Meet China’s Jamie Oliver: The Story of Richard Craggs and NomNom’s Chinese Food Revolution

Richard Craggs left a successful career to pursue his dream: to provide quality and healthy canteen food to factory workers and schoolchildren all over China. Shenzhen Party sat down with the British entrepreneur to discuss his company NomNom and his unlikely Chinese food revolution.

Richard Craggs, Founder and CEO of NomNom

Richard Craggs, founder and CEO of NomNom, moved to China 12 years ago. Previously he had been a Managing Director of one of the world’s largest retail gift companies, which took him all over China sourcing and setting up new factories. It was during this time that he witnessed factory canteen meals first hand.

“I’ve visited hundreds of factories, many of them in remote locations where there was nowhere else to eat, and the food was lousy,” he said. “I love Chinese food, but the factory meals were terrible, and I was touched by the workers who constantly complained about their meals each day.

Walking away from a successful career of 20 years, Craggs pivoted 180 degrees and set about on a mission to revolutionize the food served to factory workers and schoolchildren in China. In the beginning, it was tough.

Proving The Concept Works

“I was on my own with my life savings dwindling, and now I had to prove to investors that his model could be successful in Asia. I set about purchasing two loss-making restaurants with the business model to utilize their kitchens to prepare meals for schools and factories.”

Happy office staff line up for a varied and quality buffet.

“Factory budgets can be as low as RMB6 per full meal and my supply chains at that time could never achieve that budget, so I started visiting farms and large wholesalers to bring prices down. In the meantime, I won a contract with ISNS, an international school based in Nanshan, and a small Emerson factory located in Bao’an. Although our revenue tripled, the factory canteen was losing money, and fast.”

Schoolchildren enjoying a healthy meal from NomNom

Unwilling to compromise on quality, Craggs understood that it was possible to purchase the ingredients within budget. It did require an increase in purchasing volume by over ten times, however, and as vegetables are perishable, holding inventory was not an option.

Burning through his savings and unable to increase his factory customer base, Craggs thought outside the box. He contacted 13 other small caterers supplying factories nearby and offered to consolidate and distribute ingredients at cost so to achieve his own food cost target.

Low-budget canteen catering is one of the toughest food and beverage markets, but he had a proof of concept; RMB5.9 for a full meal that includes a meat dish, two meat & vegetable mix dishes, and vegetables with unlimited rice and soup. The meals were of restaurant quality and he was able to extract a fair margin.

NomNom offers a level of canteen catering unseen before in Southern China, and all within budget. Photo of their Merchiston International school dining hall.

Craggs then approached investors in Asia. He told them, “There are hundreds of thousands of factories in China, and they all have the same problem: lousy food and unhappy workers. If we can provide a solution for that, then this could be huge.”

The demands of the factory worker have evolved with rising wages, improving living conditions, more benefits, and further support from the government. This has trickled down into their expectations within their canteens.

Land reforms lifted production of grains like rice and wheat, and millions started to enjoy more vegetables and pork as well as want luxuries such as beef and milk. This presented challenges with production capacities in farming. As part of NomNom’s food revolution, however, they have tackled the complex supply chains and accelerated their volume requirements to drive down costs. These and other savings are added back into the meals.

It’s not only Chinese food. NomNom can offer businesses a range of international cuisine too

Giving Back To Factory Workers

In the past, factory caterers usually served up a lousy buffet where the menu never changed. In a typical NomNom factory food court, however, they have created a variety of meal options from their Pick ‘n’ Mix Buffet, Hot Pot, Noodle Station, Steam Varieties, BBQ, Fusion Set Meals, Clay Pot Rice, and blended Japanese, Korean, and international fusion. The food courts take into account the wide range of palates given that the workers come from all over China.

NomNom factory food courts are equipped with a selection of branded food stations.

“Factory workers work very hard, on minimum wages, and live away from their hometowns in isolated locations. The least we could do to support them was to provide them with a quality meal and an abundance of variety at each serving time. Let’s not forget that these workers are responsible for manufacturing almost everything we use each day. They are the unsung heroes of China’s industrial revolution, and we wish for them to enjoy our food revolution as a token of thanks,” explained Craggs.

The time and investment spent on NomNom’s supply chain bode well for their other customers as now there is additional investment that can be injected into recruiting quality chefs, training staff, introducing more automation, and other scales that help efficiencies that we can pass on to our customers in terms of quality and price.

