Plant Sumo was one of our most unique projects. This project involved building a plant-based food delivery service from the ground up.
One day, two food-obsessed friends met at a Mcdonald’s.
These two friends were Plant Sumo founders Deepak and “Sprouts”. They saw a gap in the market for healthy, convenient and accessible plant-based food, so they decided to do something about it!
A casual conversation about food snowballed into a plan…and Plant Sumo was born! Plant Sumo delivers plant-based meals directly to your door all across London. We celebrate nutritious and delicious plant-based food, open to everyone regardless of their eating.
Deepak and “Sprouts” met in the most ordinary circumstances but created something extraordinary.
Before Plant Sumo
As Deepak began his journey towards starting a food business, he knew that he needed to do his due diligence and gather as much information as possible before making any big decisions.
He started by speaking with a local restaurant owner to learn about the capital costs involved in setting up a restaurant, as well as how marketing works in the industry. Deepak also reached out to friends who might know some restaurant owners and chatted with a restaurant launch consultant to gain further insights.
In addition to these conversations, Deepak turned to Google and sought advice from people in the industry who had experience running their own food businesses. One person who was particularly helpful was Kat, who had run a cafe in Italy for several months. She provided Deepak with tons of excellent advice and insights that he wouldn’t have been able to find on his own.
Another person who was instrumental in Deepak’s research was “Sprouts”. They had met at JRK Kitchen and had since met up several times to discuss the possibility of working together on something. Although nothing concrete materialized, “Sprouts” had a wealth of experience in the food game, having started and closed another restaurant venture called Wing Jam. He was entirely self-taught and passionate about food, making him an ideal person to seek advice from.
Together, Deepak and “Sprouts” discussed various ideas for a food business, including getting a stall, then a van, and then a popup for Sita’s Way. While Deepak was considering opening a restaurant during Covid-19, the general consensus was that it might not be the best idea. Deepak’s fiance’s family friends who ran pizzerias in Italy warned him that it was a labour of love that required passion and determination. Although the idea and capital costs (going up to 100k) meant that it was an idea to ‘plan in 2020’ and launch in 2021.
Overall, Deepak’s thorough approach to researching and planning his food business demonstrates his passion and determination to make it successful. With careful planning, research, and execution, he can turn his vision into a reality.
The Scope of Work
With a budget of £15,000, the Plant Sumo project embarked on its mission to revolutionize the food delivery industry by offering healthy, plant-based options to people in the comfort of their own homes. Despite the challenging circumstances posed by the Covid-19 epidemic, the team remained determined to provide nutritious and delicious meals to individuals looking to adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
This project had a focus on:
- Developing a fully plant based menu
- Ensuring all options were vegan or vegetarian
- Finding a kitchen space to create our dishes
- Find a chef willing to do this full time
- Build a website, youtube channel/podcase series and social media profiles
- Figure out the logistics of transporting meal kits safely (temperature and spill wise)
- Finding the best containers that were eco friendly and affordable
Costing the Ingredients and Equipment
Costing the ingredients and equipment for the Plant Sumo project was a crucial step in establishing a sustainable and profitable business model. It required meticulous research and careful consideration to ensure that the products sourced met the highest standards of quality while also aligning with the project’s budgetary constraints.
Finding our equipment and ingredient suppliers was one of the more difficult parts of the initial business setup.
It required us to undertake extensive research and invest a considerable amount of effort to find the best products at the most competitive price, all while avoiding the risk of burning through the budget too fast.
The Plant Sumo team had local in mind. They wanted all products to come from local shops or from suppliers as close to them as possible.
This reinforced the “local is best” mentality the team wanted when developing the business.
To ensure the quality of their produce, the team took a hands-on approach. They tested out the quality of the produce at all the nearby shops and priced out dried items as well to find the happy medium between high quality and finding what was the most affordable.
After about two weeks, the Plant Sumo team pinpointed the exact suppliers they would partner with for all consumables.
By forging these partnerships, Plant Sumo not only gained access to a reliable and consistent supply of ingredients but also contributed to the growth and prosperity of local businesses.
Designing the Menu
The Plant Sumo founders had one thing in mind – plant-based, affordable and have a global influence.
We spent hours in the kitchen day after day testing recipes, making variations and trying to pinpoint the best flavour for each dish.
The team actually started out in a home kitchen to start initial experimentation before we secured the dark kitchen location.
