Business

My First Million: Jonathan Petrides, plant-based food pioneer

Jonathan Patrides, 38, happened to be a plant food entrepreneur, having cooked to impress his vegetarian wife, and understood the impact of animal husbandry on the climate. In 2017 he and his brother Alex launched Allplants, an online business offering 100 frozen dishes from plants, risotto and lasagna to teriyaki tofu and smoothies.

Petrides, a vegan, targets its products for two-thirds of Britons who are not vegan or vegetarian, but are actively reducing their consumption of meat, fish and milk.

The sales turnover in 2017 was £ 400,000, jumping to £ 11 million by 2021. The 200-member company has a head office in Islington, London, while its 100 chefs prepare every manual dish in a 100 per cent kitchen in Waltamstau renewable energy .

CV

was born: Anfield, North London, 22 May 1984

Education: 1994-2002: Haredi Boys’ School, Alstery, Hertfordshire

2003-2006: University of Nottingham, Bachelor of History

Career: 2007-09: Business analyst at McKinsey for telecom, banking and grocery customers

2009-13: Established M-Shwari in Kenya, the first African-based cell phone bank for people without a bank.

2012-17: Co-founded Penda Health, building a network of low-cost small hospitals in Nairobi

2016: Moved from running local dinner clubs to launching all the plants across the country, in 2017

2020: Cooked and served one million meal:

January 2022: 4 minutes of cooked and delivered meals arrived

Haim: Stoke Newington, North East London, with his wife Delphi

Did you think you would get where you are today?
Not really. It never occurred to me that I could be an entrepreneur because it just was not a clear path. I did not have a clear vision until I was 25 and left McKinsey to set up a bank. I was just frustrated by creating neat Excel models and glittering PowerPoint presentations. As a consultant you present your work to the board and leave it on the table, but you never know what will happen next.

My father, an accountant, encouraged me to think of a sensible career. I spent two summers in his company in handwritten bookkeeping, in a huge ledger that dulled my mind. For the next two summers I worked at the Bank of Cyprus, super checking and rearranging portfolios in the back office – a job that had no appeal.

At 18, I spent eight months as a legal assistant at Bishop’sSight. The work was slow, boring and hierarchical. I knew it did not suit me.

How has the Corona epidemic affected your business?
In the early days we stopped marketing because we could not meet the demand. We opened our new kitchen in Waltamstau just a month or two before. Suddenly we moved from having to cook 15,000 meals a week to 30,000.

We had to bring PPE, adapt to social distance throughout our kitchen and make sure everyone felt safe. Even the nearby Blackhorse Road subway station was closed for three months when London Transport reduced its services.

In the first two months we hired another 40 chefs who had lost their jobs at restaurants in London that had to close. We did not have to take advantage of the vacation plan, even though three of our employees spent months in protection.

It was a very intense time, but the team spirit was great. Being in detention and just seeing each other every day, we were like a big family because so many of our colleagues from Europe were unable to return home.

Did you have to diversify to survive?
The impact of the closure and people working from home have created a greater demand for fast and healthy lunches. We teamed up with our customers ’tasting club – our 100 most enthusiastic customers – and created a dozen protein-rich meals in one bowl, like Buddha, Miso and Tamari bowls, smoked corn and Spanish rice and lentil chana and chutney. These lunches now make up almost 20 percent of our sales.

Have you had difficulty recruiting employees in recent months?
We do a lot of recruiting. This is not a special problem for us, but we invest a huge amount of time, trying to recruit the right people. They need to reflect our energy and hunger to grow fast. The difficulty is the huge number of roles from chefs to software developers, marketers and analysts that we want to fill. It takes a lot out of our focus. By the end of 2022 we will be around 250 people.

Was your first million pounds an important milestone?
We made our first profit plus £ 1m by the end of 2020, of just over £ 2m. I barely gave it any thought because we have reinvested everything in growth. But, in the first six months of 2021, this profit allowed us to look for three new big investors to drive us on our expansion journey. We managed to raise £ 38 million.

What was the most challenging period of your career?
It was when I had to close my first banking venture in Nairobi after two years that the government did not give permission to launch our service nationwide. Regulations for establishing a bank are stricter. We run out of time and money. I had to release 20 people and felt responsible. I remember writing a script on Sunday night before I told everyone on Monday.

Six months later we convinced the Commercial Bank of Africa to become our partner. I was able to bring back half of the staff and offer our mobile banking service M-Shwari nationwide. Within a month we had 1 million customers, and in the third month we had 6 million. I’m no longer involved, but today M-Shwari is a household name in East Africa.

What did you have to sacrifice to set up the business?
I put on every pound I saved [allplants] – A little less than £ 50,000 – and I did not receive a salary for three years. I am lucky to have been able to trust my wife as the main breadwinner. Delphi is an established brand strategist.

What is the secret of your success?
I would say we have always been obsessed with perfect taste. this is how it all began. Good website, advanced technology and pampering Instagram posts really do not matter unless customers know how delicious our food is. We do listen to what our customers hate, love and desire. I am constantly experimenting in the kitchen myself, creating new recipes.

What was your best preparation for business?
The only thing I could not learn a textbook is from my mother. She is the most righteous and fearless person I know. It is her unwillingness to accept not as an answer that she has had a huge impact.

I wanted to study history at Nottingham University, but there were thousands of candidates for 300 places. They just gave me a “no”, but I felt it made no sense. It was a place I really wanted to go to. The first time I got a rejection I decided to take a year off.

The second time I had to do something about it. I called and emailed the Department of History and the Admissions Office for two months, only to be ignored. Then, one weekend, I was at Nottingham University visiting friends.

They encouraged me to find the history teacher’s office and knock on the door, which is exactly what I did. I said I was just passing by, but the teacher was embarrassed and told me to leave. It happened on Friday. On Monday I was amazed to receive an email with an unconditional offer. If you really want something, you must be willing to fight for it.

What is your basic business philosophy?
A business can be a tool to do good, but the 20th century model of business driven by shareholders does not work. That’s exactly why the planet is in a bit of a state right now. I try to keep humanity in business and find ways to do the right thing for the environment, and it’s not always easy.

Do you want to continue until you get off?
I’m only 38. For me we are at the early feet of the mission of all our plants, with decades ahead of us to arouse people “curious about plants”. Over the next 12 months we have big plans, including bringing our dishes to convenience stores across London and the UK.

Have you made any pension provision?
When I started in Kinsey every employee had a pension but I was only there for a few years. I then had a decade-long break from retirement. In the early days of allplants there was a requirement to provide a pension to all employees, including me. I’ve had it for five years. I do not really think about it much. I am more focused in the here and now, in managing the company. My dad constantly tells me to invest more than me, but I’m happy with the statutory minimum.

Do you believe in giving something back to the community?
To be B-Corp [a certification of high social and environmental performance], Everything we do concerns a positive impact on the environment and society. We now served 4 minute meals. By replacing meat and dairy meals with many plant-based meals, we saved 15,000 tons of CO, 10 billion gallons of water and 18,000 acres of land, equivalent to 10,000 football fields.

In the last 12 months we have donated more than 90,000 meals to City Harvest and Felix Project, the London charities that provide surplus food to people at risk of hunger and malnutrition. We have donated £ 36,000 to Choose Love, a charity that supports refugees and displaced persons. We also planted 12,000 trees in Zambia. Our small forest has generated more than 5 million pounds of oxygen at the equator, where it is most needed.

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