UK pick-and-mix recipe box provider Gousto is one of a kind in many ways. From letting its subscribers pick the recipes they want to cook that week to the firm’s rapid-fire, reactive and innovative business model, this young and exciting group of chefs, marketers and entrepreneurs are taking the fear out of discovery when it comes to cooking at home. With organic principles and both seasonal and niche fresh produce close to its heart, the company shows Produce Business UK how it’s done
I’m not sure what I expected when I arrived at Gousto’s business units near Shepherd’s Bush in West London. The company serves the multitudes with a weekly-changing menu of ten on-trend, reasonably seasonal, accessible and enticing recipes and measured-out ingredients – all ready to cook in the comfort of your own home.
Subscribers to the service can pick three or four recipes for two or four people (£34.99-£59.99) and wherever they are in the country they receive the ingredients within three days via the choice of four delivery days, including Friday and Saturday.
I suppose I expected the outfit to be bigger and maybe see someone with a magic wand. But, of course, there’s more to Gousto than just its London offices; the firm operates a depot and factory in the fresh produce hub of Spalding, Lincolnshire, with a further 40 people working in shifts to make sure everything runs like clockwork.
“It’s no coincidence that we are [based] in the heart of the UK produce market – it was a very deliberate decision,” shares Alice Brown, head of procurement at Gousto. “There’s good logistics there [Spalding] and if we need to organise a meeting with one of our suppliers, they can be [as little as] 10 minutes away.”
Brown says Gousto wants to bring the realities of the supply chain and the new things being produced in this country to the customer, as the company believe that’s what a huge proportion of its customers want. After all, its strapline is ‘Cook outside the box’.
“They want to see what is going into their food and where it comes from,” Brown says. “We are very much part of the natural food movement, where people want to take the control back from the supermarkets and discover all kinds of different food for themselves.”
Head of food, Flo Gibson, interjects with glee, adding: “It’s like the cavolo nero effect,” which causes her colleague to smile widely. “We simply introduced some cavolo nero into one of the recipes and people went crazy for it, calling it “alien cabbage” on Twitter and uploading loads of pictures of them with it.
“We test out what we think will work with our customers first, which is what they love [about the service]. We can demystify food and that especially works with vegetables, and, hopefully, once they’ve tried it once with us and been shown how to prepare it with our step-by-step picture recipes, they will buy more in the supermarkets or at markets.”
Vibrant, energetic and passionate about their approach, Gibson and Brown set a tone for the young and innovative company, through their infectious energy for good food, discovery and cookery education.
Having been with the three-year recipe machine practically from the get-go via internships, the two women have helped form the company’s ethos and rapid-paced reactive nature; turning and twisting to create for a perfect recipe experience at home. In fact, it feels like they are looking after their friends – quite a lot of friends, mind you; Gousto is now dealing with three times as many customers as it was in its first already hugely successful year, and they just keep on coming.
“Our customers want to get out of that cooking rut,” explains Gibson, who has worked with several big-named chefs on recipe collaborations for the recipe boxes. “People generally have five recipes as part of their at-home cooking repertoire and we are making it more comfortable to step out of that. You can get a new recipe from a chef or in a magazine, buy all the cuts of meat and full bags of spices and whatever is needed, and it can still not work, which can be very off putting, as well as expensive.
“We test our recipes five times, at least. Once developed, every recipe goes out to different people in the company, who are not necessarily culinary trained, and made at home. All the feedback comes back and we reassess and test again.”
Working closely with suppliers
With summer coming up soon enough, Gibson and Brown are getting ready to showcase via Gousto’s recipes the best of seasonal and unusual vegetables from June onwards. In particular, they are excited about white and purple cabbage and pinky, coral-coloured carrots.
Working with companies like Produce World and SunFresh, the dynamic pair claim Gousto’s procurement process needs to be a team effort with its suppliers. That way, they will know exactly what they are doing when it comes to delivering seasonal, available produce to eager cooks at home, but also to ensure they’re not asking their suppliers for the unachievable.
“It is a massive operational feat to let customers choose from ten recipes that change from week to week, with logistics to consider, data forecasts, cost per recipe and working at a less than 1% waste policy,” says Gibson, whose average week includes recipe development, customer research, a food photo shoot and recipe testing.
“But it’s great not to prescribe what people at home are having for dinner and it’s an important point of difference for us – we are the only recipe box scheme that started with this offer.”
In general, Gousto is organic first. But Brown admits that can’t be done 100% of the time during the course of the year, especially when it comes to the wide range of vegetables they like to include in their recipes. Nonetheless, the company is keen to play a part in making organic vegetables an everyday decision in the UK.
It also helps that Gousto understands the supply chain and the growers operating behind it. “We work with producers to reduce waste behind the scenes in the industry,” says Brown. “If a product is out of specification on an aesthetic level, we ask whether we can use it. We mentioned to Produce World that the normal 1kg butternut squash was actually too large for our purposes and they spotted an opportunity with a grower who had a field of small butternuts that had been rejected. Everyone got a better deal than the produce being ploughed into the ground. This is the kind of thing we share with the customer through a newsletter – we engage with them and let them know what is going on in the food chain.”
So, what could possibly be next for this dynamic company? Not surprisingly, change is already in the air; in fact, Gousto is constantly evolving into the next thing.
“One of the most exciting things about being with Gousto is that we can be very reactive,” beams Gibson. “Someone can approach us with a new product and within weeks we can send it out to our customers to try and receive feedback. When you compare that to a big supermarket; their new product development is years in the pipeline. We get constant customer feedback.”
Next on the list for Gousto is offering a range of additional products, like Cornish chocolate bars and desserts, as well as savoury ingredients. The idea is that those ingredients – that may not be available at a local shop or without a hefty minimum order charge online – can be added to a weekly box delivery. The company is also going to develop online videos for people to watch and cook along with their own ingredients.
Giving Gousto a go
Even for a seasoned foodie like me, it’s nice to have the hassle and procurement of an evening meal taken out of your hands. And so I trialled a Gousto recipe that arrived in a compact, cooled box…
Chosen recipe: Greek Lamb Pasta
It’s like a Greek take on a spaghetti bolognese; cleverly taking us out of our comfort zones by tweaking no-doubt one of our classic make-at-home dishes.
Ingredients: Lamb mince, red onion, dill (really lovely quality, grown in Spain), olives (good luck not eating all of those before they go in the pan…), garlic, conchiglie pasta, bay leaf, dried oregano, tomato ketchup, feta and tomatoes.
Any extra cupboard bits and pieces – like oil, butter and seasoning – that you’ll need is highlighted at the top of the recipe card, so there are no unhelpful surprises halfway through the cooking process that make you dash to the shops.
Timings: It’s obvious these recipes have been worked out to a tee. I used the timer on my phone to keep things exact. That might sound geeky (mostly because it is) but it does keep everything shipshape. This recipe said it would take 35 mins. It actually took me 40 mins, but that’s because I like my pasta British and floppy.
The portion control part of this is fundamental. Providing you don’t eat half a block of feta whilst making the dish, there’s no upsetting fridge waste at the end of the day/week, as everything is measured out to the gram. Your 5-a-Day rating (one of them in this recipe), calorie count, fat in grams and amount of protein are also indicated on the recipe card.
The end result
The great thing about this service is the instructions on presentation as well, so your end dish really is what you see styled on the recipe cards. The little things like mixing half of the chopped dill with the pasta, then sprinkling it over the entire dish really helps to make you feel like you have achieved the desired effect. And, it tastes great.