As our journey into the realm of vegan options, ingredients, and alternatives unfolded, we swiftly realized that texture would play a pivotal role in shaping our menu. We understood that in order to captivate the taste buds of our customers, achieving the perfect balance of textures was crucial.
For instance, we recognized that a delightful, crispy katsu was universally adored. However, it was imperative that we steered clear of the common pitfall of using oil-soaked breading that fails to adhere properly. Not only would this compromise the overall appeal of the dish, but it would also undermine its healthiness.
After all, who wants an aubergine that acts as nothing more than an oil sponge, detracting from the intended flavors and nutritional benefits?
Throughout this creative process, we were fortunate to experience seemingly endless family-style meals. This was a delightful consequence of our commitment to minimizing waste. We reveled in the joy of communal dining while simultaneously fine-tuning our recipes and techniques.
These shared meals not only provided us with an opportunity to nourish ourselves and indulge in the fruits of our labor, but they also served as invaluable moments for experimentation and feedback. Each bite taken, and every expression of satisfaction or constructive criticism offered fueled our passion for perfecting our vegan offerings.
Through these moments of togetherness, we were able to harness the collective wisdom and discerning palates of our team, resulting in constant refinement and improvement.
Pursuing impeccable texture became an all-encompassing quest as we delved deeper into the intricacies of vegan cuisine. We eagerly explored innovative cooking techniques, experimented with alternative ingredients, and collaborated with culinary experts who specialized in achieving exquisite textures in plant-based dishes. Our relentless dedication to this pursuit led us to uncover ingenious methods to create crispy, tender, and mouthwatering textures that could rival their non-vegan counterparts.
Ultimately, our commitment to texture went beyond mere aesthetics or sensory appeal. It became a cornerstone of our culinary philosophy, a testament to our unwavering dedication to providing our customers with exceptional vegan dining experiences. By prioritising the art of texture in our menu offerings, we ensured that each bite was not only a delight to the palate but also an affirmation of our commitment to crafting healthy, flavorful, and indulgent vegan cuisine.
After a few weeks of trial and error and deciding what flavours were best, we put together the following menu.
All About Dat Katsu-
A vegan aubergine dish- delicious aubergine coated in crisp, golden panko breadcrumbs, marinated in authentic miso and laid upon a bed of the softest Cali jasmine rice, you’ll be mad for our katsu. This gleaming dish is smothered in our starring ingredient, a divine loaded pepper and potato katsu sauce.
Who can resist a good Thai curry – Organic jasmine rice sets the stage for an authentic and vibrant blend of fresh courgette, bamboo shoots, baby corn, sugar snap peas and rainbow peppers. All mixed into a mouth-watering Thai-inspired blend of seven explosive spices.
A more savoury curry option- A heavenly mixture of sweet potato chunks, spinach, banana shallots, soft chickpeas and black beluga lentils, all drenched in a mild yet tempting tikka sauce and served with organic fluffy jasmine rice, a pinch of fresh coriander and crushed cashew nuts.
A great stir-fry is a must- Our spicy and sweet orange and chilli Seitan is accompanied by shiitake and oyster mushrooms, spring onion, baby corn, beansprout, peppers and ginger, which sits atop a bed of yummy egg-less noodles. Finished off with a glistening red chilli glaze, add some spice to your life with our sensational stir-fry dish.
Nuts on Tempeh-
A protein-packed option- This nutty dish is an eclectic mix of shaved coconut, shredded kale, courgette, pineapple and golden oven-baked tempeh, all lovingly placed on top of noodles. Garnished with a peanut satay sauce, crushed peanuts and fresh spring onion, this tempeh will surely get you tempted.
Salsa State Burrito-
A delicious southwest option- Smoked paprika, roasted peppers, sweet red onion and re-fried red kidney beans steal the show, all bound up in a delicious wheat wrap and finished off with tangy coriander, cherry tomato and red onion salsa.
Kimchi Bao Buns-
A beautiful bao classic- A beautifully steamed fluffy bao buns stuffed with messy and delectable kimchi, beetroot and broad bean patty with a side of zingy and delightfully crunchy slaw. A healthy, fresh and mood-boosting addition to any midweek menu that’s sure to overshadow any sandwich you’ve ever had.
A comforting classic- Roasted kabocha squash and brown lentil stew, skin on sweet potato, caramelised red onions and mash.
