delivery- tell us a bit about the process of setting all that up- was it a challenge to find suppliers?
We want to be plastic-free but it’s been harder than some people might think and to find certain products which meet our standards and keep things fresh is tricky! We’re an early stage business so the minimum order quantities for some products are just not workable. We’ve found a great selection now. We’ve got FSC certified board for our boxes. We use a compostable product called Natureflex for wrapping our herbs and leafy greens. We have a great relationship with a family run UK farm and they’ve been really supportive, linking us up with suppliers. For tomatoes and mushrooms, things like that, we package them in recycled board not plastic punnets. We use UK-grown quinoa which are supplied in bespoke packets. And we use an ecopod for our spice blends. We’re putting our money where our mouths are because all these sustainable swaps do come at a cost, for example there’s around a 15p difference in compostable herb packs to plastic one’s so you can see the challenge our sector is facing in communicating this to customers.
You’ve got some delicious-looking recipes lined up in your boxes this week. How do you go about the process of creating your recipes and menus?
It’s a real labour of love and some not-so-tasty eating experiences along the way! I’ve always approached the process as a non-vegan and I want our recipes to be tasty and be appealing- to have a mass appeal. I always want the recipes to be conservative with the number of ingredients, so it’s all about making each ingredient work really hard. We carry out testing on lots of people, so it’s an iterative process that we go through before arriving at the final recipe which we’re happy to include in our boxes. Originally I developed 30 approved recipes, and we’re just finalizing the next 12 which will be photographed over Christmas and launch in January.
It seems we’re in the age of the recipe box- what do you think is driving that?
Well you’ve got the current situation with Covid, where we’re all stuck inside, looking for something fun to do. But I think we’re also valuing our time more. Speaking of that, I’ve always wanted to make cooking more fun, which is why we include a Spotify playlist with each recipe because Grubby is all about providing a bit of escapism and accessing some calm in our evenings.
Being a zero emissions delivery company at Zedify we’re obviously very sold on the idea of green logistics, but I wondered what’s been your experience tackling sustainable deliveries? And have you got any advice for other companies considering green logistics?
Our customers love getting bikes arriving - I get lots of Whatsapps of people sharing that they’re getting their Grubby box delivered by bike. And we’ve saved over half a tonne of carbon since we started using cargo bike deliveries in August. When you’re comparing costs- it’s cheaper too! For any start up it’s the point of going from doing the whole thing (logistics included) yourself, and then being able to hand it over to the professionals. It can be hard work getting to that point- it would be nice if there was a project out there for start ups to help develop their logistics and to make sure that’s it’s straightforward and intuitive to choose a sustainable approach. Our plan is to deliver by bike in key cities across the UK once we have enough scale in those cities to deliver on this model, which hopefully won’t be long!
And finally, we’re just about to head into the Christmas holidays which feels like it’s really something we all need this year more than most. What’s your favourite kind of Christmas food?
Well, as I said at the beginning- I’m a flexitarian and I’m going to be honest that at Christmas I like proper roast potatoes, cheesy leeks, and my mum does an absolutely delicious chocolate roulade.
Yum. Happy Christmas, Martin and to everyone at Grubby. Looks like 2021 is going to be a fabulous year for more plant-based cooking and Grubby have got you covered.