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Bits and bytes: How caterer Fooditude won over the technology sector

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Bits and bytes: How caterer Fooditude won over the technology sector

Fooditude, the contract catering company that has relaunched from Just Hospitality, operates flexibly to reflect the innovative technology companies who are its key clients. Vincent Wood reports

Since taking a gamble on the Silicon Valley set four years ago, Dean Kennett’s contract catering business Fooditude now deals with the likes of Netflix and Twitter – but winning over some of the online world’s best-known names hasn’t been as simple as being the first firm on the scene. “You have to work hard because as much as they give us this kind of soft, cushty image of ping-pong tables and Christ knows what, there’s a real underlying business there – and they’re quite ruthless,” Kennett says.

fooditudeFooditude – the newly rebranded face of Just Hospitality – grew out of the tech sector, both in terms of business expansion through recommendations and in approach. “You learn lots of things when you’re alongside companies like that,” Kennett adds. “Because they’re normally start-ups – they don’t give a shit about certain things. We started mirroring some of those things you see with tech firms and adopting that kind of culture and that style of work. And our business grew quite rapidly, exponentially.”

Of course, while tech is an exciting place to be in business, full of fresh investment and innovation, it has its pitfalls. Start-ups are prone to issues – bold ideas can result in a company being here today and gone tomorrow, making catering to such a firm a risky business. Data from 2017 found that in London alone, just half of all start-ups lasted more than three years. Some, however, have the potential to grow into wellsprings of future business.

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“I took a punt about four years ago on the tech sector,” Kennett says. “A lot of these companies start with 25 people, and within two years they’re talking about going on to employ 2,000.”

What makes Fooditude work for the industry is a flexible approach. All food comes from central kitchens in Islington or Southwark, delivered fresh and ready to serve without any need for a kitchen at the client company. In some cases, multiple drops are made throughout the day. For firms looking to feed their staff – often paid for up front – the model is a markedly smarter investment than investing hundreds of thousands into building a kitchen from scratch.

“The client might not be there in a few years’ time because they’ve outgrown it, or shrunk or disappeared. We put the money and the investment back into our product, so they haven’t got to worry about it and they get what they want.”

Dean Kennett
Dean Kennett

But the model comes with its limitations. A freshly fried chip is unlikely to survive the journey in a hot box and emerge still crisp. Rather than serve a low-quality product – or banish popular items from the menu – Fooditude looks to local high-quality brands and lets them take centre stage.

“We pull specialists within the area into contracts. So, for instance, Pizza Pilgrims is quite near one of our contracts, so if we do pizza we get it from them – but we let the client know that. And actually, the client likes to know that we’re supporting businesses in the area. Likewise, with our coffee options, we’ve got a couple of good coffee teams we work for, like Grind.”

The switch to the new look Fooditude at the start of this year comes as the company takes stock. In a brand-obsessed sector, the name Just Hospitality was not quite resonating with clients – the majority of whom shortened the name to JH. More than this, many clients said they thought the foodservice operator’s offering was not ‘just’ hospitality at all, and that they were selling themselves short.

“We just weren’t relevant any more. It was very two dimensional and there wasn’t a lot we could do with it. It was very corporate, there was a little bit of tongue-in-cheek in it, but it kind of had its day,” Kennett explains. The result, beyond the name, has been a burst of colour – bright, illustrative graphics, cheeky slogans and bold design now run through the company’s offering, from the vans to the point of sale. It was a year-long process, and a daunting one for Kennett.

“I got right to the final point, which I think is very normal with anything like that, where I thought, ‘OK, I think we’ve done something wrong here, we need to pull out’. My head was saying one thing, my heart was saying another, but actually, when I got a bit more feedback from our current clients – and these are clever people, they have a good eye for stuff like this – the early indications were good, so that settled me down.”

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And the branding isn’t the only change. The company has taken a lease on a 22,000 sq ft industrial site in South Bermondsey to build a vast kitchen complex, along with an innovation centre, an event kitchen and space to bring clients to show how the process works. However, while this allows the firm to look at catering for greater numbers, the real benefit from centralising operations is control.

“The biggest numbers we cater for at the moment in one drop is 650, and I want to break the 1,000 barrier by the end of next year. I think it’s possible, and I think we’ve got more eyes over the pie in a bigger kitchen, whereas having run multiple sites for previous employers, invariably it’s up and down levels of consistency, with chefs not turning up and using agency staff to cover.”

At the root of everything is the food and keeping the offering interesting for clientele who live ahead of the trend. “Nobody really wants street food in an office. It doesn’t really work, so we’ve taken some inspiration from that area and we’re also going back to small plated food. Rather than sitting down with meat and two veg, there will just be a line of small dishes or lots of pop-up offerings, just to keep it all fresh and different.”

While Kennett recognises that it is laudable that Fooditude caters for companies that offer its staff food for free, he admits this can be a double-edged sword. “It’s like an all-inclusive hotel – after four days it doesn’t matter what you serve, you’ve got to be on your A-game”.

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