Marinara V Balls-
An Italian classic- A plant-based spaghetti bolognese even an Italian grandma would say ‘Bellissimo’ to. A flavourful fusion of Seitan, tofu, cannelloni beans, and mushroom makes up our meatless meatball, tenderly cooked alongside wholemeal penne pasta in a rich red arrabbiata sauce.
Better Not Gnocci-
A protein-packed potato dish- the iconic Italian potato pasta and stuff it with soft, delicious pumpkin, smother it in a creamy mushroom and wild garlic sauce and top it off with diced butternut squash. A carby delight that will put a smile on your face don’t ‘gnocchi’ it till you try it.
Tuck In Tagine-
We wanted tagine to have something bright, bold and flavourful- Our take on the magnificent Moroccan tagine. A magical medley of steamed giant couscous, Mediterranean vegetables, sweet apricot and dates, Kalamata spiced olives and just a hint of aromatic saffron (fancy!).
Bringing Back Da Mac-
Mac and Cheese is the ultimate comfort food- The iconic macaroni shell is given a kick with a creamy blend of pureed pumpkin and garlic, fiery mustard grains and sweet shallots.
Pancakes are a breakfast staple, but we wanted to do it better- This great stack is the definition of indulgence, made of fresh almond milk and pumpkin goodness. It’s topped off with sticky maple syrup, sweet blueberries and- the big finisher, a decadent pumpkin puree.
Oatmeal is the start to the perfect day- Hearty overnight oats made with sweet almond milk and jam-packed with texture and flavour. Fantastically fruity, this dish is brimming with dried cranberries, dried apricots, sultanas and delicately grated apples, all blended with filling oats and the satisfying crunch of linseeds, chia seeds and sunflower seeds.
Our take on the viral grain-based pudding- Exploding with desiccated coconut, ripe mango and a sprinkling of chia seeds, all these delicious ingredients are seated on the finest white quinoa, all brought together with a splash of delicious coconut milk.
The Plant Sumo team wasted no time in ramping up their brand name and making significant strides in various areas while simultaneously testing and assembling their menu.
In the project’s early weeks, the menu was designed and tested, social media pages were created, the podcast for Plant Sumo was launched, and a kitchen was found.
Given the nature of their business as a delivery service, they didn’t require a physical restaurant location to design or remodel. So this portion of the project went by quickly.
We enjoyed working with the Plant Sumo team and developing menus and plans. As the Plant Sumo team streamlined their operations and built momentum, they expanded their offerings beyond meal kits.
Leveraging their culinary expertise and innovative approach to plant-based cooking, they curated customized menus that catered to specific events and workplaces, providing delicious and nutritious plant-based meals to a wider customer base.
Hiring and Training
We had a variety of team members to gather for this project. The most important things was a passion for plant based food. We had to hire:
- Social Media Manager
The initial hiring portion of the project meant finding a photographer that could be available consistently and an experienced chef willing to join a new food business.
For the first, we headed to all the freelancer gig platforms plus places like Indeed to make job posts. We ended up with close to 150 applicants of that half were interviewed because they needed to be local and have transportation (whether it was a car, bike or Uber)
After interviews and a couple of test shoots, we chose a few different photographers to use, so we had options based on their availability. One was below, and often we would have two come to the same event to get more variety in photo styles and simply more photos done.
Next was a chef. This was a harder position to recruit for because talent comes at a higher cost, and many chefs did not want to leave the stability of a job they had been at for a while for a new business.
Our first job ads went up on Gumtree. We only had to pay about six quid to get the ad up and started getting applications within a few minutes.
After struggling with medium application rates and some slow reply rates we found a great chef that was willing to work with us and actually participate in conversation. He actually made all the dishes from our featured photos.
We ended up with 3 very solid chefs we met up for interviews. We gave them a more open ended final interview question of “show us three items you would add to the menu that are Vegan.” This got some interesting responses that also gave alot of inspiration to menu items to include.
We also had the added benefit of being funded and run by our marketing agency “parent”. This meant we could involve a variety of people without having additional costs. We had content team members writing blogs and producing videos. We had a web team and design team involved. We had the operations director involved initially to help things get coordinated.
One big hired position that set us apart was that we hired a nutritionist to have on staff. This meant we were able to have someone give the exact nutritional breakdowns of our dishes so we knew we were providing the very best.
The Legal Stuff
Legal “stuff” was a long, detailed process. It was mission-critical not to miss anything to avoid delays in our grand opening or risking the potential of being shut down.
