In our first episode of season two of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Vineeta Anuj. Vineeta is the Head of Customer for Mindful Chef.

Vineeta has years of experience in marketing working with global brands such as Costa Coffee and ODEON Cinemas. For the last 2 years, she has been working with the UK’s #1 rated recipe box and B Corp certified Mindful Chef to drive their customer experience to new heights.

In this episode, we talk to Vineeta about the history of Mindful Chef, their values and drive for sustainability and how COVID changed the way they did business, pushing their growth forward. We also dive into what makes their customer experience great and how managing this experience through third-party vendors can be a challenge.

 

Ways to Listen

You can listen to it right here on the blog using the player below or you can head over to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Amazon Music where you can subscribe or follow the podcast too so that you never miss an episode. You can also check out the podcast website to find the other apps our podcast is published on.

 

Want to be featured on the Podcast?

We’re always looking for new industry experts to speak to and if you think you’ve got some great insights that you’d like to share with our audience, reach out to us via our contact page and we’ll get back to you to arrange an intro call.

 

Transcript

Shelley  00:14

Today on 15 Minutes With we’re speaking with Vineeta, the Head of Customer at Mindful Chef. Mindful Chef is one of the leading food box subscription services in the UK. It differs from its competitors in the space in that it is a values led business and as a B Corp it centralises sustainability within its strategy. As a result, the customer experience within Mindful Chef is deeply considered. It supports a community of customers that helped to evolve the service offering through direct feedback. And their process for managing the notoriously difficult landscape of scaling and third party providers is entirely refreshing.

Shelley  00:52

Hi, Vineeta. Welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you.

Vineeta  00:55

Hey, Shelley, how you doing? Delighted to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Shelley  00:59

I wanted to kick it off today to just ask a little bit about Mindful Chef, I know that you’re in the food box delivery space. And that’s really, really competitive, particularly with the fact that it is a subscription service.

Vineeta  01:12

So yes, you’re right, we were a subscription service. And we are a recipe kit box. We fundamentally provide prepackaged pre portioned ingredients to customers who want to cook meals at home. And in terms of the sector, I’d say that it’s still very much in its infancy. The recipe kits have only really been around the last decade, and some of our competitors are global. But I would say that that sort of way of shopping and online grocery component of recipe kits is still very much in its infancy, but growing. Mindful Chef kicked off in 2015, so almost 10 years ago now. And it started with our three founders who are still very much part of the business, they’re still part of the leadership team, they run it day to day, and they’re all from the south coast. What inspired them to start it was that they knew there was something really special about being able to source incredibly local, high quality ingredients and thought actually, wouldn’t it be brilliant if there was a way that we can bring this to the masses across the UK. And that was effectively the kind of dream that started Mindful Chef all those years ago. And now we’re one of the top three in the UK. And ultimately, our proposition is all about making healthy eating easy. So we do a number of different recipes on the menu across a broad variety of one person to person and four person menus. But everything that we do is put through that lens of how can we make healthy eating easier for those across the UK.

Graham  02:41

You guys must have seen a fairly big spike during COVID. Right? Because it was we know in the supermarket sector, lots of people shifted to buying online, presumably you kind of got all wrapped up in that same sort of drive to I need to find a way to give food to my door.

Vineeta  02:55

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we can all relate back to the minute that Boris said, Buy food online, you know, you could basically go on onto our website and effectively see the traffic hit. But you know, if you sort of rewind back to a few years ago, yeah. And the peak of COVID, our business was propelled forward by at least three to five years, we saw triple digit growth almost overnight, and we on boarded at first COVID year, over 100,000 new customers. So you know that effectively took our weekly deliveries from about 15,000 to over 50,000 almost overnight. So exceptional growth. And I wasn’t part of the business in that initial COVID year I actually joined in 2021. But I spent a lot of time talking to people about that experience was like and it was a challenge on many fronts, obviously incredible that a lot of customers discovered Mindful Chef and discovered our solution. But also like a phenomenal challenge trying to get fresh products to people in a just in time fashion. And particularly when you’re sourcing locally, our supply chains were put under enormous pressure, our operation hadn’t scaled for servicing 50,000 customers. But you know, somehow the teams banded together and made it work. There’s lots of different stories about what needed to happen in terms of people moving in with each other through that time. But yes, phenomenal experience in terms of rapid scale, rapid growth. And interesting that happened at a point in time where health rose to the top of the nation’s agenda, which for us was a really interesting experience.

Shelley  04:32

And I think the flip side to that to the massive scaling is the retention because a lot of people’s behaviours have actually changed post COVID. You know, so there was this huge influx of customers that were then shopping online. And of course when the restrictions lifted some of those people went back to restaurants and supermarkets but a lot didn’t retention of that subscription model then becomes the next phase of that scale up plan. So I know that mindful chef is very, very much values led, are you able to tell us a little bit about how you differ from those other competitors in the market in terms of that values proposition.

