Say you’re a newish tech company looking to attract coveted young programmers to your startup. How do you entice them?
One trend more and more offices are looking to is catered lunches. But unless you’re a Google or a Facebook with a giant in-house team constantly making fresh food on site, you’ll have to choose a catering partner. And that’s where the options start to stack up: Do you want to order directly from local restaurants? Farm the selection and ordering process out to a middleman? Put a bunch of cold cuts and a salad bar out and call it a day?
Jess Legge and Kimberly Lexow co-founded Sifted four years ago to simplify the ways offices handle catered lunches. The Atlanta-based catering operation serves workplaces which invest heavily in lifestyle perks. But unlike most other services, Sifted handles the entire catering process in-house, from ingredient sourcing to menu planning to food prep and delivery.
Monday through Friday, the company offers two lunch options: one with meat, one vegetarian. All of Sifted’s food is served buffet-style. Pricing depends on the size of staff required and frequency of service. Sifted company currently has around 150 staff.
Throughout our conversation, Legge kept repeating one phrase: “We really want to become your single food vendor.” However, that definition seems chiefly narrowed on lunch. Legge told me that Sifted will also do Happy Hours and snack services, but their main focus is midday eating.
According to Legge, Sifted’s main draw is that its entire operation is controlled in-house. The company has a chef team in each of their cities — Atlanta, Austin, Denver, Seattle, Nashville, and, next month, Phoenix — which work out of commercial kitchen spaces. Sifted also has a staff to set up and serve food. This level of control gives more transparency to Sifted’s office partners (they always know exactly where the food is coming from), and also gives the company the flexibility to pivot and adjust offerings based on diner feedback.
This is where Sifted can really differentiate itself. Every day, Sifted staff record metrics for production, worker lunch participation, etc. After service, all leftovers are weighed, to inform decisions about future food offerings. For example, based off of leftovers, Sifted could surmise that a particular office loved the Eggplant Parmesan but wasn’t a fan of the Chicken Parmesan, and update their menus accordingly. “Data drives us,” Legge emphasized.
Sifted has another value-add: its crusade against food waste. Legge told me Sifted tries to source the most sustainable ingredients possible, including over-supplied product and “ugly” produce that other food companies might pass over. The company also recently partnered with Copia, an excess-food donation platform, to give each day’s leftover food to those in need. It will be the first of Copia’s partners to donate 100 percent of its uneaten food to local nonprofits.
Reducing the amount of food you donate or throw away is just smart business. But it’s also a smart marketing move in a climate where people — especially millennials — are caring more and more about things like sustainability.
Sifted will need to use every card in its hands to distinguish itself in the crowded corporate catering space, especially since many of its competitors are expanding quickly and raising hefty funds along the way. Chewse raised $19 million for “family style” catering, Oh My Green raised $20 million, and ezCater raised an eye-popping $100 million. However, there’s also been lots of consolidation in the space: Peach laid off 33 percent of its staff, Square bought Zesty, and EAT Club acquired Farm Hill.
Legge is aware of the intense competition in the corporate catering space. But she’s adamant that Sifted’s end-to-end business model gives them a leg up, despite their lack of funding. “With Sifted, eaters know exactly what they’re eating and what to expect,” she said.
So far, Sifted has very intentionally avoided fundraising. Legge explained to me that they want to grow organically, without being beholden to investors’ “grow quickly” mentalities. This strategy is a double-edged sword. Without investor pressure the startup might be able to avoid the bust that has befallen other office catering companies in the past year. Then again, less money = less fuel for growth.
Sure, companies could work with small local caterers and get the same level of transparency and consistency in the food they order. But Sifted is taking that type of intimate partnership and applying it to each of their locations across the country, all while maintaining an ethos of sustainability. That might be an attractive enough option to entice more partnerships with offices across the country — and it’s certainly better than a sub-par platter of cold cuts.