Monique Chambers speaks to business owners who pivoted their business during the Covid Crisis.
The Mediterranean Culinary Academy was set up by Kurt Mifsud as a product driven culinary academy, which focuses on sourcing quality, seasonal, local and responsible food, in 2016.
Initially, the team visited local producers and farmers to see what produce was available and kicked off with a pop-up restaurant, all being experienced chefs, but while they knew they wanted a food-based business, they weren’t looking for this to be a restaurant or a shop.
They had discovered that local produce was not always accessible even though there are hundreds of ingredients locally, and their appetite for a challenge led them to want to empower people with knowledge and skills to create recipes that also preserved local traditional ingredients, using local sustainable produce. This meant going into the kitchen and modernising recipes in line with trends and sustainability and lighter ways to enjoy them than our forefathers did.
For the first few months of operation, the MCA ran courses for 4 / 8 sessions on a particular theme, but this was not quite right for the market with customers interested but unable to commit to a schedule for so long, and so short courses and the one session workshops were created. Soon after came teambuilding events, attendance at fairs and festivals and then they took on the mission to educate children with farm visits and lessons with hands-on handling and preparation of food.
The courses are developed about a month before marketing them, a Chief Culinary Officer, Stephen La Rosa, is responsible for creating recipes, sourcing produce, scheduling the 4-5 weekly classes and often delivers courses too. COO, Robert Pace, handles the creation and design of marketing materials, advertising, imagery, any kitchen equipment technology and he manages external consultancies too.
The next planned step is accredited short courses for chefs which have already had international interest
The pivot point.
We started to see a decline in interest in mid-February 2020, which historically would be a very busy month for us and once the pandemic arrived in Europe, we called clients to confirm that were comfortable to come to classes and by the first week of March, we made the decision to postpone all classes and close the offices till we understood a bit more about the local impact and work out how we could keep while focusing on what we are good at – we knew we didn’t want to do a takeaway.
Within a few days we came to the conclusion that we wanted to continue to do what we’re good at, which is teaching people to cook and the best way to do this was by starting recipe boxes.
The idea was conceptualised on the Monday and a week later, we were delivering The MCA Recipe Box to our first 20 clients. Initially, it was existing customers that came to us but very quickly we attracted a new audience of people by telling people about the boxes using our email database and using social media and PR.
It was a whole new ballgame with weekly recipe development and new materials to create, ingredients to source, package and coordinate delivery; initially by ourselves until we found a logistics partner.
We have a 70% weekly retention rate and customers are reusing the physical boxes and jars which is right in line with our core belief.
It was wonderful for us to have the customers ask to reuse packaging and this whole turn of events has made us understand how food fits in to their lives and what they feel about our business too.
We’ve learned how this time has shown how people have had to adapt how to plan their meals and one of the drivers for the success of our recipe boxes has been for families / couples to cook together and to have the decision of the seemingly endless meal preparation taken away from them for a few meals a week, all with local ingredients and also with each portion coming in at around 4 euro each. We’ve even introduced a ‘Date Night’ box where couples can spend a little more effort and create a sumptuous meal in the comfort of their own homes.
Customers seem to like our concise communications and we’ve listened to survey responses and believe even in this period, we’ve improved our offering, indeed, expanded our offering and added another strand to our business.
We have a lot more work to do with updates to the site and social media for awareness and being reactive to feedback and keeping the boxes interesting, but we are not going to waste the opportunity this crisis has presented to us having created this new stream and will continue to deliver The MCA Recipe Boxes when we can run our classes again.