Starting out at the end of 2010, The Cornish Food Box Company had the simple intention of making it as easy as possible for people to buy Cornish food and drink. And what can you expect from one of their nutrition packed food boxes? Food to feel good about! To them, that means grass-fed meats, sustainably caught fresh fish and seafood, and veg grown just down the road from producers that they know.
The business started in a tiny shop on the outskirts of Truro city centre, and they delivered to just one person in their first week (who still has an order every week to this day!). Since then, they’ve grown the business through sheer hard work, wonderful customers and brilliant produce – and a bit of crowdfunding, of course.
We caught up with Tor Amran, Director at The Cornish Food Box Company, to find out about their Crowdfunder journey and what they’ve been up to since their project closed in 2016.
When we started out, we had a little shop at the other side of the car park parallel to this. We knew that this building we’re in now was coming up for rent, but it was a bit of a heart-over-head decision as they wanted a lot of rent for it. When we took it on, the floors in the shop were gravelled and there was no glass frontage. There wasn’t any electric or plumbing either, so it was was essentially a shed.
We moved in during September 2013 and started packing all of our veg boxes from here, but soon realised what a silly idea that was. The vans had to try and get in here for loading and it’s perhaps the most impractical place in the world to reach, but we could only afford one space at the time.
The building itself has an amazing history – it hasn’t been written down at all, but passed down through stories. It was originally a maltings, and has since been various other things, such as a boxing club and dance hall. It was also the Independent Labour Party meeting space, which is why the beams have things such as, ‘Workers of the world unite!’ written on them. I feel like that’s quite timely, because it’s a building about uniting people, which is exactly what we are trying to do here. The aim isn’t to be ‘hipster’ – if you come in here with a small baby, and grandparents, or anyone for that matter, then everyone will feel welcome.
The idea for crowdfunding came about when we got an additional shed, just for packing, outside of Truro and we put a pop up cafe in here. We just had a microwave and a coffee machine here, but it worked really, really well. The straw bales that remain in here as seating and they are a remnant of that; we weren’t trying to be quirky or different, we just didn’t have any chairs when we opened!
We wanted to expand our offering, so we crowdfunded to install a production kitchen and refit the shop with chilled food counters. The main part of the business is that we are an e-commerce and logistics company, and we deliver food to people, but this is the place where you can come to taste it, smell it and eat it – it’s the front of the business.
We put the kitchen in during October 2016, just in time for Christmas, and it’s been busy ever since. We also had to fit three phase electric and boring things like that, but the stuff that makes everything work.
Importantly, the cafe means for us, as a business, that we have zero waste. Veg doesn’t get thrown away as it gets turned into soup and quiches. Due to the fresh nature of the things that we sell, they only have a certain amount of time to be sold… a bit like a florist with fresh flowers.
In terms of the actual crowdfunding, it was much harder than we anticipated. However, what was really special was that it engaged a community behind what we do and it was a great way of keeping the conversation going about the cafe and what we are about.
We’ve opened up the toilets upstairs and are currently doing up the other half of the room, which is going to be a quiet part of the cafe. It’s a slow process because whilst the building is incredibly beautiful, there is not a single straight line. This means that everything has to be bespokely made!
The food box side of the company has moved again since crowdfunding and we now have a big industrial unit, which we moved into in August 2017. The food box has become its own standalone area and we’re really concentrating on the e-commerce side of things. It’s a lot of work, but hopefully we’re getting there – we’re now 8 years in! I find it good to talk to people who have been there and done it, because sometimes it can feel like a long slog.
Be prepared and plan it out. For me, I’m an ideas person and can come up with a million and one great ideas, but putting them into place is an entirely different matter. So if you’re a really creative person with lots of ideas and you’re going to crowdfund, then you need someone with you who can plan that out. It would be easy to be very sporadic with the whole thing, so spend some time looking at how you’re going to run your campaign.
It really is a team effort. For example, having someone who specifically does your marketing and can handle a campaign like that is a good idea as they can be pushing it all of the time.
On-boarding some key supporters before you go live is important. We didn’t do this, but wish we had because they can gradually add in their pledges throughout your campaign and really drive your total amount up. It will give you something new to talk about and push it forward.
Look carefully at what you are giving away as rewards. It can amount to a lot of work afterwards otherwise. If you’re planning on doing an event, then keep in mind that it’s another thing to organise once your project has closed. We found it important to keep on top of our list of supporters and make sure that everyone got something out of it.
• Want to know more about Cornish Food Box? Check out their Crowdfunder project page here.