July 2, 2019 |
Meal prepping seems to be the latest trend with young urban professionals around the globe. The idea behind it is to schedule all meals for the next few days and prepare them in portions in order to save time and eat healthier. This trend has also been recently recognised by start-ups as for example the meal-kit provider HelloFresh launched a specific meal prep menu in the US in May, which includes some additional ingredients to cook a second dish from the leftovers.
There is also a start-up from the German city of Wolfsburg (known as the home of automobile giant Vokswagen), which is producing self-cooked frozen meals under the name “The Prep”. However two and a half years after starting the company, it is still only a side hustle for the three founders.
26-year-old Merten Wenderoth currently works at least 14 hours a day: eight hours in his full-time job as a bank clerk and then up until late at night at his start-up. His co-founders Torben Füller (34) and Dominic Tschauder (24) provide the same workload as they also have full-time jobs as a computer scientist and bank clerk.
“The Prep is and was a great idea, but not to do the whole thing as a side hustle.” says Wenderoth in an interview. Time for a girlfriend, family or sport? Not, if they don’t want to lose focus on their business. “Weekends and holidays are like a fairy tale for us: that was once upon a time“.
The reason that he and his co-founders are taking on this double burden is simple: they wanted to be independent of investors. All three have well-paid jobs, the founder says, so they could put money aside for The Prep. On top of that he also received a loan relatively easily from the bank where he is employed. Until now the three friends have invested a total of 200,000 Euro into their business.
They founded the company at the end of 2016, but they did not ship the first ready meal until autumn 2018. “Everything takes longer, if you only do it on the side” explains Wenderoth. According to the founder, just one year went by for the refurbishment of an old barn, that the team transformed into a large-scale kitchen with an adjoining warehouse. The three also invested another twelve months of their time for recipe development.
Customers can choose from twelve dishes today, such as shrimp curry with broccoli and rice, or BBQ chicken with green beans. The menu was developed by a chef from the hotel Ritz-Carlton. “The hotel is well known in the city of Wolfsburg, so we just walked in and asked if a chef would like to try and work on something new with us,” says Wenderoth. “We wanted the taste of our dishes really to be on a 5-star level.”
Two full-time employed cooks are now preparing “several hundred” dishes a day in the barn. The founders do not want to communicate exact numbers. They are currently only preparing one dish per day, because the preparation is then particularly efficient. The ingredients are partly organic and mostly regional. “The only time-consuming part of production is that we still portion by hand” says Wenderoth. Every evening, chefs and founders are standing in the barn filling the meal in little bowls, making them ready to be shipped.
When it comes to packaging, the start-up relies on biodegradable material made of sugar cane, and for the shipping they use insulating straw instead of polystyrene. The ready-packed packages are sent out daily by express shipping. Within Wolfsburg, the team even delivers the packages themselves in order to get a better feel of their target customers.
Currently, The Prep is targeting working people who pay attention to their diet but do not have the time to prepare a full meal every day. In the future, they want to focus more on the B2B business with The Prep, providing companies with meals for their employees.
The plan is also to include some vegan dishes in the menu – and not just to run The Prep as a side hustle. “We are slowly starting to think about leaving our jobs” says the founder. By the end of this year it could be time to take on this challenge full time.