Improving The Food Diet Of Schoolchildren

NomNom’s focus quickly migrated from factories to international schools, where parents had contacted Craggs to see if he could help with their children’s’ school meals. This led to the USD750,000 acquisition of McCawley’s Fine Foods, which was operating a number of schools in the area. It was a brave move for an early-stage catering startup, given additional funds were required to upgrade the personnel, equipment, central kitchen, and cold and hot chain delivery vehicles.

NomNom’s state-of-the-art central kitchen is operated by quality chefs and trained staff, which serves schools and offices all over Shenzhen

“What really burns my toast is that there are a lot of catering companies simply going through the motions without really listening to the customers. Be it the schools, the parents, or the children themselves. Listening and blending this into our expertise has helped design our recipe-managed menus that are constantly evolving. Variety had always been a core initiative to cater to the differing palates of our customers, and now we offer both an International and Chinese buffet, as well as Korean, Chinese, Vegetarian, Organic, and Premium set meals. We have recently rolled out salad bars, fruit stations, freshly baked bread for breakfast, and ensured that all our menus are handmade using only ingredients from government approved suppliers,” said Craggs.

Richard Craggs serving a young girl her dessert after a healthy meal

What Does The Future Hold For NomNom?

When asked about the future, Craggs explained, “We wish to continue to support healthy and quality meals within existing budgets throughout China. The plan is to continue to expand our school, factory, and office customers in South China, and eventually further afield. We still have some exciting new projects to launch from food trucks to vending and our own delivery app for homes and offices.”

“One important part of our model is to be transparent to encourage and inspire others to join our food revolution. We strongly believe that the consumer deserves this and we wish to support the government drive to ensure food production is safe, so we can rebuild the trust the people have with food.”

“Not one caterer holds even 1% of the catering market share in China, so one must not be concerned with competition as the market is huge. The overall demand trend is there for quality for price meals. If you can put quality first and offer value, the market will come to you. We currently do not have a sales team as we have been fortunate to have the majority of our customers reach out to us directly.”

International Awards and Recognition

The NomNom food revolution has been well-received in the market with phenomenal progress over the past two years. NomNom serves high profile international and local office cafeterias, provides for multiple factory food courts, and has become the largest international school caterer in South China. All of which has resulted in being nominated for the prestigious British Business Awards in two categories; Company of The Year and Entrepreneur Of The Year for their founder, Richard Craggs.

With international recognition and with more and more businesses and schools signing up, NomNom’s food revolution is just getting started.

Check out the video below to see just how the food revolution is sweeping over the canteens of schools, offices, and factories all over South China.

Office workers queue eagerly at a canteen catered by NomNom

NomNom’s state of the art, High Tech Central Kitchen in Nanshan

NomNom’s Factory Food Court Concept designed to upgrade the lives of workers across China

Check Out The Buzz Surrounding Bee+

 

As Shenzhen continues to boom with young entrepreneurs and start-ups, Bee+ is opening their second co-working space in Futian. What separates Bee+ from other shared working spaces is its real emphasis on the social side and to creating a genuine sense of the community.

As well as offering working spaces, Bee+ have an impressively stocked café and a draft craft beer range to rival most bars in town. The organizers are very proactive too in hosting events with a wide and eclectic mix of things going on including beer tasting nights, dancing classes, and wine and cheese nights,

The Bee+ approach is certain to attract the young and entrepreneurial types in the city. It’s a very organic way to connect people together who otherwise may never have met.

Bee+ appears to be on the rise with partnerships already secured with global corporation such as Calvin Klein, BNP Paribas, Colgate, and Orange. As it establishes itself in Shenzhen further, that list is sure to grow.

Address: Bee+ Shenzhen, Fortune Building Space, No. 88 Fu Hua San Road, Futian, Shenzhen

Good News For Startups As WeWork Comes To Shenzhen

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Shenzhen’s startup revolution is set to continue to with the announcement that WeWork will unveil a workspace at the start of September.

The American company built its success on providing shared workspaces for freelancers and startups and has spread to 283 locations situated across 75 cities around the world. Now, WeWork has targeted China as a market with massive potential and Shenzhen has been identified as the spot for its newest workspace.

WeWork will be located in Houhai in Nanshan, where it will be in good company surrounded by Chinese tech companies such as Tencent and DJI. The space itself will be made up of three floors with an open deck, lush greenery, and a spiral staircase acting as a centerpiece.

The announcement comes at the perfect time in Shenzhen with more and more startups popping up seemingly every day. WeWork will be able to offer a platform to work for these entrepreneurs and also freelancers as well as smaller companies and even divisions of large corporations.

Keep checking this space for more information as WeWork prepares to launch in September.

