Marley Spoon is riding the wave of success for ingredient boxes. Instead of pre-prepped meals, which have gotten a bad rap, ingredient boxes deliver everything needed for healthy and fast meals. They make weeknights simpler than ever and are a blessing for those who hate grocery shopping.
Techly took some time to talk to one of the (many) brains behind Marley Spoon’s expansion in Australia, Rolf Weber. We spoke about why he chose Australia, how technology informs the Marley Spoon process, and about how many relationships he’s rescued through food delivery.
What is Marley Spoon and why should young Australians get on board?
Our purpose actually describes what we do quite well. We bring market fresh, delightful and easy cooking back to the people. We do that while we work hard towards eliminating waste along the way. With waste, I mean especially food waste.
So there are two aspects to what we do. Making cooking easy, we do that by supplying all the ingredients you need for a menu of 12 different dishes that you can cook at home, and that gets delivered to your door. Our supply chain process allows us to have less than 1 percent food waste along the way. And you compare this to, let’s say, shopping at a supermarket, combined with the waste in your own fridge that can lead up to about 50 percent of the actual food, the lost produce going into the bin.
Consider that around 80 percent of water that is actually consumed today is not used for washing your car or showering, but for agricultural purposes. When you understand that 50 percent of the actual food produced goes into the bin, or a landfill, then we have to look at ways to reduce that. The supply chain in our business basically goes from farm into our repacking facility, straight to the customer. So we take all the steps along the way, we take that out, and therefore we can achieve these very low food waste numbers, which I think is more and more important to every Australian, but to young Australians even more.
Marley Spoon started in a few European countries and was pretty successful there. What attracted you to Australia, what particularly about the Australian market you thought would have enabled success here?
Yes, Marley Spoon started very small, humbly in Berlin at the end of 2014. Fairly quickly we expanded into several European countries. From early 2015 we expanded into the U.S. market and Australian market.
Why Australia? There are two things. One is the opportunity, and the other one is the market fit. So the opportunity was that I was based in Australia anyway and Marley Spoon in Germany looked at where to expand then. It was a lot of trust in myself that I was able to help Marley Spoon operate here in Australia.
That was the opportunity, but more importantly, the market fit. Generally, Australians are really keen on trying new things and new concepts, much more than the local market gives the Australian consumers credit for. Even when I started my previous business, Brands Exclusive, and I went around to suppliers trying to sell their products online, they told me, “Oh, you can’t sell jeans online, you can’t sell shoes online.” That was in 2009 when all over the world this was happening. Sometimes you just have to give the Australian consumers way more credit than local businesses do. We’ve been highly rewarded by our Australian customers with loyalty and trust in what we do.
You did mention your previous businesses with Brand Exclusive. You’ve been involved in quite innovative businesses, especially in Australia. What do you think are the most challenging and also the most rewarding aspects of running an innovative business in Australia?
I guess what I got to learn about myself is that I like building businesses from scratch which have the opportunity to become large. I cut my teeth into that with five Australian guys with Brands Exclusive.
With Marley Spoon, I think that even a much better opportunity now. Groceries are a recurring need, but it’s also one of the biggest problems for most people. “How do I eat well? What do I eat next week? How do I get the products? How can I turn the dull cooking into an actual home experience?” And Marley Spoon provides one answer to all these questions. That’s quite rewarding, personally. On a global level, as well here in Australia, we’ve put a really great team together. It’s just a joy to come to work every day. Yeah, so that’s kind of my motivation, why I’m interested and then working very hard to make Marley Spoon a success here.
And the biggest challenges for you?
There’s a range of challenges involved with any business in the early stages. How do you convince great people to work with you when you’re a startup, an unproven model, and there’s many, many other options to work for?
The war on talent is a challenge for every business. How we conquer this is by striving to build a great culture within Marley Spoon in Australia based on our strong purpose, which resonates with a lot of people and underpins strong sets of values that we look for when we recruit people, but also how we grow internally and how we work internally with each of us. That keeps the work. But getting great people onboard is a challenge.
We’re a fast-growing startup, so for us scaling is a joy and a challenge at the very same time. Currently, we’re growing 5 percent week-on-week and we have to ensure that all of our operations can keep up, so we can predict the next steps and build our capabilities and capacity in advance. We can ensure that the products that we deliver is up to scratch and meets the highest standards of our customers.
What new tech do you think that you could foresee ever using in your, either in a professional or personal capacity, using day-to-day? What would you love to incorporate into your normal day?
For us…the core is about forecasting and understanding the eating habits, and the food preferences of our customers, which then, in turn, help us to design better menus, to create better choice, and also to expand the recipes that we offer today into the future and provide a much larger range. In order to do that we collect a lot of data about our customers. Not only the actual meals that we ship, but also which dish did they prefer over another dish, and that gives us a rich set of data that we can use to improve how we create our recipes and our menus.
A lot of people say, “I like this and I don’t like this,” but when you put the choice in front of them they actually make different choices to what they’ve said they like. But what we don’t want to forget is the element of surprise. We get so much positive feedback about, “Oh, I would have never cooked this combination of food, or this dish myself. I would have never picked it, but you kind of preselected it for me, and I gave it a go and it was awesome, so thank you for that.” That will be the positive challenge for us to ensure that on one hand we still surprise our customers with food that they’ll wouldn’t have taken, wouldn’t have made themselves.
That’s one part, and then on the other side you have this supply of food, and there are alternating seasons that we need to consider. We need to collect a lot of data, there’s obviously costs to consider as well, and actually what we want to bring together.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning could help us to build better prediction models that also help us to reduce waste even further along the supply chain because we can communicate much closer with our suppliers, and can help them to organise food in the volumes that we need in advance.
Yeah, that’s what we’re trying to do, and that’s the technology we’re working on. And then internally, obviously we’re building fairly large operations. The technology to bring down operation costs so that over time we can look to decrease the costs of our service to our customers as well. That’s what we’re trying to do.
What’s the best feedback that you’ve gotten? I guess because you are such a customer-centric model as well, so that seems to be incredibly important. So is there anything that stuck out to you the best bit of feedback?
Internally my team’s getting a bit sick of me joking that we save marriages. Ultimately what we really love seeing is comments around how we make cooking easy and therefore we bring families back together. There’s, in Australia, high retail, high real estate prices, high rent and so forth. There’s less and less time to spend preparing for a decent meal on the dinner table.
Marley Spoon brings that time back. It’s just within a minute you have your choices ready, and then it’s easy to cook. People want to live healthier, and generally what is happening, instead of eating something processed you eat fresh foods, so you chop up your own carrots, and onions, and garlic. There’s herbs in there, vegetables. It’s over all of the menu. It’s a very balanced diet that you can put together without any hassle.
Suddenly we get comments around, “Oh, I never have seen my hubby in the kitchen, but now he loves cooking because it’s so easy following your six step recipe cards. He even cleans up afterwards.” When you see these comments you know you’re making a positive impact on the lives of our customers, and that’s great to hear.
Other comments are around, “Oh, because it’s so easy my children started cooking, and that’s really great and now they have skills that they can take away, they know where the food comes from,” and all these kind of things. That’s them talking, that we bring families together.