Thinking Outside the Box
By Kelly Beswick
In the space of just four years, HelloFresh has become one of the biggest, brightest and best recipe box delivery services in the country. We talk to co-founder Patrick Drake about the company’s phenomenal success and why it was always destined to be based East side
If you’re not familiar with HelloFresh must, then you must have been hiding under a boulder for the past few years. A bit like chuggers, its bright young things (the company is teeming with bouncy twentysomethings) approach you outside tube stations and on busy high streets, but rather than wanting to take your money for a good cause, they want to give you money.
Well, not money in the physical sense but in the form of a discount card that will allow you to sample one of their recipe boxes at a vastly reduced rate. And while certainly not a charity, the folks at HelloFresh truly do believe they’re working for a worthwhile cause, giving their customers everything they need to create high- quality, nutritious, healthy and delicious meals for themselves, their friends and their families.
Indeed, the arrival of a HelloFresh box feels a bit like Christmas, as you eagerly rip open the packaging (mostly recyclable, with the company being big on sustainability) to reveal a treasure trove of different ingredients and recipe cards that form complete kits for up to five generously portioned meals, with number depending on box type – the choices being Classic, Vegetarian or Family.
Whether it’s Moroccan cod parcels, grilled aubergine spaghetti or pork satay burgers, you can rest assured you’ll have everything you need, right down to the dinkiest little pot of some particularly obscure spice. The recipes themselves are fairly simple, easy-to-follow and quick, averaging around 30 minutes from start to nish, so perfect for mid- week suppers. Cost wise, it works out at between £4.99 to £6.50 per meal, again depending on box choice, so not exactly cheap, but not prohibitively expensive either when you consider the effciency (food waste is massively reduced) and convenience.
It’s a formula that’s winning and not just in this country but in eight others as well, with HelloFresh sending out 8.5 million meals globally last month. Evidence of that success can be found in its new UK headquarters on Worship Street, a previously unprepossessing office block that’s been given an amazing makeover and is now all reclaimed wood and urban edginess with a smattering of vintage thrown in. From the reception-cum-coffee shop and the gorgeous open-plan kitchen, lounge and dining area to the vast floor-to-ceiling library of cookbooks and an amphitheatre partially enclosed by sea containers serving as meeting rooms, it’s a quirky and eclectic space, full of warmth and texture, and one that HelloFresh co-founder, Patrick Drake, hopes is reflective of not just the brand but also the area.
“I love East London, it feels so alive,” says Patrick, 37, who moved to Old Street five years ago and became so enamoured with the area that he resolved to bring the company along. “We were based in a not-very-attractive building on Oxford Street on a tail end of a lease, so my plan was to relocate here, where there’s such a feeling of energy and change – it pushes you to create and achieve more.”
Patrick speaks as fervently about the area as he does the business, which only came in to being six years ago. Originally the brainchild of Dominik Richter and Thomas Griesel, a pair of young German entrepreneurs who decided to reach out beyond their home turf to see whether the concept might work elsewhere. “I got an email from a friend telling me about these guys wanting to set up a food firm in the UK and that they needed some help on the cooking side,” says Patrick, who started his professional life as a lawyer before pursuing his true passion for food. “I met them and within an hour I knew that not only was I on board for all the recipe development, but also the branding, sales and marketing as well.”
Thus Patrick became one of the founders of HelloFresh UK, and was so eager to get the business up and running that two months later, in the living room of his at, a small team was busy packing up shopping. “We spent all afternoon doing just ten bags and it was exhausting, but we were quite proud of our e orts, even though it was super basic compared to what we do now,” he recalls. “Then we hand-delivered them to the only people who’d even heard of us – our parents and friends. Afterwards we thought,‘Wow, that was only ten bags of shopping, how are we ever going to pack 50?’.”
But manage they did and today the operation is super slick, with the Worship Street HQ homing 130 sta , while the out-of-town warehouse is manned by 350 employees, dispatching many thousands of boxes on a daily basis. The logistics of which is mind boggling, but as Patrick explains: “We’ve done it by bringing in very talented people who are true experts in their elds. I don’t know anything about how to run a 200,000-square-foot warehouse, but I don’t need to as we have people for whom that’s their life. That’s the key to it.”
However, HelloFresh also lives or dies by the quality of its ingredients. “We’re incredibly particular about the suppliers we work with,” attests Patrick. “A lot of people will base their purchasing decisions on labels such as organic, free range and natural, but labelling can be so misleading. Our policy when sourcing ingredients is to make sure we really get to know the supplier and their operation intimately, to go there and actually see it. We need total assurance they’re doing the right thing by our customers and ultimately by the environment.”
Another factor when choosing suppliers is their heritage and knowledge of what they do. “It makes it more interesting and a much richer experience for us,” says Patrick. “You learn so much from them and also we can pass that knowledge on to our customers, which is a lovely thing. There used to be a time when you knew the name of your butcher or greengrocer and they would give you advice on what to buy. That’s gone now, but we want to bring it back in our way. So essentially we’re delivering these old-school values using modern technology.”
As for Patrick, his days of sweating over a hot stove to come up with recipe ideas have long gone. “We now have a team of development chefs and every day they’re devising and rigorously testing new recipes here at HQ,” he says. But being a self-confessed food obsessive of epic proportions, he admits he can still be found hovering in the background with tasting spoon in hand.