Value offerings of Generic Festival Food Retailers vs "The Carrot Soup Company"

A Blue Ocean business plan for you: The Carrot Soup Company

I’ve been reading Blue Ocean Strategy over the past week. I’ll write up my thoughts on the book in due course – I’ve not quite finished it yet.

Clara & I were throwing around the main premise of the book – about how to create Blue Ocean markets – and break away from the existing competition by compete in a market devoid of major competitors.

Festival Food Problems

Clara was explaining how Festival Food Retailers at major music festivals like Glastonbury work and how they’re characterised by:

  • largely high quality
  • low portion sizes
  • high price (most dishes more than £5 )
  • lots of choice per stall
  • slow delivery / long queues

This is partly because the stalls must deal with some festival-specific considerations:

  • limited onsite refrigeration space
  • limited ability to resupply during the day
  • large peaks in demand (eg rush for food when a band finishes)
  • constantly ready / readily available food

A Blue Ocean?

This creates an environment that could be shaken up – just by not benchmarking oneself against the competition, and creating something that attracts people who might give a festival food stand a miss (and maybe just skip a meal!).

If one was thinking of shaking things up, you’d have to have a quality product. I’m not qualified to talk about this, but I suspect the problems in catering are not whether it’s possible to create mouthwatering food, but whether you can sell it for a profit.

An Orange Ocean!

I suggest an ultra-cutback, ultra-simple, no-frills, offering nothing but::

  • A polystyrene cup of delicious Carrot (and Curried Apple/and Roast Parsnip/etc) Soup
  • An “Artisan” Bread Roll in a paper napkin
  • For £3
  • Served as fast as possible
  • With a Smile

In Blue Ocean Strategy’s [questionable] value diagrams style, you’d compare “The Carrot Soup Company”‘s offering with the Generic Festival Food Retailers like this:

Value offerings of Generic Festival Food Retailers vs "The Carrot Soup Company"
Value offerings of Generic Festival Food Retailers vs “The Carrot Soup Company”

Cost savings

In addition to the obvious changes in value to the customer – reducing price, increasing(?) portion sizes and increasing speed of deliver, you’re also able to cut backend costs:

  • Your inventory is much narrower (Soup, Bread, Polystyrene Cups, Paper Napkins)
  • You can make rolls & soup offsite (or purchase them from a third party!)
  • You can store the soup in large ‘tea’ urns/vats, allowing for constantly ready, quickly dispensable food (and no other equipment)

Customer Service

One way that Generic Festival Food Retailers cut staffing costs is making use of part time workers who will work several shifts, and get to spend some spare time seeing the festival. My suspicion is that one might be able to provide a better experience to customers by seeking out the superstars of the fast food industry who are extremely adept at rapidly making personal connections with a smile for long shifts, and seeing whether they’re interested in moonlighting for significantly above average wages. This point is moot, as I suspect that great customer service isn’t necessary to make it a success, but in my mind, great customer service is one part of a great customer experience – no matter how simple the experience.

You’d want to be able to cope with peaks in demand where the team could serve 100 customers in 10 minutes – that’s a customer every 6 seconds, and so you’d want to be able to work with your team to be able to specialise roles (collect £3, give orange ticket/collect orange ticket, give soup/give roll & shoe them away from the stall to avoid traffic jams) but them adapt if someone needed to step away to refill the soup urn, etc. My feeling is that you’re more likely to get this level of reliability from a close-knit paid team with experience and the right mindset.

Marketing

A neat marketing thing you could do is make all your polystyrene cups very distinctive – maybe a distinctive bright orange (carrot!) colour? When your customers are walking around the festival, people may wonder – “what’s in those orange cups?” and then if/when they link them to your Carrot Soup Company stand, every time they see one, it’ll be a trigger for your brand.

A more traditional marketing thing you could do, if you proved the previous idea worked as intended, would be to do a twitter giveaway just as a major act was finishing – so the mass of people walk into the food area, to see a preseeded diminishing queue of people, and nearby people with orange cups.

It’s also worth pointing out that your product could probably be Vegan, Vegetarian, Halal, Kosher, nut-free etc with relative ease. Advertising this clearly would reduce questions (time-consuming) and objections (costs you a customer).

The finances

You’d have to sell a lot of soup. But not an unrealistic amount.

Glastonbury festival has 135,000 attendees, and a small, off-the-mainstream patch might cost ~£2-3k (and a better location, many times that – maybe ~£32k!)

But let’s suggest you start small, and after a successful MVP at a country fair or car boot sale, you try a small festival of ~10,000 attendees where I’d guess a catering pitch might be got for ~£750.

