A Curtin Ignition program helped a Perth couple scale their business and take on all comers.
Research has shown that half of us eat the same seven ‘safe’ meals every week. Perhaps during lockdown earlier this year that became even more apparent.
A 2014 poll in the UK found that a quarter of adults ate the same meal on the same day every week, and 13 per cent had done so for more than 10 years. This is despite the fact that the average British household has six cookery books.
Falling back on the tried-and-tested family staples is far easier than convincing your kids to try cumin-infused beetroot salad with yoghurt, or similar creative dishes.
In 2011, Perth couple Chris and My Tistrand were visiting family in Sweden.
“Having dinner at a friend’s house, we saw them cook from a delivered meal kit,” Mr Tistrand told Business News.
“Watching their whole family get excited about something they had previously dreaded really made a mark on us. That night, my wife and I decided we must bring the concept to Perth.”
The first job was to educate Perth people on the new concept, to give their dinners ‘a new twist’, so to speak. They offered a box containing four meals with recipes and ingredients, delivered once a week or fortnight, for around $100.
“Market education took quite a bit longer than expected. Six months in, our savings were gone, so we had to take on a family loan,” Mr Tistrand said.
The following year was stressful, as Mr Tistrand acknowledged they were trying to sell a new product in an industry they knew little about.
“Quite a tough, foolish combination,” he said.
By 2015, the business was delivering to 350 households a week and had 14 staff.
It was that growth that propelled Dinner Twist to the winners’ circle in the Business News Rising Stars Awards (forerunner of RISE Business Awards).
Their prize included free entry into Curtin Ignition, a week-long intensive program for entrepreneurs and business owners. “Ignition propelled us from hobby business to a scalable business,” Mr Tistrand said.
Soon after, a new challenge arose when German giant Hello Fresh entered the market. While having more players in a market segment was helpful in building public awareness of the concept, Mr Tistrand said, it also provided an opportunity for the couple to clarify their objectives.
“We knew [Hello Fresh] had enormous marketing budgets, and they sounded a lot like us,” he said.
“This prompted us to take a deep dive into our ‘why’, to find our own unique purpose.
“We realised we wanted to make a positive change in people’s health, and the world we live in.
“We wanted to reduce food waste, use less plastics, while supporting local farmers and promoting regenerative practices.
“What we really wanted to do was to move away from ‘doing less bad’ to actively doing good.”
This was how the local business would differentiate from then on.
The company now operates with less than 1 per cent of food wasted, has trimmed packaging time per box down to 25 seconds across three production lines, and sends out 1,850 deliveries a week.
“That’s a food box every eight seconds,” Mr Tistrand said. “So far in 2020, we’ve delivered 82,000 boxes, or 860,000 meals.”
Creativity & logistics
The business is part creative – thinking up new recipes every week (hardly any are repeated) – and part logistics. Sixty-five staff are now involved in delivering north and south of the river every week.
The pandemic only accelerated matters when people locked down in March.
Dinner Twist doubled the space of its Canning Vale headquarters. It also formed an online marketplace to allow local producers, whose restaurant and cafe business had collapsed, to connect with customers.
Revenue for the most recent financial year was just under $9 million, and the Tistrands’ plan for this year is upwards of $11 million. And they are well on track.
The Dinner Twist startup story demonstrates how a family-run business can make it in a tough competitive environment.
The Tistrands also like to give back. A few weeks ago, they hosted a Curtin Ignition alumni session at their head offices, an inspiration to the next generation of Western Australian startups.
It felt like they had come full circle.
• Charlie Gunningham is founder and principal of digital strategy advisory business, Damburst