The first was applying for a food license. This meant:
- At least one person needed a level 3 food hygiene certification (this took 5 hours per person) A Manager needs to have level 3, but the rest of the staff don’t technically need one as its assumed they are taught. We had a great benefit of having staff come in that already had this license. This meant less work for us.
- We needed to have public liability insurance (this meant hunting and getting quotes) We needed close to 1 million in coverage for public liability due to serving food. We had to ensure if anyone was to get sick we would be safe.
- We had to build a fire safety analysis (to prove we were safe) This was a surprisingly tough document to build as we had to show everything was up to code and everything was fully mapped out. We ended up using a “dark kitchen” of sorts so we were provided a layout with everything needed, so this step was a breeze.
4. We had to build a HACCP (this over 50-page document was built to show we can handle any issue or potential hazard from mould to spoilage to fire or flood) If there could be a contaminant, we had to list what it was, how it could happen and how to provent and handle the situation- from chemicals to glass to illness and everything inbetween. The HACCP is designed to prove you know how to handle anything that oculd happen.
5. Prove we have a waste and rubbish contract. This was simple as like with the fire analysis this was already in place for us. So we simply needed a copy.
While that is just five core items, it took nearly a week to get together and apply. It was a lengthy process. It was more difficult than some other jobs because our location was registered but some agencies wanted it to be under our name so it was a lot of hurdles to jump over.
Other legal items that came next were registering our logo as a trademark so no one could pretend to be us. We actually used Looka to create our logo, and our co-founder is the one that initially pitched the idea of a sumo dude to be used in the logo.
Online and Offline Marketing Efforts
The marketing efforts of Plant Sumo were strategically led by their dedicated SEO team, whose expertise provided them with an astronomical competitive advantage in the ever-growing plant-based food industry.
The team created a Google My Business profile, directory listings, and more. We then kept it active and really pushed for reviews. (we will go over reviews a bit more later)
We also got our PR team involved to get guest posts, blogs, podcasts and other features out there to boost our brand name. Through these efforts, we were able to get a handful of plant-based influencers on the Plant Sumo podcast as well. We would also send out some sample boxes to get user generated content to post and reshare on socials and video testimonials to post on our Youtube channel and website.
You can find our channel by searching “Plant Sumo” on Youtube, but you can also watch our pre-launch series here: Video
The combination of high quality, consistent SEO work and PR work really helped us hit the ground running so we could develop a sustainable business model.
Part of our marketing strategy also included a competitor analysis and review.
This meant that we checked out the local competition and then ordering boxes from other companies. We would then do an unboxing video and food review. This was meant to show “see you have other options but listen to the difference in taste and quality.”
On top of this, it helped inspire us on what we could do better and what we were already doing well.
A few months into the project, we aimed to start running instagram ads to really push the subscription model.
Something unique we also did was register wellness.plantsumo.com and start building a directory for health and fitness instructors. The goal was to build a platform for people to be on if they were nutritionists, fitness instructors and more so we could really boost our fitness mindset.
One other big piece of the puzzle in our online marketing efforts was launching a blog.
You can find it here: https://plantsumo.com/blog/
This blog was built to help us with our SEO and keyword positioning and give our customers free added value. Something we found our competitors lacking was information.
I.e. you have your meal kit, so that is all- good luck with the rest
The reality is when switching to a plant-based diet, people still need help and inspiration on their new dietary journey. The Plant Sumo blog became a resource guide on recipes, food to try and how to make the most of your new plant-based diet.
Developing a comprehensive local marketing matrix proved to be a pivotal advantage for our company, enabling us to outshine and outrank all of our competitors in the region. We employed many ingenious strategies, each meticulously designed to maximise our visibility and appeal to the local community.
We ended up finding a dark kitchen in Acton. This made it so we could register a Google My Business profile to that address and outrank the competition there as a start.
To further solidify our position as a local authority, we embarked on an extensive research initiative, delving deep into the fabric of the community. This endeavor allowed us to identify potential partnerships with local businesses and schools, enabling us to collaborate on special events and initiatives that resonated with the community at large. In addition, we made a concerted effort to establish ourselves on numerous loyalty platforms, both virtual and physical. By offering loyalty programs and distributing loyalty cards, we expanded our reach far beyond what any of our competitors could achieve, effectively extending our influence throughout the community.
