Is it possible to offer a food program for your employees if you don’t have much budget?
I believe it’s possible. 100%. And not only that is totally doable but also a great exercise that challenges leaders, and anyone involved with it, to practice humility, active listening, and ample creativity.
If you have intrigued by the farm-to-table food programs offered by tech companies to their employees like this one by Airbnb, but been hindered by lack of resources, this story is for you.
You’ll learn how this New Zealand company was able to create an impactful, low-investment breakfast program, and how it has become a popular program nationwide.
Just imagine that it all started with just a 48$ electric, portable hot plate, a large pot, and the bathroom dubbing as the kitchen.
World Moving & Storage
World Moving & Storage is a moving and packing company with offices in Auckland and Christchurch, New Zealand. In 2005, the company launched the Breakfast Club, a morning meal program for its operational staff.
When the Breakfast Club started, Raymond Dobbe, who had founded the company in 2004, was leading a small team of six employees: packers and movers who were mostly of Māori population.
Raymond, who sold 40% of the business in 2007 but continues to run it as the managing director), decided to start offering a breakfast program onsite to improve both the employee experience and the customer experience and solve some of the issues.
Getting to the core of the issues
“For breakfast, they often snacked on some potato chips and sipped soft drinks,” recalls Raymond.
Because of the way employees fed themselves during the day––junk food consumed on-the-go—many of them suffered from poor physical conditions such as regular flu and colds.
However, their job required them to be in good shape to keep ongoing. Since they didn’t have a filling meal in the morning, during the day, they often stopped at local bakeries to grab some snacks.
“That was an expensive habit both for them and us. They come from poor backgrounds. So, they needed all the money they earned for their families. And for us, as a company, that was a problem too, since we weren’t delivering a service that we could be proud of,” said Raymond.
He couldn’t tell them to have breakfast together as a team in the morning and leave on time. Operational staff self-manage themselves. That means that they come and leave as they wish. “But that affects productivity and how much we can fit into a day. It couldn’t go on like that.”
A productive day starts with a nourishing breakfast
At that time, Raymond had a young family. His wife often cooked porridge for breakfast, which she topped with fresh, seasonal fruit and honey. He was fond of his family’s breakfast ritual. It was a way to spend time together and start the day with a nourishing, filling meal.
He realized that his staff most likely never had one such experience. How would they respond to a decent meal? What difference would a filling breakfast make to their performance and attitude? He started to wonder.
That’s when the idea of a breakfast program started to take shape in his mind.
Could the solution be a breakfast program?
His plan was simple yet ambitious; he would replicate his wife’s cooking and make yummy porridge for his staff, with vanilla and cinnamon and topped with nuts, fruits, and some yogurt.
He made a list of the equipment he needed for its brand-new breakfast program, which he called the Breakfast Club. The list included a $48 electrical, portable hot plate, and a large pot.
The new breakfast ritual was well received. For a while, the breakfast consisted of porridge made of different grains.
Raymond noticed that his personnel were now on time for breakfast and had slowly stopped their forays for food at bakeries. When they started to ask for more variety, he purchased two extra electric frying pans, which he set up next to the two hot plates and the pot in the bathroom.
In the beginning, as they were a small team, they cooked breakfast themselves. Some had little experience, so they cooked and taught others who wanted to learn.
Along the way, they introduced meat, which was usually on the menu on Friday for ‘Friday Frier.’ They had bacon, hash browns, sausages, and nuggets. “All sorts of nasty food but that’s all they like it once they’ve started getting more experience with cooking” laughs Raymond.
That’s when he decided to introduce a $2 contribution. It was a way for them to feel ownership of their breakfast and cover some costs. “Not everyone was on board with breakfast–some preferred to do sport in the morning–but those who were in were fully in,” he recalls.
Scaling the Breakfast Club
As his staff grew and new people joined the operational team, they decided to cook on rotation. Raymond recalls that was probably the peak of the Breakfast Club. Above all, they were “breaking bread together, cooking together, and producing together as well,” as he puts it.
Meeting for breakfast gives them the chance to pass jobs to one another. They are on the go for the whole day and return to the HQ at different times. So, breakfast is the only moment during the day when they can meet face-to-face.
The company has grown and built new facilities. They now have a kitchen and a dedicated dining room, and a chef comes three times a week.
When the chef doesn’t cook for the employees, they prepare breakfast for themselves. Usually, that consists of cereals or toasts. The Breakfast Club has become a popular program, which has gained the attention of national media and the praise of customers.
“They choose us for the kindness and dedication of our movers and packers, even though we aren’t the cheapest service in NZ.”
Its people-oriented culture has helped World Moving & Storage get nominations and winning several business awards over the years, spanning community, environment, and workplace.
Why starting small is the best start
When I asked Raymond why he thinks that so many companies use the lack of space, facility or budget as an excuse for not changing things, he said:
“Children never actually learn to play with a toy but can transform anything into a toy using their creativity. Some people drive a 10-year-old car. Others change their cars every other week. That’s the same thing in business. You may or may not have the right kitchen or the right facility at hand, but you have to make with what you have. We made it work with what we got. It’s way better than what they had before. For them and us, it was more than enough.”
The Breakfast Club offers a great lesson in leveraging enough. In starting small.
If Raymond had waited for the “right” time and resources, he would probably have never done it–and lost quite a few employees along the way.
Time and time again I see that companies with great food cultures (which are often some of the best companies to work for) are the ones that live and breathe their culture, listen to what their employees need and want, and get started even if they have little or no budget at all.
If you need any help, inspiration, or initial ideas to craft your food program, WE Factory can help. Get in touch for a free consultation.
*Many thanks to Raymond Dobbe for sharing his story with me and for reviewing this article and to Jeremy Dean for the heads up.
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I originally shared this article with the readers of Pausa Pranzo, my monthly newsletter that highlights ideas on how to revolutionize food in the workplace, create community, and care for each other at work.
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