Your breakeven point on materials would probably be around 300 units? Not unachievable I’d say, with the right product fit.

Why is this online? Why don’t you do this?

  • I don’t know anything about catering
  • I don’t want to know anything about catering
  • Crowds are not my natural environment
  • Maybe someone I know, likes the idea of this
  • I reckon the net returns over 3 years are only something like £50k-75k
  • I reckon returns will drop off in the 3rd year as other traders emulate you
  • Opportunity cost – if Clara & I thought this up in 10 minutes, imagine what an hour would bring!
  • It’s fun to throw ideas around – sharing is caring!

Diet: what I ate

I’ve never particuarly given a lot of thought to food. To me at least, food is fuel for doing cool stuff, that happens, sometimes, to be quite enjoyable.

I can understand that this may be somewhat at odds with approaches to food as a creative outlet – I can sympathise with this – occasionally I can find cooking quite a relaxing distraction, but traditionally, for me, it’s been something that got in the way of eating something and doing fun stuff. As a result of this approach, I’ve often been quite happy eating relatively few times a day, and frequently repeating the same meals.

A few months ago, I made a significant effort to lose weight. The first few weeks were painful and frustrating to adapt to, but I made an effort to disrupt my existing lifestyle as little as possible so I wouldn’t be tempted to give it up.

Specifically:

  • I know I like eating infrequently – usually 2 times a day
  • I know I like eating a lot of something
  • I don’t generally eat/drink sweet things, this was to continue
I figured, when I started my diet, that I’d eat the same number of times – changing those routines would be tricky, and I’d try and work out ways to make myself be able to eat a lot, without it having a significant effect on me putting on weight.

It’s interesting to note that whilst I do do a fair bit of hiking, I did lots of hiking before I chose to lose weight, and I’ve not done more or less, since I started dieting – it’s much easier to eat something other than that plate of pasta than to run the miles to work it off.

Essentially, I was on a low-carb diet, similar to the Tim Ferris/4 hour body style-diet’s, with a rest day, that I put on Friday. What this meant was that Sat-Thurs I tried to avoid eating carbohydrates, and on Friday, I was free to eat whatever I wanted (PASTA! PIZZA! CURRY!).

When I thought it through, the meals I’ve eaten for the last few months haven’t varied a great deal:

Large salad:

  • 1 or 2 avocados.
  • 1/3 to a whole, packet of 200/250g “Greek style salad cheese” aka cheap and cheerful Feta Cheese.
  • 2 – 3 medium sized tomatoes
  • 1/3 of a cucumber
  • 1/3 of a iceberg lettuce
  • 1/2 to a whole, small onion.
  • 1/3 of a bottle of Newmans Italian Dressing

Notes: any 2 ingredients can be left out, except the dressing.

This is a lot of salad, but is relatively carb-free. If one wanted to economise on carbs further, you’d avoid or cut down the tomatos/onion. The amount of lettuce meant that I’d have eaten a lot of food, which had almost no carbs, or indeed any significant nutritional value.

Halloumi fun:

  • 200-300g packet of Halloumi – Mediterranean style grilling cheese
  • 1 medium sized tomatoes

Notes: I’ve been trying to avoid this excessively as I’ve been trying to reduce total cheese consumption, but it’s quite quick and simple.

Peanut butter (quick snack/quick meal):

  • 1/6th of a 1kg tub of meridian crunchy, no sugar (with added salt) peanut butter, without anything else, with a spoon straight from the tub.

Notes: weird as this is, this is really quick simple and easy.

Vegetable soups:

Mandatory ingredients:

  • onions
  • celery
  • tinned tomatos

Optional:

  • courgettes
  • leeks
  • peppers

Notes:

  • I can make relatively passable (if bland by some’s standards) “soups”, probably best left for me to eat. I usually add some grated feta (perhaps 1/3-1/2 a pack) to the top of mine.
  • I have a strong preference away from soups with potato or breadcrumbs in them

(Occasionally) Omelettes

  • 2-3 eggs
  • some cheddar + a tomato

Notes: I haven’t actually eaten omelettes reguarly for quite a while, but I’ll happily eat them and other egg-focused things.

 

Why am I vegetarian? A two decade retrospective.

I’m vegetarian, but I talk about it as little as possible.

Years and years of people asking me the same question, throughout my childhood, teenage years and adult life have rather blotted out any emerging desires to talk about it, but I think it’s important to explain

I was raised in a vegetarian family. When I was born, my parents were vegetarian, thus I was vegetarian. Your parents actually made a similar decision for you too probably. You  probably ate what your parents ate, which in likelihood was “everything”, so you ate that.

