Finding the right ingredients to freshen up the UK food industry

Annabel Denham
Follow Annabel
Annabel Palmer talks to Patrick Drake, who switched litigation for ladles to create grocery delivery service Hello Fresh

EATING well and leading a healthy lifestyle are virtues many aspire to. But if your skills in the kitchen are limited, and time even more so, sometimes such aspirations fall by the wayside in favour of a speedy microwave meal. This is precisely what Patrick Drake, founder of the UK’s largest recipe box delivery service – Hello Fresh – is trying to tackle.

After a career in the City – first at Clifford Chance and later as a lawyer at Goldman Sachs – Drake swapped keyboard for chopping board on the eve of the economic downturn. His contemporaries, on their tasty wage packages, were surprised by his decision. But food has long been Drake’s passion – while at Goldman Sachs, he would secretly join chefs in its fine dining restaurants, whipping up meals for co-workers and clients.

Hello Fresh began in Drake’s living room with fellow foodie, and now the company’s managing director, Ed Boyes. The pair had discovered a food delivery offering based in Sweden, and saw a gap in the UK market for a similar service. Nonetheless, Drake confesses that, when they initially sought to replicate the idea in the UK, they didn’t realise the concept’s true potential.

But not only have the duo tapped into the widely accepted mantra that “health is the new wealth,” they are also capitalising on a desire among the British public – particularly in the wake of the horsemeat scandal – for high-quality ingredients. The fish at Hello Fresh is sourced from the same fishmonger as the Queen, and meat comes from the Smithfield Meat Market. What’s more, their boxes contain pre-measured ingredients, avoiding that universal hatred: waste.

From Drake’s flat, the pair sent out their first 10 boxes, mostly to family and friends, with hand-written recipes. To get the boxes to their customers’ doorsteps, they personally lugged them across London on the Tube. Less than two years after the company’s launch, however, Drake is fortunate enough to delegate such administrative and logistical work to his co-workers, and now pursues his true passion: since January 2012, he has created over 200 recipes.

Since Hello Fresh was launched, three competitors have cropped up. But Drake is unphased. “First, we’ve seen growth of around 30 per cent month on month since the beginning, and that hasn’t waned. Such is our success that suppliers now contact us, rather than the other way around. Our greengrocer – for whom we are a major contract – is now driving a brand new Jaguar. Second, if someone else is doing it, we must be doing something right. And third, this is a concept that could become hugely popular, and other companies will help educate the market.”

The company had no issues raising funding (“we didn’t have to go out with a begging bowl”); an e-commerce company and several other venture capital firms have invested “a seven-figure sum”. As such, marketing the product, and raising awareness, have proven to be their biggest struggle. People worry, for example, that a home delivery service will be expensive. “But if you do a direct comparison, the prices are about equal,” Drake says. A three-meal box for two costs £39 per week; or £59 for a family of four.

The founders overcame this issue by contacting every prolific food blogger they could find, and cajoling them into trying their product. It was a clever strategy: they received feedback from the harshest of critics, and got free publicity at the same time.

Drake is bursting with advice for future entrepreneurs. He thinks, for example, that the biggest mistake budding startups make is over-thinking the product. “Really they’re just procrastinating, afraid that their product won’t be liked.” And he says passion is essential to making a startup succeed. A chef’s hours and stamina are no less punishing than those at a magic circle law firm, but this time, “I have almost limitless amounts of energy to make this venture a success,” he says.

Company name: Hello Fresh

Founded: January 2012

Company turnover: £10m

Number of staff: 15

Job title: Co-founder and head chef

Age: 34

Born: London

Lives: London

Studied: Law and French at Exeter

Drinking: Really good Italian coffee

Eating: Simple, soulful, non-pretentious food. The Tonnarelli alla Ciocara at Da Gino in Rome is the absolute embodiment of these qualities.

Reading: Start with Why, by Simon Sinek

Favourite business book: The Luck Factor, by Brian Tracy

Talents: A talent for opportunism!

Motto: “Thoughts become things”

First ambition: To have my own cooking show, and positively influence the way people eat

Heroes: Audacious thinkers who challenged the status quo

Awards: Hewlett Packard Smart Business Award 2013