The FEAST2 team provided a wealth of technical support to secure various certifications and accreditations, whilst providing expertise and advice on a range of subjects including nutritional information, pre-auditing, signposting to important websites and information, as well as data analysis and presentation for customers.
With a name derived from a Nigerian slang term for ‘eat your food’, YumChop’s ambition is to create authentic African meals that are free from any added preservatives, colouring or flavourings with only responsibly sourced and fresh ingredients, natural spices and herbs. Borne out of an archive of traditional foods and recipes, the business fuses African meals and flavours with meals from other cultures, offering a number of products based around their flagship Jerk Chicken with Halal compliant meals. Whilst there are many independent providers of African cuisine through pop-up shops and restaurants, they are still hugely underrepresented in the mainstream market. Yumchop was launched in 2016 to provide frozen ready meal cuisines from around the world with an African twist.
The Towcester-based business has 2 primary services:
- Deployment of Yumchop 24/7 Automatic Retail Kiosk Service
- Direct Supply for Retailers and Large Organisations.
Yumchop’s automated vending kiosks were commissioned in 2018 and support the “food on the go” concept and provide access to meals 24 hours a day with an integrated commercial microwave facility to warm the food. They supply these automatic vending machines to universities, including Imperial College University through TUCO (The University Catering Organisation), and London and NHS Hospitals (including Kettering General Hospital) through an NHS Food Framework agreement with NHS Supply chain to supply hot food and drinks.
The kiosks also have the capacity for remote management of stock, giving real-time access to data intelligence to support the re-stocking of products. Data from student campuses and hospitals suggest that the offer is popular during all hours of the day, in part due to the accessibility of hot food 24/7, and the perpetual nature of those locations.
The businesses menu comprises over 30 dishes and a range of extras, including non-vegetarian, halal and vegetarian dishes. The meals are flash-frozen to retain taste, texture, and quality and provide a hassle-free experience for customers, removing meal preparation and cooking as they defrost in minutes. The benefits of frozen food are reported to be a retaining of freshness, time saving, longer life, simplicity, and the reduction of food waste by portioning meals and providing 100% recyclable biodegradable tubs with easy-to-follow instructions, pre-portioned ingredients, and meals.
The business model includes a monthly subscription box service, including Silver (5 tubs, £23.99), Gold (10 tubs, £45.99) and Platinum (15 tubs, £66.99) boxes, as well as Kids, Chicken Leg, and Special Tapas options.
Engagement with FEAST2
The business had conducted market research and identified universities and hospitals as the primary markets for their 24/7 food service. In order to take their concept to a safe, marketable product, the business needed to meet a number of industry requirements and specifications in order to sell their tubs to customers. In an effort to meet the changing requirements of a food and drink industry adapting to increases in online shopping and takeaway options as a result of the trends accelerated by the pandemic, the business engaged with The Mallows Company following a recommendation from another food manufacturer.
Prior to their involvement with the FEAST2 project, Yumchop had received only generic business-orientated support – the likes of SEMLEP and the NatWest Accelerator Programme were useful in setting up their business, but offered no support in the realms of food and drink manufacturing. The business had sought food and drink support specifically in the wider region, but found nothing before being recommended to The Mallows Company.
At an initial meeting with The Mallows Company, the growth of the business and the need to move to dedicated production facilities was discussed with the requirement to scale up the equipment. The Mallows FEAST2 adviser, Amanda, recommended technical support that could be offered through FEAST2 and supported them through the grant process
The FEAST2 team provided a wealth of technical support to secure various certifications and accreditations, whilst providing expertise and advice on a range of subjects including nutritional information, pre-auditing, signposting to important websites and information, as well as data analysis and presentation for customers. In addition, the business benefited from a number of training opportunities at events and webinars on subjects such as product development.
FEAST2’s technical support extended beyond accreditations and certifications. In early 2020, Yumchop secured a new premises, an old factory (former restaurant) that had fallen into disrepair. Needing to convert the site to accommodate a food manufacturing set-up, the business used FEAST2 to help provide advice on lay-outs and manufacture flow in order to avoid across-contamination. Yumchop are presently awaiting the results of a recent audit of the site – if all goes to plan, the business will receive a manufacturing audit number.
Yumchop were also able to secure a grant towards a new £20,000 pan that would transform their capacity and productivity.
Impact of Engagement with FEAST2
With the business confessing to having little background or knowledge of food manufacturing or business themselves, the FEAST2 project has been fundamental to their evolution. The project has helped to fill their knowledge gap.
The FEAST2 technical team provided information and guidance to ensure that Yumchop’s food tubs are clearly labelled with allergy and nutritional information. Food safety is a key part of their offer; the Kiosks display allergy and nutritional information on large 22-inch touch screens. The technical advice provided by the FEAST2 project has also helped the business to have their entire manufacturing process certified by STS (a leading food, health and safety body on par with SALSA) organisation for the regional supply and distribution of food.
Prior to investing in a new £20,000 pan, the business could produce 150 tubs in each batch in approximately 2.5 hours. With the new pan – and its 40kg capacity – the business can produce over 500 pots in just under 1 hour. The new pan has improved productivity by 70% overall, while having the added benefits of reducing the labour required (the pan has its own stirrer), and decreases the risk of cross contamination.
For Yumchop, The FEAST2 team have been helpful, approachable and easily accessible at every turn; any time the business faced an upcoming audit, site evaluation, or required advice at short notice, the team were on hand to help.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Yumchop had secured agreements to sell their Kiosks to Kings College University London and the University of Bath, and they were in conversations with other universities including London Metropolitan University, the University of Manchester, and the University of Warwick. However, operations ceased with the onset of the nationwide lockdown, as their target market – students – were forced to return home, or work remotely. Over the course of the subsequent year-and-more of restraints associated with the UK’s social distancing measures, Yumchop sought to diversify their offer to safeguard their business and to provide an alternative form of income. Yumchop’s website has evolved over the past year, as have their subscription boxes.
In the meantime, seeking financial relief of any kind, the business sought a higher-value grant in order to mitigate against their lack of income elsewhere. However, the programme restricts the proportion of grant funding available to beneficiaries. It was suggested that The Mallows Company would be well placed to lobby for additional financial support for food and drink manufacturers in the wake of the pandemic.
In the short-term, the business hopes to be supplying universities again come September 2021, when the new academic term starts, providing the national restrictions have been lifted. In the meantime, Yumchop are concentrating their efforts on securing more contracts with NHS hospitals. The growth plan for the next 18 months includes efforts to secure more hospitals and universities as locations for their kiosks, particularly targeting the south east midlands and the corridor towards London. In recent weeks, Yumchop have secured a contract with Transport for London to implement 10 kiosks across various London train stations, including Stratford Road and Canning Town.