Homemade pasta bake
Homemade pasta bake

There’s a joke that goes:
Q: How do you know if there’s a Vegetarian in the room?
A: Don’t worry they’ll tell you.

Throughout my life, I’ve always had to deal with people who have unfortunately come to assume that as someone who doesn’t eat meat or fish, I’ll be a vegetarian like the one in the joke. People assume I’m about to inflict what they imagine “my beliefs” are on them so they come up fighting – trying to reason with me, trying to get me to try meat, how I get email protein, trying to persuade me that ‘what they cook is lovely’, asking me whether I’ve ever tried X.

There’s another (much rarer) reaction, which is where people say that “they don’t eat much meat” like that’ll instantly mean we’re best buddies.

The thing is, I don’t care what anyone else eats (so long as they don’t force their views down my throat).

Combative culinary experiences were rather tiresome in the first decade of my life, dull in the second decade, and now, I can hardly think of few subjects I’d wish to debate less than vegetarianism.


If you’re an omnivore’s who’s been brought up to enjoy to the taste of meat – everyone has said “om nom nom” etc to when they were little, imagine how difficult it’d be to retroactively condition your brain to find the idea of your favourite meat unpleasant.

I mean, you’ve probably thought that turning vegetarian would be very difficult – what I’m asking you to do though, is to work out how difficult it would be to teach yourself to like something that you’ve always been taught is unpleasant.

For me to eat meat, I’d have to condition my brain to think that something I’ve always thought/been told was disgusting etc, was nice. I think this would be a considerable effort – imagine trying to persuade yourself to enjoy eating a cowpat – I think it’d be comparatively difficult for me.

Once when I was in France, my exchange partner’s grandmother, on hearing I was vegetarian, asked “well how is he so fat?”, and could barely comprehend that I’d survived thus far in life without meat or fish.

Since things are going pretty good, and I’ve no burning desires to change anything, I’ll continue as I am – things are going great. :)

I’m a vegetarian because I’ve always been a vegetarian.


Footnote:
If you were wondering, “evangelical” vegans and vegetarians disproportionately annoy me, probably because I’ve over two decades of experience being preached at, and it is an exceptionally unpleasant experience.

#timontour Abisko/Kungsleden 2012

When I first thought about going hiking in Northern Sweden, I had considered doing it in summer, with beautiful sunshine beating down, swimming in glacier fed lakes… In fact, I chose not to do it then because I didn’t fancy 24 hour sunlight if I was trying to camp in a tent…

In October, there will be no swimming lakes. With an average temperature of 5 degrees, it’s no exaggeration to say that this is probably going to be the toughest expedition yet, and to make things even better, I’ve barely prepared myself in terms of kit, let alone physically or psychologically.

In many ways, the trip that I suspect will have prepared me most was a 2 day epic in the Lake District in January, over a damp and very windy weekend, except longer, and hopefully not as grim.

As backpacking goes, I’ve dedicated an inordinate amount of weight to food, and cameras, whilst minimising weight on clothes. Let’s do a bit of a kit list:

Sleeping and Shelter:

  • Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag
  • Themorest Neoair
  • Vango Helium 200
  • Silk sleeping bag liner

Food and cooking

  • 3 litre Platypus
  • Trangia stove + 1 pan + 500ml meths + flint/steel spark lighter
  • 1 plastic spork and two sharp knives
  • 2KG spaghetti
  • ~1KG of “just add water” ramen noodles and rice
  • ~1.5 KG of cheese in one-per-day-sized sealed packets
  • Tomato puree and salsa as ad-hoc sauce.
  • 1kg of dried fruit
  • 24 chocolate bars
About two weeks worth of food
About two weeks worth of food

Cameras and electronics

  • Nokia N900 smartphone
  • Sanyo CA100 + spare battery
  • Propono external battery pack (fits above devices) + continental charger
  • Canon 5D mkII + 24-205 f4 lens + camera bag
  • About 88GB of CF storage and 16GB of SD storage
  • 9 Canon batteries
  • Glidecam XR 2000

Clothing

  • 3 quick drying lightweight t-shirt vests
  • 2 lightweight/quick drying synthetic long sleeved shirt
  • 2 cotton/slow drying thermal long sleeved shirt (thanks Zhelyo!)
  • 2 pair of shorts and one pair of tracksuit bottoms
  • 3 pairs of boxers
  • 2 waterproof, windproof, breathable microfibre fleeces
  • 1 pair of padded sallopettes
  • 2 pairs of dual lining socks, 1 pair of fluffy ‘extra warm’ socks
  • 1 pair of Raichle hiking boots
  • 1 pair of fingerless neoprene sailing gloves
  • 1 pair of thick, padded sailing gloves

General equipment

  • Osprey rucksack
  • Whistle, compass, headtorch and spare batteries
  • Collins SAS survival guide
  • First aid kit (painkillers, general meds, plasters)
  • General toiletries
  • Space blanket and towel
  • Ice Axe
  • Glasses and sunglasses
Packed and ready to go!
Packed and ready to go!

