On the up · 1 September 2015

City Pantry: The catering platform championing small food businesses

Ex-city worker Stuart Sunderland launched City Pantry last year
Ex-city worker Stuart Sunderland launched City Pantry last year

Stuart Sunderland set up online catering platform City Pantry to enable corporates to order catering from independent food vendors, and have it delivered straight to their offices. Since launching in 2014, the business has seen growth of 29 per cent per month and delivers over 5,000 meals to city offices each week – with Buzzfeed, Google and Spotify all using the service.

City Pantry aims to champion small food companies in London and provide them with catering opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, while helping them maintain business during the trickier winter months.

The service currently delivers over 5,000 meals to London offices every week, with regular orders from Google, Buzzfeed and Spotify. Sunderland spoke to Business Advice to discuss the difficulties with logistics and the value of a direct approach when looking for new customers.

(1) Who are you and what is your business?

I am Stuart Sunderland, 31, the founder of City Pantry an online catering platform which allows companies to cater lunches, events and meetings with amazing food from London’s best independent food vendors.

(2) How long have you been around for?

We made our first delivery on the sixth of January 2014 to an agency called Frieze from an awesome little Vietnamese place called Chao on London’s Whitecross Street. I was there to watch it happen and their courier didn’t show, so I had to take the order in a taxi myself which was a good lesson in what we would need to do to make the service reliable.

(3) How will you make money?

We take a percentage commission from the vendors that sell food on the site for bringing them the orders.

(4) What makes you different and why should someone take notice?

We offer the ease and service of a caterer but with the variety and quality of food that only the independent food vendors can provide. It’s all about creating a wow factor and we aim to make food a talking point in the office but with a stress-free experience for the person organising.

The City Pantry site offers a range of cuisines with details on order time, what is available within the package and reviews on delivery and presentation
The City Pantry site offers a range of cuisines with details on order time, what is available within the package and reviews on delivery and presentation

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

It was picking up the phone and talking to people. In a digital world it can be easy to get caught up in a very non-personal, hands off approach but last year I called the first 600 companies we thought might be interested and learnt a lot about what people actually wanted, there were a lot of no’s, but there are quite a few people I spoke to that are still loyal customers today.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

We fed 3000 people in 30 minutes once which was good, but I think it’s creating an environment that is both challenging and fun to come to everyday. That’s really a credit to everyone that works here.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

Ha! There have been loads – people tend to vastly underestimate the time needed to prepare large quantities of food.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

In my own life, assuming I am still here I will be doing something that I love and will continue to be working on my own terms.

(9) What one tip would you give to those starting out?

Don’t forget that it’s really just a game. Things can seem a lot worse (and a lot better) than they actually are and if you can’t keep this in context it will be a very tough emotional rollercoaster.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

Publisher Felix Dennis who sadly passed away last year. I only knew him from his writing but I got a real sense of an extremely creative, pragmatic person who ultimately got the joke.

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

Business development