A site to sate the appetite

15 Aug 2003

Fabrizio Memon has one ambition – to provide good quality food but still allow people to experience the fun of cooking. Through his website, www.realfoodathome.com, Memon and his fellow company founders chefs Neil McFadden and Ray O’Haire have come up with an innovative way to feed the cash-rich and time-poor folk of Dublin.

The offering is simple: choose from a daily updated menu, pay online and all the pre-measured, raw ingredients are delivered to your office or home in Dublin.

The idea came to Memon when he was studying for an MBA at the Smurfit School of Business. From there he was able to write a business plan for the company whilst benefiting from Smurfit’s post-course incubator called The Hatchery.

When the website was being set up, Memon was not interested in artificially extending the shelf life of products but rather he wanted to show people how simple and satisfying cooking is without the drudgery of shopping and chopping.

The goal, from the onset, was that it should be easy to buy from the website. ‘We wanted to make it effortless for people to buy from us and easy for us to cope with the business; technology was not going to lead the business but follow it,” says Memon.

But the challenge for Memon was to get realfoodathome.com out there and in front of people’s eyes. “We can keep our costs low because we are selling on the web, so we can do better food cheaper, but at the same time we are not very visible to our customers because they are not walking past a shop window,” he explains.

The site currently has around 1,200 registered users who are emailed three times a week with menus and recipes. The site offers a choice of three menus, five days a week. The meal kits, which contain enough food for two people, are priced at €26 (or €13 per person) including delivery. The meal kits get delivered to home or workplace within the M50 radius. The meals have to be stored in a fridge until they are transported home and one solution realfoodathome has come up with is to install branded fridges in Accenture, Esat, Oracle and PwC offices in Dublin. As well as keeping the food fresh, the fridges serve as an advert for the company.

Up to now realfoodathome has spent very little on advertising and has relied on word of mouth. “It’s frustrating because we know from our existing customers that our product gives people time but our disappointment is that we can’t tell more people,” says Memon. Nonetheless, order numbers have risen steadily to between 200 and 250 each week, he says.

Memon hopes that ‘substantial’ second round funding that the company hopes to secure will give the company the ability to tell more people about its service. “We would invest more in offline, conventional low-tech marketing like giving people menus on their way in to work and promotions within office premises,” he explains.

The aim is to try to focus on delivering to a concentration of businesses in the one area to cut down on delivery costs. Realfoodathome intends to focus on places such as the IFSC in Dublin. Currently the company has a deal with O’Briens wine shop where the meal kits can be delivered to the wine shops for collection by the customer. “The idea is to make the food as available as possible but without overcomplicating it for the customer,” says Memon.

The funding will also enable the company to invest more in the technology. ‘It will enable us to make the website easier to use because while we find our technology easy to use not everyone has our level of expertise.” Memon also says that the additional funding will enable the company to make different offers. “We hope to have different menus at different prices throughout the week.”

The current website is visually appealing and does a good job of showing off the gorgeous food but it’s not been without its challenges.

“When we made changes to our business model we wanted to reflect those updates on our website but we found that we hadn’t built in any flexibility which resulted in small changes to the site costing a lot of money,” explains Memon. As a result some of the company’s ambitions could not be realised on the website. “Originally we wanted to have different prices for menus but we discovered that any text changes had to be made by the web design company because the text was integrated with the graphics.”

Having control to change the content on your website when you want is a fundamental lesson that realfoodathome.com has learnt. The associated cost with changing content on the website has meant that not all of the company’s wish list items could be accommodated on the website.

“We learnt that it was crucial to make the right decision based on the business rather than the cost,” says Memon.

By Gillian Cope