We live in a world in which great companies are being built through collaboration and as technology advances, more organisations are wanting their teams to spend more time away from their desks. They understand that when a team feels comfortable with each other, they can share ideas and content and create something special. In 2013 Stuart Sunderland recognised this and founded City Pantry. A solution which brings people together over food and helps businesses improve their culture.
EP explores Stuart’s journey since those early days and what the future has in store for the ambitious company with a young, grounded and determined leader.
There is no doubt that the London food-tech start-up is growing at some speed. The London Bridge based company is experiencing triple-digit growth and today helps hundreds of companies get their teams around the table every week with delicious meals from the capital’s thriving food scene. At the helm is Stuart who grew up in hospitality in Scotland and developed his knowledge and passion for food whilst in New York and Singapore.
Today City Pantry has more than 300 curated local caterers and restaurants for companies to pick and choose from. Users simply need to make order via their easy to use online ordering platform and their delicious choices are delivered straight into the office. It all sounds so simple, but the reality is it has taken a lot of elbow grease, willpower and an unrelenting desire to succeed.
“Looking back its difficult to convey just how much you have to do yourself when you want to make something a success” says Stuart who now oversees a team of over 50. “Whether it was taking on the basics in getting the company live, like launching a website, sorting an office, putting in phone lines; or cold-calling 600 tech companies in Tech city on the hunch that they feed their teams and were willing to try something new, ultimately, as an entrepreneur it all rests on your shoulders.”
Stuart speaks honestly and opening about the trials and tribulations of creating a company from scratch but knew from his days in financial services that City Pantry could be and would be a commercial success. He also knew that many businesses were providing low quality and uninspiring food and so also wanted to make a positive difference.
“I made some mistake along the way – like the decision to buy helmets that looked like tomatoes – but even mistakes like this helped me learn quickly and grow the business. When we were pitching to vendors, there was enthusiasm for the idea, but they were also nervous about fulfilling a lot more orders. Initially I convinced 20 vendors to join the platform with a PDF and explanation of how it was going to improve their business. I built some great early relationships by actually speaking to people and I advise every entrepreneur to spend as much time as possible in the beginning doing this. You learn so much and build partnerships that last.”
From this face-to-face interaction Stuart learnt three major lessons. The first is they need enough advance notice, so they could prepare the food during off-peak times; a sizeable order that would make it worth their while; and a way to get the order to the client. He then ensured his product completed all this plus also deals with the invoicing and payment to make people’s lives easier.
“When the orders first came in I filled some of them myself, on a Barclays Bike once, in a cab another time - I wanted to figure out how it would work. I even bought a scooter to do some deliveries, but it broke down because the weight of the food was so heavy - a good early lesson.” The strength of City Pantry, with the experience of these early lessons, is that the offer is a win-win for all involved. The customer has access to variety and value, as well as reliability, while the venders receives more orders and exposure to new sectors that they may have struggled to target. Just five years later City Pantry are growing at +100% year-on-year and Stuart is keen to acknowledge that this isn’t being driven by tech start-ups (City Pantry do cater for the likes of Google, Amazon, Slack) but more traditional businesses. Stuart explains, “They want to adopt start-up practices that might help them attract and retain talent and therefore see the tangible business benefit. Innovation will always be crucial to success and we are very much part of that.”
What does the future hold for City Pantry?
“We’re hugely ambitious and want to bring the benefits of City Pantry to workplaces across the UK and Europe – anywhere where there’s a market crying out for great food and companies are looking to improve their workplace culture. At the same time, we’re excited about the prospect of developing partnerships across the hospitality industry and beyond. Joining forces with more traditional operators will bring benefits for everyone involved – increasing networks, improving innovation and ultimately delivering a better experience for the customer.”
Stuart is confident about the future and his relaxed, natural character is testament to that. He believes that catering is about to go through a drastic change over the next few years which will bring inevitable winners and losers. He argues, “People are getting more demanding and expecting more information about what they eat – where food is from, the supply chain, nutritional information of the food. Consumer trends have shown us this is coming to the corporate market very soon so it’s important to embrace it and make the most of the opportunity it brings.”