Address: China Construction Steel Structure Building, 3331 Zhongxin Lu, Nanshan, Shenzhen (南山区中心路3331号中建钢构大厦)

wework

Startup Mentor & Entrepreneur Daniella Santana

Written by Peter Fenton

Startup mentor and entrepreneur, Daniella Santana, first arrived in Shenzhen in 2005. The vibrant Brazilian has high energy, a generous spirit and real insight into the challenges foreigners face operating a business in China. Recently, Peter Fenton, from Evertop Legal Solutions, caught up with Dany between her keynote addresses, master of ceremonies duties, and running her own business.

Shenzhen Party (SP): What was your first impression of Shenzhen?

Daniella Santana (DS): When I first arrived in Shenzhen, there was not much going on in the city. The foreign community was very small and most of the people were in the export business. In those early days, I left and came back to China twice, but now I have lived in Shenzhen for a decade.

Shenzhen is a great place to start a career. Compared to some cities, there are still plenty of great opportunities for those who can offer certain skills and services. If you come to Shenzhen to start a local business, you have a great chance to succeed.

The rapid development of the city is what impresses me the most. When I first arrived, there was only Line 1 on the metro, which was half the length it is now. Today, the metro has 11 lines. The city now has a wide variety of restaurants, bars, five-star hotels, and lots of business and networking events.

SP: You have a wealth of experience in logistics and assisting companies with OEM. Based on what you are seeing, where do you see the trade opportunities in Shenzhen at the moment?

DS: Shenzhen has diversified and developed. The city has had a great number of startups, both in tech and in hardware, working on all kinds of projects. In terms of trade, the market with the most potential is to import products into China for the country’s growing upper and middle classes. The domestic consumer market is booming, especially for high-quality goods and healthcare products.

SP: You facilitated the first TEDx event in Shenzhen. What interested you the most about the TEDx experience?

DS: TEDx was one of the best experiences of my life. A few years ago, I decided I would like to give a talk at TEDx, but I could never have imagined that one day I would help to put together, what has so far been the best TEDx event in Shenzhen. Held at the Shangri-la Hotel, we had 150 people attending the event, with top speakers coming from all over the world including London. It was the first time that the foreign community could attend a TEDx event in Shenzhen.

What I loved most was, firstly, to organize my first ever live TEDx talk, and secondly, to provide the foreign community with a TEDx talk in English, which for many of them would also be the first time they attended such an event.

SP: What do you see as the opportunities and the challenges for women in business in China?

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DS: China is far ahead of many other countries and also gives more opportunities to people, no matter their age, race, or gender. As long as you can deliver a good job, you can have the world at your feet.

There have been few instances where I felt it was difficult to do business as a woman in China. Most of the experiences here have been overwhelmingly positive and have helped me to get to where I am in my career today. I don’t think I could have achieved what I did, if it wasn’t for China.

China inspires you to be an entrepreneur. There are so many opportunities to open your own business here, and this is very inspiring and empowering for women. In China, it’s very easy to meet and develop relationships. You may meet someone at a networking event today and next month you could be starting a business or working on an amazing project with this person.

For instance, we have the first international Female Book Club of Shenzhen since July last year. All the books are free and we read one book per month then meet at the end of the month to discuss what we have read.

All the books are meant to help the women with their development, both in their business and their personal life. This non-profit event has helped and inspired many women to start a business or to get back into business after many years of being a stay-at-home mother. For me, this is a great source of inspiration.

SP: You recently addressed the Cross-Border Summit in Shenzhen. What was it like and which topics did you address in your presentation?

DS: The Cross-Border is a great initiative from Mike Michelini, which helps entrepreneurs and business owners to fill in the gaps for those who have a cross-border business in Asia. It covers quality control, logistics, Amazon, import/export, among other important topics.

Additionally, I also recently participated in the first “women only” fireside chat alongside other amazing women who are doing incredible things in China. I was very flattered to be invited this year. We talked about the challenges women face in business, how we got to where we are, and we gave a few tips for female entrepreneurs on how to get started and how to pursue their dreams.

SP: You also assist with Startup Chile. What opportunities do you see Chile has in China?

 DS: At Startup Chile, I mentor female entrepreneurs on manufacturing in China and business development for the Asian market. Startup Chile is the number one accelerator in Latin America, and my idea is to help as many startups as I can to not only enter the Chinese market, but also create their prototypes and products here and export them to Chile.

Due to the free trade agreement between both countries, products coming from China are more competitive in Chile, and the same applies to Chilean products going to China such as wine, blueberries, and avocados. Also, I have been working closely with the Chilean Consulate in Guangdong to increase awareness of Chilean products in Shenzhen.