Lisa Booth is founder and CEO of Kete Kai, Aotearoa’s most accessible food box — borne out of her frustration with the current food system. New Zealand produces enough food each year to feed 40 million people, but an estimated 75,000 – 100,000 Kiwis are living with food insecurity.
Lisa is on a mission. She talks to The Feed’s Vincent Heeringa.
Vincent: Firstly, congratulations on launching the business, it’s a complex and difficult thing, the food delivery business. What was the opportunity that you saw? There are already food box options available out there. Tell us what’s different about it?
Lisa: I guess it has been an evolution of ideas over the last sort of five or six years, and I’ve worked alongside lots of people that have contributed to who and what it is now. The biggest thing that we saw was food waste. We’ve got people that are hungry. People that don’t know how to cook, so there’s an education gap as well. So we have all these problems that are actually leading into this problem around food poverty in New Zealand.
Meal kits are a really great solution because you’re teaching people how to cook as you go. And you have less waste in the house. But the problem is that it’s too expensive for most people. So we were kind of like, well, there’s got to be a better alternative. And when we got programmers and stuff involved in what we’re envisaging – having a really affordable meal kit – they started bringing ideas together. Like, it’s about efficiency across grocery shopping. So our thoughts are that the solution needs to be a blend between a grocery and a meal kit solution, but we need to use technology to lift it into an affordable solution too.
VH: You talk about making your systems and processes available to other organisations such as food banks and marae. Can you explain how that works?
Lisa: Absolutely. I mean, what we’ve discovered and making a meal kit that is affordable, it’s actually quite complex, like trying to get the recipes to fit within a certain COGS to make it so affordable and making sure that we’re, you know, because when you order produce, for example, the price changes every three days. So that alone, like if you’re trying to preplan in advance is quite a headache and then making recipes to fit into there and then trying to order on top of that.
So what we realised and when we looked around, there was no technology that allowed you to do this in an easy and efficient way. And in fact, when we went and looked at businesses, even restaurants and cafes and other food type businesses, the majority of them are using Excel, Google docs or whiteboard, like, that’s what they use. And then at the end of the week, they do a rough estimate of where the profit and losses are.
And so what we started to realise was actually, if we want to align recipes, because recipes are really important to make sure that we’re teaching people how to cook and using the best use of ingredients, we have to build something. So it makes it easier for more businesses and communities and marae and iwi to do this as well. Because the reality is if you want to start up a food business in New Zealand, it’s like, let’s just not even worry about the food control plan, which is like a whole other beast in itself, actually trying to get in touch with suppliers and trying to get direct links to farmers and all that is quite difficult and quite complex. So we kind of think what if we broke that apart? What if we disrupted that and created a digital platform that anyone could use?
VH: And so if I’m a marae, how can I use Kete Kai systems to produce my own bespoke service for my community?
Lisa: I mean we’re still building the technology, so I want to make clear that we’re a startup. but at the moment we’ve been working alongside the likes of Papakura Marae and Cambridge Community house in developing restaurants,restaurant recipes that actually make sense to their people. And so at the moment, we’ve just been working alongside them, creating recipes, and then we’re doing all the ordering and in that, doing all the packing, which is pretty cool. So it’s our first step to understanding how we can use what we do in our business. And we’ve learned a lot already, like people don’t want to double bake recipes. They want something that’s a one pot wonder when you’re in those communities. So there was a lot of learning that we had to do around that. And thank goodness we did that because otherwise we could have gone ahead and built a massive platform and not done it right. So we’re still learning. We’re still going. But, as long as we’re staying true to our kaupapa, we’re happy with our journey so far.
VH: Oh, it sounds fantastic. I mean we got to create some context here. You’ve been going, what, barely a year, even though you talked about working on this for some time. You launched in the middle of a lockdown by the sound of it.
Lisa: Yeah. We were in the beginning of last year, we were, the team was coming together and then we launched our first product in June. And a lot of that was just what we were seeing over COVID, that people were really wanting something simple and basic. So the feedback that we were getting from other meal kits was not only affordability, but it was too complex. They wanted basic meals. The majority of people that we surveyed said that they liked to reuse recipes at least every two to three weeks. So they don’t want something super complex or different and they don’t want the waste as well. So that’s a massive, big part of it. The packaging.
VH: You’ve probably seen in the media quite a lot of coverage of the commerce commission’s analysis of the duopoly that exists in the grocery trade. To what extent do you think that meal kits and food box services like yours could be that third player could be the disruptor that would upset the duopoly or is there a requirement for another big grocer in town?
Lisa: I actually don’t think there is. I actually think that we have to think bigger than that. Again, I feel like we just keep talking about bringing in another massive player. What we think is that eventually we should try and decentralise it in some way, so I’m not sure what that looks like, but we kind of think, about Shopify de-centralising e-commerce. So what they did is they created a double-sided marketplace where on one side developers develop apps on the other side, businesses could create online websites. I feel like the food system should be like that too. I hundred percent agree there is a duopoly that has been here forever. And we’ve talked about it for a really long time, but again, at least we build the resources and tools to allow smaller players to get more of a foot hold. We’re just always going to be stuck in this sort of space in New Zealand, so I think we need to think longer term.
VH: Long-term and, and with the new tools available rather than just, replicating a 1950s model of a chain of retail outlets.
Lisa: Hundred percent. I think that the food system is a result of us centralising food manufacturing back in the war days because we were trying to mass produce as much as we could to help people that really needed to be fed. However, I think what we haven’t really looked back on is actually in doing that, it widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. And I’m really curious to see whether there’s any data behind this, but I really feel like we need to look at this as a massive social experiment that potentially hasn’t worked over the last hundred years.
VH: Gosh we could go on. If people want to find out more, what’s the website, Lisa?
Lisa: We’re www.ketekai.co.nz. We’re about to do a new website launch, but you can see on there, our basic products that we’ve got available to everyone. We’re just in the Waikato at the moment, but we do have some big expansion plans coming up. So, hopefully we’ll be in Auckland very soon.
VH: Well Lisa, thanks for joining us on The Feed.
Lisa: No worries.
This is an edited version of an interview. Listen to the full interview here!