I distinctly remember the point in my life where I realised just how much I had taken my mother's cooking for granted. It was the 3rd week of my second year of university (after having the luxury of being in a catered hall in my first year), it dawned on me that for the rest of my life, I was going to have to think about what I was having for dinner every night, plan out my weeks and do my own grocery shopping.
At best, the only thing I knew how to cook was microwaved scrambled eggs and instant noodles. Not exactly the height of creativity or nutrition but on average, they took approximately 3 minutes to make, and that's what mattered to me - instantly accessible food. University students, working parents, yo-pros and almost anyone else would agree with me, you come home from work or university and you are exhausted, the last thing you want to do is think about what you can make up with the limp looking brocolli in the bottom of the fridge. Anyone who loves to spend 3 hours and 15 minutes painstakingly preparing, cooking and garnishing their beef bourguignon, is either French or retired.
Enter home delivered food kits. Relatively new on the New Zealand scene, the concept of having all the ingredients you need for the week with their respective recipes delivered to your doorstep has become huge, pioneered by the likes of Nadia Lim and My Food Bag. Unsurpisingly, people are now looking for greater choice and more convenience. I had the opportunity to have a chat with William Lockie, marketing manager of WOOP, the newest rival on the scene giving My Food Bag a run for their money.
Natalie: Tell us about WOOP and how it works?
William: WOOP is a home delivery food kit service that makes slow food fast. What we do differently is taking food delivery one step further with the food prep. We hand make all the sauces, dice up the veggies and get everything ready to go, so our customers can cook in half the time. What we are really doing is solving the pain point around what to cook for dinner and the time it takes to cook. People still want beautiful healthy fresh food, they just don’t have the time to prepare it.
Natalie: Where did the inspiration for WOOP come from?
William: WOOP was founded two and half years ago by Thomas Dietz, his inspiration came from the fact that he himself wanted to cook great meals but just didn’t have the time. He took the concept of mise en place, which is essentially what restaurants do when they pre-prepare all the ingredients in advance which allows you to quickly do all the finishing touches and not spend all your time peeling potatoes and making sauces and doing all the stuff that takes a bit longer.
Natalie: How does WOOP differentiate itself from other home delivered food bag competitors such as My Food Bag and Bargain Box? What is your point of differentiation?
William: The main point of differentiation is the ease and convenience we provide. That means rather than just delivering you the recipe card and the ingredients, we deliver you everything pre-prepared; the delicious sauces that our chefs have handmade, the vegetables that take a bit longer like potatoes,we deliver peeled, diced and steamed, which means that everything is ready to go so you can cook dinner in half the time.
Another point of difference is that all our recipes are inspired by different cities around the world and we have options to feed all different sized households from 1 person to 4 people and families of 5.
Natalie: How have you grown WOOP’s presence in the market?
William: Woop launched in Auckland two and a half years ago and we really focused our efforts on getting that snowball growth. By having a lot of customers in the same place, word of mouth spread really easily. After a year and a half, we launched into Wellington, Hamilton and Tauranga which allowed us to grow and expand into new markets. We really focused on our products, it was essential for us to have an amazing product which would make people want to talk about us and recommend us. Each week our customers have the opportunity to rate all of our recipes which we take on board to give them more of what they like and less of what they don’t like.
In terms of marketing, we’ve been really focused on exploring, measuring and ranking our different marketing activities to make sure we know what was working well and that we were spending our media budget in the best way possible. We built a strong digital focus for our marketing in order to have really clear funnels that work well from top of funnel brand awareness through to what we can actually do to get people to convert. We also looked at traditional forms of media to see how we could drive people into that digital ecosystem we had built.
Natalie: What are the biggest challenges in the industry you’ve had to overcome?
William: Our biggest challenge has been to keep up with the significant growth we have experienced. It has been so important for us to focus on quality and to be able to always meet our customers’ expectations.
Natalie: How have you found developing a startup in New Zealand? What have been the positives and negatives of the New Zealand business environment?
There are plenty of positives in starting a business in New Zealand, it’s a great place to quickly and easily start up as there aren't many barriers to giving things a go. Raising money here also went very well for us when we initially launched as we were able to equity crowdfund and subsequently do further funding rounds – the availability of funding does exist in NZ which is really positive. Another great thing about doing business in NZ is that consumers and kiwis in general, are very receptive and open to giving small businesses a go and to giving great feedback about when we are doing well and when they think there are areas we can improve on.
In terms of the food business in New Zealand, we are also incredibly lucky in the quality of all of our suppliers and producers who deliver the best, fresh and healthy produce.
Traditionally start-ups in NZ have always have to expand internationally to significantly grow which is taking our businesses off shore. We have been luck with WOOP at the size of the market opportunity in NZ and the potential to further penetrate the food-kit market.
Natalie: What’s next for WOOP? How will you continue to grow and expand?
William: We have had a fantastic year. We recently won ‘best-emerging business’ at the Westpac business awards and have quadrupled in size since the beginning of the year in the number of deliveries we’re doing, so at the moment, we are just keeping up with current demand. Next year though, we are looking to expand further geographically and also looking into expanding into different product ranges to keep delivering what our customers want. The market for food kits in New Zealand is still in its infancy but has huge potential for growth. The NZ supermarket industry is around $12.6 Billion while spending at takeaways & restaurants are around $5.6 Billion. However, the food kit market in NZ is worth around only $150 – 200 million. We are taking a chunk out of both those markets so there’s definitely still huge growth potential.
Natalie: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from this journey?
William: Personally, I’ve learned that if you’re passionate about something you will put everything into it. When you’re in a job and an industry that you’re passionate about, nothing else matters and it will be the most rewarding experience you can have. I am outrageously passionate about food and WOOP and I love the start-up environment so the best thing I’ve learned is definitely to follow your passion.
In terms of business, the key thing I’ve learned is that we have the luxury of having great relationships with our customers, and if you have that luxury, you have no excuses but to understand really intimately what you’re doing well, the experience you’re delivering and what you need to improve on. If you’re not listening to your customer then you have no chance of succeeding.
WOOP is offering us the choices we need as consumers; more variety, more convenience and competitive prices in a market previously monopolised by My Food Bag. The time they put into delivering an awesome service with delicious food really shines through in their growth over the past two years and the amazing feedback from their customers. WOOP is another fantastic success story of a NZ start-up knowing how to deliver exactly what Kiwis want.