Another vital aspect of our local ranking strategy involved active involvement in associations and clubs. By becoming part of these networks, our name spread far and wide, reaching diverse circles and garnering invaluable exposure. Moreover, we were fortunate to have a Pearl Lemon team member who boasted connections to various political parties in London. Leveraging these connections, we secured even greater exposure, propelling our brand into the spotlight and reinforcing our reputation within the community.
Embracing the power of online platforms, we capitalized on influential websites such as Glassdoor, Nextdoor, Yell, Yelp, and more. Leveraging these platforms, we achieved an astounding level of visibility, rapidly accumulating a loyal following and amplifying our presence throughout the local landscape.
Understanding the significance of local PR, we spared no effort in ensuring our brand was visible on multiple fronts. This included securing publications in local newspapers and prints, which served as a tangible testament to our presence in the community. Furthermore, we actively pursued opportunities to be featured on numerous online publications, harnessing the power of digital media to extend our reach and reinforce our credibility among the local audience.
Through the harmonious convergence of these multifaceted strategies, our company emerged as a dominant force in the local market, establishing a strong foothold that set us apart from our competitors. Our relentless pursuit of visibility, strategic partnerships, and active community engagement propelled us to the forefront of the local business landscape, cementing our reputation as a trusted and respected brand within the hearts and minds of the community.
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
Plant Sumo’s success can be attributed in part to the support of its parent company, a marketing agency. This strategic alliance provided the Plant Sumo team with valuable knowledge on the importance of an exceptional review system in attracting new customers and achieving their mission.
To enhance their online presence and reputation, Plant Sumo collaborated closely with their dedicated SEO and PR teams. They developed a comprehensive strategy that included distributing product samples to influential individuals to generate widespread exposure and accumulate positive 5-star reviews. However, they didn’t stop there.
They leveraged their SEO expertise to optimize the company’s search engine rankings by crafting unique and distinctive review responses.
This approach proved highly effective in a market flooded with various meal subscription kits. Plant Sumo’s ability to secure genuine 5-star reviews from respected influencers played an instrumental role in their remarkable growth trajectory.
The trust and admiration fostered through these endorsements further bolstered their reputation and instilled confidence in potential customers, ultimately solidifying Plant Sumo’s position as a standout player in the industry.
In addition to their online presence, Plant Sumo also made strides in getting listed on food delivery platforms like Deliveroo.
Although it was a bit of a struggle, they were eventually able to get listed and started receiving orders. While orders were slow at first, they were able to attract a couple of repeat customers on the platform with 5-star reviews.
Plant Sumo’s success can be attributed to their strategic approach to marketing and their commitment to providing exceptional service and products.
Through collaboration with their parent company and dedicated teams, they were able to establish a strong online presence and secure positive reviews from respected influencers. By leveraging their SEO expertise, they were able to multiply the benefits of these reviews and solidify their position as a standout player in the industry.
Hurdles and Obstacles
Hiring was the biggest challenge during the entirety of this project. Finding a chef with experience willing to jump off the proverbial deep end to join us was a definite challenge. We stuck with it and were able to bring someone in, but it got a bit disheartening at times to see low application rates paired with even lower reply rates.
Deliveroo and Uber Eats:
Like many other gigs we have done. We wanted to be on Deliveroo and Uber Eats to help get us going. This was a huge struggle for us because we used a dark kitchen. This means the kitchen had the food hygiene rating and everything under their own name but the licensing authority and the platforms said it had to be under our own name. This was a bit of a struggle because we wanted to keep up with things properly.
Obviously we were able to figure it out and below is a photo we snapped packing up some orders once we were live.
The Plant Sumo team was small and rather tight-knit, but most of the team members had different experience levels and ideas for what should be done with the company, menu and more. This divergence of perspectives initially led to some challenges and friction within the team dynamics.
However, recognizing the importance of clear and open communication, the team implemented frequent team calls to address concerns, iron out differences, and foster a more collaborative and cohesive environment.
Over time, these communication efforts proved effective in aligning the team’s vision, streamlining operations, and creating a more fluid and harmonious work dynamic.
Following its official launch, Plant Sumo experienced remarkable success, with our website becoming a hub for sample box requests and catering inquiries, facilitated through various contact forms.
We got an interesting kitchen space that we rented by the table, allowing us to utilize the exact space we needed for food preparation and assembly.
As the brand continued to flourish, the Plant Sumo team realized the need to expand operations throughout London. To meet the growing demand for delicious plant-based meals, we actively sought out talented chefs and additional kitchen spaces to accommodate our expansion plans.