COOK was founded in 1997 by Ed Perry, who is still co CEO and Dale Penfold. Ed initially worked for his parents’ company, who had a café and sold frozen cakes. He wondered why people didn’t make frozen meals by hand and saw a gap in the market. At the time, frozen meals were heavily processed and were not the most appetising prospect, let alone one that you’d look forward to. Together with this friend Dale they found an old pizza delivery kitchen on an industrial estate that was due to be knocked down. They agreed to rent the kitchen for a year and opened their first shop in Farnham. They called themselves Cakes and Casseroles, but luckily for everyone, they soon changed their name to COOK.
Ed and Dale started by making food for dinner parties but their customers asked if they sold smaller portions of food so, listening to their needs, they began to make frozen meals for 1-2 people. As COOK’s food grew in popularity, they opened more stores and set up a COOK kitchen in Kent. 23 years later, COOK has 90 shops, and although they have remained open during the lockdown, their online sales have grown from around 20% to 50% of their business.
The importance of your Tribe
Ed recently spoke to Holly Tucker, founder of Not on the High Street about the importance of a strong culture of COOK.
He explains that every company has a culture and acknowledges that culture simply doesn’t happen by itself. If you ignore it, it doesn’t mean you don’t have one, it’s just, you’re not keeping an eye on it. Clearly articulating your values, regular internal communications and lots of company get-togethers has helped create a culture where employees are not just working towards the same cause, but are truly part of your tribe.
Ed also spoke about the importance of brands living up to their vaules, at all times, not just when it is convenient. An example of living their values saw COOK set up a Kindness Fund where they worked with customers to distribute 100,000 meals and treats to people in need.
Helping to bring communities together
COOK knows that nothing brings people together like good food which is why their Community Kitchen scheme offers 30% off COOK food that is purchased for events. In the past they’ve offered the discount to support groups, PTA fundraisers, lunch clubs for seniors, and even a real tennis club social.
Changing lives through RAW talent
COOK’s RAW Talent programme helps supports people into sustainable work after prison, homelessness, addiction, or mental health challenges. It is one of the most significant ways COOK believes that they can make a difference in society. Analysis by the Ministry of Justice found that ex-offenders who get a job after prison are less likely to re-offend yet the FT reports that only 17 percent of prison leavers are in full-time work a year after release. The programme, which was formalised nearly six years ago, has recruited over 80 people. COOK told me about the story of John, also known as Red, who had grown up in care homes and spend his twenties in and out of prison and addicted to heroin. He is now married with a son and recently became a full-time member of the RAW Talent team, working out of the office. He also gives talks to other businesses and visits prisons to share his experiences.
When Red was first interviewed for a job at COOK, one of the chefs on the panel recognised him. It transpired that Red had assaulted him when he was younger. Understandably the chef had reservations about Red working for COOK, however, after speaking to one another, the chef agreed to give him a chance and they are now friends.
Building a better business and becoming a B-Corp
COOK is a founding member of B Corp UK, meaning they were one of the initial handful of companies that certified back in 2013. Today, there are over 3,300 certified B Corporations across 150 industries in 71 countries. The B in B-Corp stands for “benefit.”
Over the years, we’ve also set out to become a better kind of company. One that cares as much about doing what’s right for people and planet as about making a profit. Being independently certified as a B Corp makes sure we live up to that promise – Ed & Rosie, Co-CEOs
Sadly, too many brands continue to put profit ahead of people. They care more about the interests of their shareholders as opposed to doing the right thing. Luckily the brands that behave in this way are being held to account for their actions and brands that break the status quo like COOK are being celebrated. Today in the UK, there are almost 1 million UK workers on zero-hour contacts with little to no job security, and the new Agriculture Bill currently being debated in the House of Lords will see us eating chlorine-washed chicken after Brexit. By paying the Living Wage and sourcing 100% of their chickens from UK higher welfare farms, COOK shows how things can be done differently.