Investment the perfect recipe for home-cooking platform

FoodSt will be able to bring cultural diversity to dinner tables way beyond its northern beaches home thanks to a new investment.

Lorraine Gnanadickam founded the platform FoodSt five years ago to empower home cooks from a plethora of cultural backgrounds to sell home-made meals that reflect their roots. What started as an experimental hot-food delivery service is now flexible employment to 25 Sydney home cooks who choose not to take the route of traditional workplaces. Some of the cooks are on maternity leave, retired chefs, people affected by COVID-19 or immigrants with limited English who use their cooking skills. And Afterpay co-founder, David Hancock, has spearheaded a group that has made an investment of $500,000 in FoodSt, considering the business a leader in the ‘supermarket replacement’ category.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind you setting up FoodsSt?

LG: We started FoodSt out of guilt and frustration. I come from a very mixed cultural background where sharing food has always been the centre of every occasion and a great way of connecting with loved ones. I started my career as a chef out of school and have always loved cooking, creating and sharing food with others. Fast forward to 2015, I was a working mum of two young kids struggling to balance the demands of my career and my family, and finding it really difficult to work and cook nutritious dinners. As someone who grew up with nutritious home-cooked meals, I was feeling guilty about my choices, and about the sub-standard supermarket/takeaway dinners I was feeding my family. The concept for FoodSt came up in conversation with my husband, Sanjay, one cold June evening when we were trying to work out how to manage dinnertimes in our house. We thought about people we knew on our street and realised that there were people we know who would absolutely love to cook for those like us who were struggling to put a good dinner on the table – and earn some income doing so. The idea that all of us were doing dinner at the same time on our street was the basis of our name and the start of an obsession to get FoodSt off the ground. We decided there and then that we would put everything into finding a way to help both cooks and customers live more fulfilling lives by connecting them through home-cooking.

ISB: How has the business developed in the last couple of years?

LG: The food market itself has been changing over the last couple of years. As people work more, becoming more time-poor, the demand for convenience continues to grow. We’ve seen an explosion of meal services addressing the need for convenience across all categories including Fast Food Aggregators – such as UberEats, Deliveroo, Recipe Kits – and supermarket meals and ready-meal services. What sets FoodSt apart is the fact that we provide authentic home-made meals and empower local cooks to earn an income making their favourite meals. When COVID began we saw a sharp increase in the demand for our meals and this has not tapered off – we believe that the pandemic will change the way Australians (and the rest of the world) will think about outsourcing dinners. We saw that many old and new customers re-discovered the ultimate convenience of frozen meals, with more people working from home it’s just so convenient to have a freezer full of ready meals to simply heat and eat without the stress of expiry dates. Not to mention that freezing really is nature’s healthiest preservative – our meals do not contain any extra processing or additives to increase longevity, which became very attractive as the world became more health conscious. As cafes and restaurants experienced a decline in business we were inundated with applications from chefs and cooks that were looking for ways to use their skills to earn extra income. And, I think the pandemic changed what people value in companies – it brought people together on issues that matter. From a social perspective FoodSt supports people and connects them with others, and this is a very appealing aspect to both our customers and cooks.

“We provide our cooks the opportunity to earn an income doing what they love, without the traditional pressures of a commercial kitchen.”

ISB: I know having a positive social impact is important to you – how does this manifest itself in terms of the benefits for your customers?

LG: It’s extremely rewarding to hear each and every one of our cooks say exactly the same thing without us ever prompting them. What they all say is, “Cooking is a way of me putting my love and heart on a plate. I cook because it feels good and I want to make other people happy”. I believe that this is the fundamental difference between our business and every other food company. Our people cook with love, and loving intent. This means that they are producing meals that are better for you and that taste better. When they send their meals out, they are doing so wanting to please their customers every single time, they are sharing their culture, their memories and their generosity, and that’s a wonderful way to create a product. Then a customer eats that meal and is delighted with the taste, the story and the love created by the cook. It’s a cycle of love and reciprocity.

As a platform we provide our cooks the opportunity to earn an income doing what they love, without the traditional pressures of a commercial kitchen. We have people from so many different cultures, and from all walks and stages of life. We’ve helped retired chefs keep cooking, refugees to earn some income and stay-at-home mums to spend more time with their kids.

We love that we live in such a multicultural country and we embrace all ethnicities and their wonderful cuisines. FoodSt offers a way for all Australians to learn more about other cultures and allows our cooks the opportunity to share their cultures with others.

On the customer side we are providing meals that have been cooked with love and care, to traditional recipes without any shortcuts. The meals taste better and are better for you. We’ve had many customers say that they trust FoodSt to cook for their families when they can’t cook for themselves, and for us that is the ultimate reward. We have many people that buy our meals for their elderly parents, as gifts to new mums and people recovering from illnesses.

ISB: Please tell how the recent investment by a group including the co-founder of Afterpay came about?

LG: We had been looking for an investor for quite a while. In the end our recent investment came about through an introduction from Seven Mile Venture Lab to a company called Fundsition, a crowdfunding platform with a bent on helping companies make a difference. It was through a number of conversations here that we were introduced to David Hancock. We are absolutely thrilled to have such an experienced investor on board.

ISB: And how will that cash injection influence the development of FoodSt in the next couple of years?

LG: We are planning to rapidly scale FoodSt across Australia to achieve our vision of having FoodSt meals in the freezers of all Australian households. Our model can be applied to any community across Australia and we want to empower and enable as many cooks and customers through home cooking as we can. We are currently working on plans to expand our geographical reach and are in the middle of hiring a number of key roles to enable us to do so.

This article first appeared in issue 32 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine