From a small home kitchen to becoming B Corp certified: The Hello Chef journey

November 20, 2023 | By Rupkatha B

Ask any entrepreneur worth their salt and they will tell you the importance of solving a problem for someone while thinking of starting a business. This UAE-based homegrown business, Hello Chef has a similar story to tell, as it was created to simplify the lives of families based here. The brand co-founder Olivia Manner, a passionate foodie and admittedly “happiest when cooking for the family” was struck by how difficult it was to shop for high-quality and varied ingredients when they first moved to Dubai in 2014. Keen to find a solution to improve her home cooking experience, Manner started writing her own recipes, sourcing ingredients and cooking healthy meals for her family.

Soon she started asking friends and neighbours if they’d be willing to try out the experience of getting meal kits delivered to their doorstep with preportioned ingredients ready for them to cook. Her idea received an enthusiastic response, and soon enough Hello Chef was born in 2015, offering four recipes and delivering to almost 10 people every week.

“Back then, there was minimal choice and flexibility to our product. Now, we offer more than 20 dishes each week, and have plans to expand this. Customers have the option to customise their recipes with alternative proteins and carbs in addition to having control over the number of recipes they receive each week. Today, we have over 80 people working with us from our base in Dubai Investments Park, and we will expand further as we relocate to our new facility before the end of the year. Importantly, more than eight years since we launched, our first employee is still with us today,” shared Hello Chef’s Co-Founder Ahmed Al Akber.

What’s more, coming as a milestone, Hello Chef has recently become B Corp certified, joining the global movement towards creating an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy.

Let’s start with some of Hello Chef’s ESG-related milestones and setbacks over the past 12 months.

At Hello Chef we have focused our efforts on improving our internal processes over the last 12 months. We championed employee welfare by implementing a living wage adjustment to meet or exceed minimum levels for the UAE. We created a policy to help improve our environmental impact in the office and while working from home, sparking our office recycling programme that has since recycled hundreds of kilos of waste. We also trained our staff in cybersecurity and significantly improved our infrastructure and handling of data.

While it’s not a setback per se, when we started our B Corp journey, we struggled to make real progress in some sustainability-focused aspects of the business because we did not previously track a large proportion of the relevant metrics. The start of improving something begins with understanding where you’re at in the first place. We now measure key metrics, such as food waste, supplier documentation, electricity and water usage and packaging consumption, and have clear targets set for us to reach our sustainability goals.

When did you decide to become B Corp certified? Why was it important to you?

It was in 2022 that I started seeking more meaning in my life, and this included defining a clear purpose for coming to work each day. A friend told me about B Corp and the movement behind it, and once I understood its mission, I realised the impact it could have on our business moving forward. I must admit that going through the journey to becoming B Corp certified was challenging, but the experience gave myself and my team a lot of meaning. From learning about what it means to redefine success in the context of social and environmental performance, to ensuring total transparency and legal accountability to our key stakeholders; it’s been a tough but interesting ride. I have two young children who are learning at school about how people and companies have to act for the future, and I feel now is as good a time as any for our business to make some meaningful changes to improve.

Now that Hello Chef is B Corp certified, do share your thoughts on some things to avoid if a brand is aiming to be B Corp certified?

Taking on the B Corp certification process is rigorous. It requires time, teamwork and direction from the top to ensure the end goal of becoming a sustainable business goes beyond just wanting to be ‘certified.’ Our B Corp journey extended over 15 months. So, the first thing I’d say is to avoid rushing the process and ensure you take the time to thoroughly assess your operations and policies to be certain that you’re making the most impactful improvements. Commitment and engagement from key stakeholders are paramount. Without this, getting certified can become a one-time achievement, and the opportunity to instill B Corp’s principles into the company’s DNA is lost. And transparency is crucial. Avoid making false or exaggerated claims [also known as greenwashing] as it will hinder your journey to certification and reflect poorly on the brand. It goes without saying that any change initiative needs to make financial sense for the business, and B Corp encourages brands to prioritise purpose as well as profit. Given the competitive nature of industries today, doing good business that extends beyond your bottom line is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s expected.

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