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After an unexpected year of a virus that impacted every human’s health, consumers have become more conscious of what goes into their body, where that food comes from and how accurate that information is. According to Food Service Footprint, 75% of diners want carbon labels on their menu, and in the 2018 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, 67% of consumers said they were more likely to buy food that is described as ‘real’.

At the same time, it increases the pressure on the hospitality industry to provide a 360 service from data to quality of food. All of this whilst maintaining an unforgettable customer experience. 

This is where me~nu® by nuUnlimited comes in. They provide a seamless and accurate digital service for businesses which personalises the dietary preferences of their customers, whilst allowing the restaurant to focus on their passion for food, storytelling and dining experience. 

We sat down with Tim Sanford, nuUnlimited’s CEO, to find out more about how their service will combat the problems businesses and consumers face within the hospitality industry.

What were you doing prior to founding this business and what inspired you to take the entrepreneurship route? 

I have been in technology and software since I left the Royal Navy back in the nineties and created a successful career in sales and marketing – even writing a book on why successful companies always develop what markets want to buy.

When I did my MBA, I started to think about starting something of my own and after a number of board roles, the opportunity to build something with a team of really talented people presented itself in 2017 from which the nuUnlimited and me~nu® are the result.

What is nuUnlimited and what problem is it trying to solve?

The answer to that lies in our company tagline – it’s about the food, not just the order.

As a team, we all have friends and relatives with food allergies as well as knowing a growing number of people who want more detailed information about their food. A lot of this is driven by everyone’s growing anxieties about the environment, animal welfare, deforestation, standards and more. Especially at a time when levels of corporate green washing and virtue signalling are higher than ever before.

When we started working more closely with food and drink brands, it became clear that we needed to help them solve some other existing problems;

  1. Provide an affordable and reliable transactional system
  2. Introduce the opportunity to create personalised offers for these food and drink brands
  3. Build trust between customers and brands regarding their safety and risk 

In summary, we started off solving the problem of trustworthy, accurate food information, but after listening to the market we have evolved to go from building a nice pigeonhole for ourselves to building a dovecote that delivers everything both consumers and businesses want or need now and has plenty of room to add more room in the future. 

You started with general traceability technology, what made you decide to focus solely on the food and drink sector?

We were working across a number of sectors from education to motor manufacturing as well as food and drink when we made the decision to focus solely on food and drink. This was partly driven by our focus on providing factual, trustworthy information to users of the nu platform and partly by the lack of any kind of cohesive solution for the food sector that captures all the information at source and moves it along the supply chain intact, as well as adding to it until it reaches the end consumer.

That granular information about food and drink products is at the core of me~nu® and ensures that food businesses are buying ingredients that fit their needs and in turn consumers are able to confidently buy food that fits their needs and preferences.

What makes me~nu® a better choice compared to other competitors in the market? 

Put simply, me~nu® is everything in one box for both businesses and consumers. To the best of our knowledge, there is no other system available that packs everything into a single solution for either group.

People often categorise us when they first hear about us as a home delivery app, an order from table app, or an allergy management app or similar – this is what we classify as 1st generation. We class ourselves as a 2nd generation platform because we designed everything to be fully joined up from the outset and built around an accurate source to plate record of the food. 

Our food first approach means that we had already designed the most difficult part of the system as the core, ensuring that the complete, verified record of the food gets carried through all the way to the consumer whether they are ordering in the restaurant or a home delivery while sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine.

Early on we analysed what restaurants we have been working with were spending on systems and compared it to what we deliver. We reduce the cost of systems by at least £3,000 a year and deliver more.

The most significant benefits our customers are enjoying are all about reducing risks and stress for staff while increasing consumer trust in the quality of both the food served and its value.

How have you designed your business model to be scalable?

We have invested enormous amounts of time in making the platform as simple as possible to use for everyone. If customers have to revert to a user manual, we have failed to make it as intuitive as it could be. Making it as self-service as possible helps to support rapid scaling of the business.

Additionally, we recognised early on that we fit local and regional food and drink businesses along with their customers really well. To support the development of those markets, we have been appointing people that know their local food and drink markets to act as managers, to bring businesses on board, connect them and map the local economies ensuring they are as strong and connected as possible. 

Internationalising the platform was also designed into the platform from the start and we are expecting to replicate the same model we have developed for the UK in France from next year with the rest of the EU and USA following on from 2023 onwards.

We are also quietly working on a ‘white label’ version of the platform that will enable bigger brands to brand and offer the platform as part of their own solution. 

What has growth looked like to date for the business? 

The enforced commercial slow down, due to the pandemic, has enabled us to achieve a number of key development and commercial milestones.

At the beginning of lockdown we built and launched the Takeaway Hub – a tool to connect local food and drink suppliers of all kinds with local consumers. Initially launched as a service for Ayrshire in Scotland, it grew very quickly to be a national service with more than 2,500 businesses.

Since the lockdown eased off, we’ve been flat out with customers in Scotland piloting the more advanced version of me~nu® and moving it toward full release in the next few weeks. At the same time, we have been increasingly busy with strategic partners in the trade, local government and growing our network of regional managers to accelerate the growth of the business from September.

What does your path to profitability look like? 

We have balanced the business to achieve profitability as early as possible without hindering growth in the business. This is down to a number of decisions we made early on: 

  1. Be an app-first platform with a simplified technology stack 
  2. Make the platform so easy to use
  3. Grow customer numbers in regional clusters in the most efficient way 

With our initial COVID recovery pricing, we achieve month-on-month cash flow positive revenues once we hit 300 customers, which we expect to achieve well within 12 months of funding before growing out. The profit generated will be reinvested in the growth of the business to accelerate it further so we can achieve our goals for the business.

We have also priced me~nu® with a view to achieving a significant share of the market. If Deliveroo, OpenTable and Just Eat can get to more than 20%, why shouldn’t we be able to achieve the same?

What are you looking forward to in the near future? 

Getting the whole team together for the first time in 18 months. I couldn’t be prouder of the team for managing to deliver what we have delivered within a pandemic. Nothing replaces the buzz that we generate when we get together and it is something I know will help us move some of the ideas we have had on the back burner for a while.

When you’re not working, what are you doing?

I love cycling to stay fit and get some fresh air. I read mostly very early science fiction and unsurprisingly my favourite hobby is cooking. I am no masterchef, but the ever patient lady in my life loves my roasts, curries and Italian cooking. 

What are your favourite foods or dishes?

Italian food, especially my other half’s amazing spaghetti bolognese which is the best I’ve ever eaten. We’ve also cooked our way through a heap of Anthony Carluccio and Nigella Lawson Italian recipes and recipe books. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far building nuUnlimited?

Never put off the difficult tasks when developing a technology platform. The real market opportunities lie in areas that other developers avoid because they take time, involve significant amounts of market and technical research and the development of completely new ways of solving real world problems.

To find out more about nuUnlimited, and for the chance to invest, visit the pitch now.