Vineeta  05:06

Values is a really important thing to us here. When the business was first started, the guys Miles, Giles, and Rob effectively built it on the premise of three core values, mindful, personal and unafraid. The really interesting thing is when a business is put through different chapters and journeys in relatively short period of time, we started in 2015, we scaled and grew the business, we then were hit with COVID. And then the kind of scaling grew enormously. And now there’s definitely a readjustment to consumer lifestyles. And then there’s another journey that lies ahead. So in that period of 10 years, there’s been an awful lot of change. And one of the things that founders teach us here is, every time we have to make difficult decisions, or we have to make tough brand calls, what we try and do is look to our brand values as our north star. And that really helps us so those values help us make sure that not only are we making the right most mindful choice for the business, but we’re making the right choices for our customers. And often, when you’re a business that’s built around, for us sustainability is front and centre. Doing right for people on the planet is fundamentally part of our ethos as part of our strategic mindset here, that is a really great way of being able to collectively make decisions because when you have those values, those values are set for us transcend most things. So when we’re in difficult discussions about product sourcing or profitability, or scaling growth, coming back to those values will effectively help us make those decisions. And to sort of support those values. What we also have done here at Mindful, in order to differentiate the way we provide products and services to customers is think about how we differentiate ourselves across a wider recipe kit market as it matures. For us. It’s all about health, quality, and sustainability. And when we combine that alongside with our values, it then starts to become super clear on how we can make the right decisions not only for our customers, but also for the planet.

Graham  07:07

With obviously the scale up and the values, the values have kind of defined what your customer experiences is. And when you’re delivering a customer experience to 15,000 deliveries say and then you’ve got to somewhat overnight adjust to 50,000 but maintain the same level of customer experience, that must have been an almost insurmountable challenge. How did you kind of get around that?

Vineeta  07:27

We did try and make a lot of decisions around putting our values front and centre that tends to become as you say, super challenging when you’ve gone from 15,000 to 50,000 overnight. What I think we found as well is our customer is pretty different to the wider recipe kit market. We’ve done a bit of research recently that helps to clarify that which has been really interesting. We started Mindful Chef all those years ago, the guys thought were our market is the fit 25 year old male who’s really into fitness really into exercise, it’s high protein products. But actually what we found was building the brand on those really strong values of mindful personal, unafraid, putting sustainability at the heart of everything that we do, we actually attracted a very different customer, our customers is female, you her 50s, most of the time, the pragmatic parent making the decisions for food choices in the household. And actually often the woman who was battling with really fussy teenage kids or really problematic health and dietary requirements in the household, they saw Mindful Chef as an incredible solution to that problem. And that was a real surprise to us. And throughout the growth of Mindful Chef over the last decade, that customer has remained true. So even through that period of enormous scale and phenomenal ops growth, that customer seek us out to help them provide healthy meals for their household. But also actually, as part of having that really different customer. We found that throughout the period of COVID, they were incredibly forgiving. What they realised is going from 15,000 to 50,000 boxes almost overnight God if they didn’t get chicken in their box, and they got fish instead, they knew that actually we were doing our best to meet their needs and get the products to them. We found throughout that entire experience. Not only was our community of existing customers, but new customers incredibly forgiving and understanding and just simply grateful that we can get recipes to them. The demographic of our customer has actually stayed really consistent from day dot. And what we know now and talking to our customers every month we invite them in all the time into their head office is they seek us out because of the healthy recipes that we make. But they stick with us because of our ethos and our values and we find that it effectively represents or reflects their own personal values. That’s where that retention piece that you spoke about Shelley becomes really interesting is that we retain our customers more so from the fact that we’ve got really strong values that  reflect their own personal values. And that’s been a beautiful learning for us. And something that we actually just discovered, we didn’t really realise that was a contributing factor.

Shelley  10:10

The other thing that we sort of touched on but didn’t go into too deeply with respect to this overall customer experience, is the fact particularly when you had to scale up that much of it was really reliant on third parties. And so you have to have these really strong relationships. And I suppose have a really high selection criteria for who you choose to engage with as a vendor, but also rely on those relationships with your customers to feed back to you as a brand, if they’re not happy with a particular aspect or a particular delivery partner, for example, or whether it’s a food supplier. So how is that managed within the company?

