Husein Rahemtulla, COO and Co-Founder of Fresh Prep, explains how three childhood friends grew a sustainable business from scratch.
From a small cafe in Vancouver in the winter of 2014, high school friends Husein Rahemtulla, Becky Brauer, and Dhruv Sood conceived the concept for Fresh Prep. Together, their vision was to create a meal kit delivery service that made it easier for busy people to cook a wholesome meal at home.
But it wasn’t enough to tackle everyday food challenges: the Fresh Prep team was also committed to sustainability in business. They set out to create a convenient meal kit delivery service that went beyond single-use packets and imported produce to consider environmental impact every step of the way. Even if it meant a few iterations before developing a tried-and-true sustainability strategy.
Fresh Prep officially launched in 2015 with locally sourced ingredients and reusable, compostable packaging. Fast forward to 2021 and the values-based meal kit delivery service is a certified B Corporation that employs over 300 people. Fresh Prep ensures their meal kits provide customer convenience, while also positively impacting the local community and environment.
Husein Rahemtulla, COO and Co-Founder of Fresh Prep, explains how the vision of creating a green meal kit delivery service became a reality and how the company continues to make strides to support a clean and fair world.
Filling an environmental gap in the market.
Fresh Prep began with an incorporated business, a Vancity bank account, and a motivated team. For the first year and a half, 5 team members wore all necessary hats, including making and delivering the product – and their hard work paid off.
Husein credits much of Fresh Prep’s early success to the feedback they received from customers. Since they launched, the team at Fresh Prep has interacted closely with those buying the product, particularly when experimenting with packaging materials to help customers store meals conveniently and sustainably.
“That obsession with customer experience and delivering compelling value continues to this day,” says Husein.
Thanks to customer feedback, Fresh Prep refined their product and service over time, developing a circular system of delivering and picking up reusable cooler bags and packaging materials. The team knew they wouldn’t get everything perfect the first time, but also wanted to reduce the harmful impact of plastic packaging as much as possible.
“We tried other meal kits and, as people who love improving things and despise waste, we knew we wanted to have a more sustainable offering that made business sense without any extra cost to the customer. So, we focused on reusable packaging and started with reusable cooler bags instead of the cardboard boxes our competitors used, with the aim to further innovate packaging as we scaled.”
Fresh Prep’s steps to getting funded.
The Fresh Prep team bootstrapped from the start, relying on their Vancity bank account with a line of credit and a couple of maxed out Visa cards.
“When we were confident that we had a strong product-market fit, and consistently great feedback, we decided to invest in a warehouse for production and in marketing to grow our customer base,” Husein explains.
“From there, we put together a model of what our growth and profitability would look like over the next 5 years and started pitching. To get funding of any amount, you need a sound model that you can explain in minute detail to potential investors, and the ability to get others on board with your mission and vision.”
Growing with your business.
Whether it’s a sustainability dilemma or a marketing difficulty that comes your way, as your business grows, there are new problems to solve. Your goal during these moments is to keep your overarching vision in mind and respond accordingly.
In Husein’s words, “when you’re taking your business to the next level, the most critical piece is to have the right people in the right places. You need to find people who are experts to fill any gaps in skill and knowledge you and your other founders have.”
Especially in a start-up that’s dedicated to sustainability in business, “it’s important to hire experts who also have a bias for action and are willing to jump head-first into new problems and build processes,” explains Husein.
Sustainability in business since day one.
Fresh Prep isn’t a values-based business by accident. Every step of their journey has been an intentional commitment to change the game for meal kit delivery and prove that achieving success in business doesn’t have to cost the planet.
As a former professional poker player, Husein tells it this way: poker is a zero-sum game, meaning that, for you to win, someone else must lose. “The beauty of business is that it doesn’t have to be zero-sum. You can create positive outcomes for all your stakeholders if you’re innovative enough.”
“Becky, Dhruv and I have always believed that business has a higher social purpose beyond simply profit. We believe that social and environmental responsibility is not only harmonious with business interests but also strengthens them. In 2018, Fresh Prep became B Corp Certified. Being a B Corp gives us a framework to measure Fresh Prep’s success against rigorous values and responsible practices to make sure we’re building the company we set out to build as we grow.”
Every business can help build a better future.
Staying true to their core value of nurturing the future, Fresh Prep believes that sustainability in business is key, and that every business – big or small – has a responsibility to help tackle the climate crisis. It’s why they set their minds to designing a different model for their product and service, particularly when it came to packaging waste.
“The carbon footprint of meal kits is actually lower than the same meal from the grocery store, largely due to reduced food waste and individual travel to the store,” Husein points out.
“Where many meal kits fall short is in packaging, with a strong reliance on single use disposable items. We designed our model to incorporate reusable packaging and have taken back and sanitized cooler bags and ice packs since day one.”
After Fresh Prep’s second financing round, the team hired engineers to design a Zero Waste meal kit, a reusable container made with BPA-free plastic. Launched in spring 2021, this option allows customers to enjoy a meal kit experience without the typical single-use plastic and waste.
To top it off, this year, Fresh Prep began to offset all carbon emissions from their deliveries – a huge win for the climate.
Lessons learned from a values-based business.
“The biggest lesson is that there’s no recipe for building a business: things are complex and constantly changing, and you need focus, grit, and an outstanding team to keep things moving forward,” Husein remarks.
For Vancity members like Fresh Prep, “moving forward” means more than keeping their business running full steam ahead. It means taking initiative, working together, and making changes to support a clean and fair world.
Sign up to Fresh Prep at www.freshprep.ca and support a local, sustainable, values-based business. Use exclusive Vancity code SCVANCITY21 to save on your first order.