How City Pantry are transforming workplace food

The London food-tech start-up is experiencing triple-digit growth and helping hundreds of companies get their teams around the table every week with delicious meals from the capital’s thriving food scene. With ever-changing consumer demands and a belief that the catering industry is about to go through radical change, how are City Pantry disrupting for the better?

EP spoke to Founder and CEO Stuart Sunderland and Chief Commercial Officer Kate Miller to discover the philosophy behind the business and how City Pantry can drive productivity.

Stuart founded City Pantry in 2013 and has always been surrounded by food and hospitality. He grew up in Scotland where his father ran a hotel;later, during stints in financial services in New York and Singapore, Stuart spent time embracing diverse foods and tasting different cuisines. On returning to London he became fascinated by the emerging street food scene: street stalls and supper clubs were able to begin life with very little capital. As he watched the range and quality of food drastically improve, he didn’t understand why food in the workplace was still dull and limited. He wanted to find a way to connect the variety and vibrancy of the street food scene with workplaces. 

Having started small with the vendors on his doorstep at Brixton Market, Stuart built a user-friendly online platform for ordering food, with a delivery network that gives real-time information on where your food is and manages the complex task of coordinating huge scale delivery. Fast forward to today and City Pantry feeds 20,000 people at 500 companies every week, including the likes of Google, Amazon, Slack and Unilever. As the company continues to grow and works with over 300 of London’s most popular restaurants, caterers and street vendors, the team has expanded. Just over half a year ago, Kate Miller joined as Chief Commercial Officer. Kate has worked at companies like Google and McKinsey, and is fiercely passionate about businesses taking workplace wellbeing and company culture seriously.

“Whilst breaking into the corporate catering industry, we have found it surprising in many ways”, Stuart explains.. “It feels as if the industry has lost sight of what’s important, which is the food. It’s focused on margins and logistics and only feels the need to innovate every five years or so - which isn’t quick enough. It’s also glaringly obvious that as an industry it is so far behind. Not only in allowing itself to benefit from disruption but just generally when it comes to all the exciting things going on in food now.”

Stuart believes that historically workplace food did excite the taste buds, but food that was good 20 years ago isn’t always considered good today. “The challenge of getting a large variety of great quality food to a meeting or a corporate lunch on time consistently is super difficult. Often, businesses need to sacrifice one to achieve the other. So, for example, they may have an in-house canteen that gives them good quality and reliable food but lacks variety. Or you could make friends with all the local delis in your area and get much better variety, but you’d sacrifice the reliability. For too long the food hasn’t mattered: it’s been all about getting it on time regardless of quality. That’s the beauty of what we’ve built – a marketplace that utilises technology more effectively than caterers and restaurants, so thatwe can offer quality, variety and reliability. We can avoid these sacrifices and bring London’s amazing range of food to offices all over the city.”

City Pantry believes passionately that teams who eat together work better. Stuart explains that this originally came from within the business: “we eat together three times a week and have seen the productivity and speed at which things can get done when people have open lines of communication. The real validation then came from our customers. We found we were getting a lot of repeat orders and it was clear the idea of teams of people sitting together to eat was becoming an important part of our customers’ company cultures.

“They see this as much more than just a perk and tell us about the tangible benefits they are seeing. They tell us how it breaks down silos and builds stronger relationships between co-workers. Given that most of us spend more time at work than we do at home, I think it’s important that work is satisfying and that starts with great, productive relationships.”

“Partnerships are an amazing opportunity to continually disrupt our market, as we can jointly benefit and share in the mission of making work more exciting”

Kate believes that it’s all about these relationships and explains that the two key drivers of growth for City Pantry are employee engagement and partnerships. “Our product is always iterating, and the next, big move is to allow the end user — the eater — to interact with our brand and with our offering. Currently decision makers at our customers interact with and therefore represent us to their company but if we want to really grow we need to reach everyone who eats the food and prove to them that we can make their working lives better. Partnerships meanwhile are an amazing opportunity to continually disrupt our market, as we can jointly benefit and share in the mission of making work more exciting. Picking a unique venue for a corporate event and matching it with brilliant food, or SAAS products that can pair up with our product to save time and improve ROI for clients. There’s also room to partner with more traditional caterers to broaden our reach and add agility and variety to the existing infrastructure.”

“Companies will have to work ever harder to attract talent. At the same time, it is generally becoming less and less necessary for people to work from an office with all the technology we have for telecommuting creating workplaces where people want to come to work is becoming more and more important.”

Taking workplace wellbeing and company culture seriously is of the utmost importance for Kate and City Pantry. They believe that Brexit  will make London a less appealing place to work and a considerable talent drain will take place in businesses that are less reliant on presence in an office. “Companies will have to work ever harder to attract talent. At the same time, it is generally becoming less and less necessary for people to work from an office with all the technology we have for telecommuting. Creating workplaces where people want to come to work is becoming more and more important. As it becomes less and less necessary, companies with a more traditional working model are having to work harder to attract a talent pool that is getting choosier by the day — there’s a misconception that food and perks at work are the realm of the start-up and it’s really wide of the mark. We help all kinds of businesses keep up with an ever-changing market and hopefully make their collective working lives better at the same time. It’s only natural that this extends to the culture at City Pantry: we dedicate a third of the interview process to culture as it’s so important to the way we all work as a team and within teams. We eat together, have a weekly wellness Wednesday and focus on enabling people to be frank and open with each other to do their best work.”

As customer demands continue to move between trends and food remains as important as ever, City Pantry is well positioned to embrace change as it happens. More traditional businesses are beginning to adopt start-up practices, and many are simply crying out for good, quality food to improve their culture. This is where Stuart and Kate can add real value and improve both customer variety and business production – it can only be a positive.