So the big question: how much does it weigh? I’m not sure. More than would be completely comfortable, but I think I can optimise the weight distribution further to put some heavy stuff higher up my back. I tried wearing it round the house and running up and down stairs a few times with it on. Unsurprisingly, after 6 or 7 sprints up and down the stairs, I was a bit tired, but I think it’s probably a good sign – it wasn’t completely unachievable.

Clearly, in the time not spent walking, sleeping, eating or thinking, the cameras are my main source of entertainment. The mobile phone is largely going to be left switched off. It’s worth noting that, for me, this is a quite bold technological setup as it does not include a laptop. As strange as this may seem, almost every serious expedition I’ve been on, has included a laptop for battery/connectivity/extra storage reasons. This is not very efficient, so hopefully I can manage without it. It’s also worth noting that this is likely to be the longest time I will have spent without internet access for, years(?). We’ll see how that goes.

Clearly, with minimal clothes, I’ll be forced to do some washing of clothes – hence the preference for quick drying synthetics that will drip dry, even in cold weather. The gloves sound a bit unpromisingly, but work surprisingly well together. I’m a tiny bit nervous that an extreme burst of very cold weather, or very wet weather, I might not be very well prepared for, but I think I have effective waterproofs, and I think that in the event of cold, putting on the maximum layers (or simply pitching the tent and calling it a day) should work ok.

I’m flying to Stockholm Arlanda, then getting the 19 hour sleeper train from the airport station, to Abisko – a tiny hamlet, in the Artic Circle in Northern Sweden and the trailhead of the Kungsleden. My plan is to do a 12-13 day circuit to the south of Abisko, returning on the 15th to head back to Stockholm and Manchester.

One thing is for certain: this trip will be like nothing I’ve done before it. Probably.


Aside

The Swedish Tourist Association – read “Tourist Information” – which looks after all of the paths and trails had this gem on it’s website. Clearly, those annoying puzzles that have irritated school children and programmers for years about Foxes, Donkeys, rowing boats and rivers originated from Sweden, because this was actually on their website:

Rowing trails with at least one rowboat on each shore are located where the trails traverse larger watercourses or lakes. Those who use the boats are responsible to ensure that one boat is on each side of the water. This can mean that the rowing must be done three times.

First, you have to row over to the other side to get the boat there, row back with it in tow, pull this boat up on the shore to then row over again to the spot from where you will continue you hike.

How to cheat at cooking lunch!

Some ongoing battles of mine are to eat:

  1. more cheaply
  2. more healthily
  3. more variedly
  4. and less of it.

I don’t mind Point 1 that much, I already shop at ALDI for almost everything. However, trying to cut down on any kind of meal out is something I’m working on. Lunches being a particular problem.

Point 2 is something I’ve been working on recently, and have started to nail. Obviously, “healthily” is an incredibly subjective term and can mean a wide variety of things, but right now I’m specifically referring to aiming for a government recommended target of 5 portions or fruit or veg/day.

Point 3 is something I still need to work on I think. I have recipe books, I have the will power, I need to make this happen more.

Point 4 is actually what I’m trying to solve right now whilst also hitting “eat more cheaply”.

There are some great places for lunch near work that do great hot food, or a nearby ASDA. We have a toaster, fridge, kettle and microwave so in theory, one could be quite creative. In practice, the trick is to cheat!

On Sunday night, I made pasta and a wonderful vegetable/tomato pasta sauce for tea. The sauce contained onions, peppers, leeks, celery, kidney beans, sweetcorn olives and lots of tomatoes. I made loooads….

Then I grated some cheese into a tupperware box, added a few spoonfuls of pasta, filled it to the top with super-healthy sauce and took them to work. Here is my lunch for Monday-Wednesday.

Cheating at cooking lunch
Cheating at cooking lunch

They keep just fine in the fridge, can be quickly reheated in the microwave, probably could be frozen and reduce my lunch bill by a considerable margin.

The way that this means one eats *less* is that one completely take away any decision about portion size at the point when you are least qualified to make it – eg. when you are very hungry.

Now all I have to do is just to keep in flow, probably do some soups and other exciting things, build up a supply of stuff in the freezer and make this a routine.

Look on the bright side: it even cuts down on washing up! :D