YFood Tech Wednesday: City Pantry


At the forefront of the office food revolution, City Pantry delivers the best food from restaurants across London and Manchester straight to their customers’ office doors.

This month, YFood Tech Wednesdays Manchester welcomed CEO of City Pantry, Stuart Sunderland to the Bright Building at Manchester Science Park. Telling his story, Stuart shared four important lessons he has learned along the way, while setting up his Food Tech business.

Stuart was introduced to the food industry at a young age where he learnt to cook in the kitchen of his father's hotel. Moving from his home in Scotland after university, Stuart moved to New York and Singapore to work in finance, before settling in London and eventually founding City Pantry.

“I ended up in London about six years ago and what really interested me at the time was the explosion of street food. Where the business was based in Brixton there was a little market with over 20 street food vendors. I thought it’d be really cool to set up a service where we deliver food from those street food vendors” says Stuart.

Starting any new company, regardless of the target market, can be a gruelling task. Here are four lessons Stuart has learnt from his journey with City Pantry:

Lesson 1 - Continually reflect, consolidate & formalise the knowledge you pick up

After being in business for a short time, the City Pantry team started to notice a couple of key things. “Firstly, it’s not really helpful for street vendors to have more orders at their peak time, especially as they take most orders on Fridays and Saturdays,” said Stuart. “Secondly, it was going to be a lot more expensive than I thought because we were delivering food that was worth £20 and we were only taking a small cut of that.”

It was when Stuart received a call from someone at a London tech company that he realised where his business’ niche could lie. His contact offered free breakfast to his team but was getting bored of always having the same thing. He had seen the City Pantry website and was instantly intrigued by the food they were offering asking if we could help him with more choice. “That was when the penny dropped, as suddenly this guy had given us an order three weeks in advance, for breakfast on a weekday - which was out of peak time for the traders- and it was £300; a fantastic order for a small business to receive” explained Stuart. “So we switched the model from delivering small scale to feeding businesses.”

“In building a business, you have to really think about how you can formalise the information and the things that you are learning to make decisions in the future.”

Lesson 2 - The value of interacting directly with customers is huge! There is so much gold if you know how to ask the right questions and what to look for. It will help define your product, how you market to people, and so much more!

After making the decision to deliver to businesses, Stuart set about calling companies across London to sell his product, and, of course, delicious street food. In no time, Stuart had brought on Eventbrite and Google as customers. “These companies were accepting of our business because they wanted something new and exciting.”

But it was important that the team continued to learn from their customers, and understand what they needed. “By taking the time to phone our customers, asking them how their meal was and asking them for feedback, their input was able to really inform the success of the business,” said Stuart. “You can use all those lessons to tweak your business to improve. The value that we got from that feedback has been super useful and has helped to scale the business.”

Lesson 3 - Do something that has a bigger purpose and that you can get behind, remember why you’re doing it.

Going back to basics and asking where the value lay for the customers, as well as what the value was for them as a business, City Pantry was able to hone in on its niche.

“What we found clear is that people get a lot of value from sitting together and eating a meal,” explained Stuart. “It’s huge in Silicon Valley, is getting bigger in London, and is starting to happen in Manchester.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But with busy schedules and flexible working, it can often be hard for teams to get together and spend quality time with one another. “When we speak to our customers they say the thing we really do best is to make it possible for them to sit down as a team and take a break once a day or once a week.” The ultimate benefit? “City Pantry went beyond a functional delivery service, it was digging into the real heart of their company.”

Stuart’s top tip: “When you are clear about what you are doing and connect real purpose, it will percolate through your company and into your customers.”

Lesson 4 - Hire people that scare you

Any business needs brilliant people. And Stuart believes that through spending time growing your business, you start to see the strong talent around you, and what they can make possible and deliver. “Suddenly it’s no longer like pie in the sky, we have people that can help us deliver on that.”

And what are the people who can help you deliver your goals like? Stuart suggests they are the people that scare you. But fear not, they don’t have to terrify you. “You have to be excited and scared in equal measures,” he says. “As an entrepreneur one of the hardest things is realising that you don’t know the answer but others do, and trusting them is when you start to really get scale.”

The important point to take from Stuart's lessons is that starting a company is tough. There isn’t a perfect way to guarantee success, but by formalising information, learning from your lessons, listening to customer feedback and hiring talented people, you can give your startup the best chance of scaling.

Keep up to date with all of our YFood Tech Wednesdays events, which are free to attend, but spaces are limited so be sure to register for your spot here.

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