Vineeta  10:44

That’s a great question. And there’s I’m going to answer that in a couple of different ways. Because it’s, I mean, it’s such a brilliant question in terms of, you know, how do you take responsibility for the customer experience across a vast number of touch points, particularly knowing that you’re reliant on third parties to help you deliver your experience. So that’s that a phenomenal challenge and something that we dilute it down into a real practical way here at Mindful Chef. So you know, we’re fundamentally a direct to consumer business, we operate online as our major touch points that customers buy from us online. But that’s not the whole experience, right part of the experience, particularly as you probably know, talking to lots of different digital companies that they focus just completely on is the website perfect. That’s our shop window. And that very much is it’s kind of like walking into a high street retailer. Their shop is where their customers experience part their brands. So we spend a lot of time and effort and energy, listening to customers about what’s difficult with our website in terms of ordering, the process, the interface, the user experience, and all that is very much part of our day to day work is optimising the digital experience. But there’s this whole other part of the business, which is the wonderfully complex equation of sourcing fresh just in time product that has the ability to fluctuate in terms of supply and forecast on a daily basis. That equation in and of itself is incredibly complex. But what we’ve got is our distribution centre in the Midlands, all of our suppliers essentially deliver to that distribution centre. And the touchpoints across the customer experience outside of the web and tech journey consists of what we call moments of truth. And these moments of truth of what we’ve spoken to our customers about, say what parts of the everyday experience at Mindful Chef is really important to you. And customer language is also really important because you know, as us as marketers, sometimes we can over complicate stuff. So we spoke to our customers about what’s really important to you, what would we need to get right, we found out that there are sort of five key areas, the delivery has to show up on time to the right address. The products in the box, that ingredient has to be basically top quality, and they’ve got to get everything they ordered, can’t really leave anything out of the box. The recipes need to taste delicious, because ultimately, if you’re ticking all the other boxes that arrives on time, the products perfect, but the recipe tastes a bit rubbish that damages the experience. Anytime anything goes wrong, they want to know that they get to our customer care team with that taken care of. And then lastly, that user experience online. So is it easy to use, is it easy for me to skip my box or change an order, we basically just sat down and talked to them about those things. And what we learned is these experiences outside the digital journey are things that happen every day. And ultimately the things that our customers say that I come to you because you’re supposed to make my life easy. These components of your experience that I think are really important things that happen every time I interact with you. So what we’ve done is taken those moments of truth and given ourselves really simple metrics to go. This is the baseline performance that we absolutely have to hit on each of those metrics. And that is something that we speak about here every week, all the heads of, the senior leadership team. I sit down and I go over how did we do last week on customer experience. Guys, you know what, we nailed it on delivery and our customer service score was at 98%. Some weeks we get things terribly wrong, some things weeks we get things right. But what’s most important to us is it is an open dialogue that we have here in the office every week. And that is the way we ultimately try and be the best solution for our customers and nail it when it comes to that customer experience.

Graham  14:20

In terms of other businesses that are either in the subscription space or are dealing with influx as a result of COVID. What things have you learned that you can offer to people that are in a similar space are looking to move into a space where they’re going to be using kind of distribution partners and trying to deliver an experience that they can’t control all the touch points for.

Vineeta  14:38

I think practicality is just such an important part of customer experience and getting really under the skin of it. I think also that it’s so easy to overcomplicate things. And what we try and do here at Mindful Chef, which I love is we just try and keep things basic, easy to understand really sort of simple and straightforward. We’re very much not a corporate business, and we love that. So I’d say in terms of and what I think would be really useful is if you’re part of or thinking about setting up a subscription business and being in that online space, but also, having an experience that’s reliant on third parties, I think the first thing to do is ultimately get close to your customer and understand what’s important to them. If you’re a business that started off, because you know that we’re solving a customer pain point or solving a problem, that’s a big tick to start off with, like, understand what problem you’re solving, and then relentlessly look to make that problem solving experience perfect for customers. And the reason that I think is really important is it just gives you a really clear lens. So for us, for example, our mission is to make healthy eating easy. So every single thing we do, we know that healthy eating is actually in reality pretty hard. Because we all get busy, we all get stressed, we all have lots of different things on our mind. So when it comes to going new recipes, new categories, new products, we always ask ourselves is this actually making it easy for customers to eat healthy? Is this serving their needs, and sometimes and that sort of same vein, we can think one way because we’re in a business, but actually often that’s not the case for customers. So part of the tips and tricks there is number one is to get close to the problem you’re solving. Number two, get close to your customers. And when I say get close to your customers, I mean, genuinely get close to them, invite them into the office, sit them down, have a coffee, have a conversation, some of the best insights that we’ve had here at Mindful Chef is sitting down with our customers in the kitchen table talking about service, talking about their lifestyles, talking about what we can do to improve the service, or potentially what we can do to innovate around different categories. Some of our own thoughts have been totally challenged by customers going actually, we don’t use the service for that at all. We can often think, hey, we think this is a really good idea. But until we talked about customers who might tell us something entirely different, you know, that’s the lens, we put everything through. So understand what you’re doing to serve customers, and then get as many customers in your office, talk to as many of them as you can. Because what you want to do is find more of them. Because if they’ve got that problem, you can bet your bottom dollar that many other people do as well. So that’s what we really believe in here at Mindful Chef is surveys and big insight decks. We don’t really believe in that we just get customers in chat to them and engage in meaningful conversation because that for me is so much more impactful.

Shelley  17:25

Fantastic. It makes so much sense for Vineeta, thank you so so much for your time. It’s been really really interesting talking to you about your experience at Mindful Chef, I think it’s safe to say we’ve all learnt a lot.

Vineeta  17:37

Ah great I’ve loved chatting to you guys. Thank you so much for having me on.

Shelley  17:42

That was Vinita Head of Customer at Mindful Chef, the B Corp food subscription service, talking to us about the importance of values, real interactions with real customers, and how to make iterative improvements on your experience journey. We learned about managing customer experiences, particularly in challenging sales model environments with outsourced or third party elements, incorporating values into the business function, and maintaining that customer experience even across the touch points that are less directly influenced by the company are marks of a solid experience strategy and of companies to watch and learn from.