Meet the business - COOK
We had a chat with Matthew Bourne, Director of Retail, and Claire Postans, Brand Director, of COOK ahead of them opening their new store at the Orchard Centre. Here is what they told us about the brand and their expansion into Didcot:
- What is the story behind the COOK brand and what influenced your decision to open a new store in Didcot?
The brand is 25 years old now. It was started in 1997 by Ed, who is still the CEO, and Dale, who has since retired. The first shop was opened in Farnham. Ed was inspired by his mum who would batch cook and freeze home cooked meals that they could eat during the working week. Inspired by the taste of great home-cooking, Ed and Dale set about building a business that would also do good, working for people and planet, not just profit. The founders initially worked from an old pizza delivery kitchen.
The business has grown and grown organically, with Didcot being the 94th store. There are also over 850 independents across the country with whom the team works, such as farm shops, Budgens, Booths, Coop etc. We have a wide range of products in different portion sizes and an excellent seasonal entertaining range. The food is made as you would do it at home, handmade in three kitchens, situated in Kent and Somerset.
The decision to open a shop in Didcot came from customer engagement in areas such as Henley, Oxford, Cirencester, Witney, and other nearby locations. It was also seen as a good community base, with easy parking and great neighbours!
- What does your day-to-day job involve and which part of this do you like the most?
Matthew said that he loves his job and feels like the luckiest person alive as he gets to visit 94 shops across the country. He thinks of the people rather than the locations and enjoys meeting both the teams and the customers, finding out about which recipes people enjoy and what other food they’d like to see.
- What is current most popular product/product range in-store and does this vary between locations?
We have a list of 20 best sellers, mainly products which have been around for a while. These are a great entry point for people who want to try the brand. They include meals such as Roasted Vegetable Lasagne, Moroccan Lamb Tagine, Chicken, Ham and Leek Pie, and Chilli Con Carne. There is a special category on the website to cover these.
A good benchmark is the Great Taste Awards, which take place each year and are judged by industry professionals, they are a real badge of honour. Over the last 5 years, COOK has won nearly 100 of these awards and, this year, we won 20 more awards across our savoury and pudding products. The Indian and Thai takeaway ranges are reported to be ‘awesome’, up there to rival any dedicated takeaway business! There are a lot of seasonal dishes too, with the Christmas range due out soon…
The most popular ranges don’t differ much according to location and the brand tries to cater for everyone, with their breadth of range and portion sizes, for 1, 2, 4, or 8 people.
- What is the strangest meal that you have been asked about?
We are often asked about Chicken Alexander which is on our menu. This is a product similar to Chicken Supreme or Chicken à la King. When it was launched, Ed wanted to call it something different so used Alexander, one of his middle names! It’s a great dish to eat with rice, vegetables or even stirred into pasta.
- What plans are there for the business to grow?
We are an ambitious company so want to continue to grow. In the last year, 4 new shops have opened, and the team is keen to open in great community-based locations. We like to give people opportunities in a great business and to allow customers to buy and enjoy tasty food.
- Which social media channel has benefitted your business the most, and why?
Facebook is probably our most popular social channel, followed by Instagram but, for our company, social media is still in its infancy. Our strength and following is for our e-newsletters, we have about 400,000 people signed up to these. We have a dedicated team who design and write the copy, with the intention to entertain and inform, it’s not all about the products. We sent out one or two newsletters a week. It’s a great way to keep customers informed about any promotions or new products that we are launching.
- What has been the biggest achievement for the business in the past year?
It’s probably our Raw Talent campaign, it plays a big part in our business. COOK was awarded with the Queen’s Enterprise award for promoting opportunity with this scheme. Rosie, co-CEO, went to collect the award from the palace recently, which was exciting. Rosie also chairs the Employment Advisory Board who work with prisons to try and help people back into the workplace.
- If you had to describe COOK in 3 words, what would they be?
It’s really 5 words/phrases if that’s OK?!
- Be Remarkable (in everything you do, trying to do the best for you and each other – ‘together we can achieve great things!’)
- Churchill’s Pig (an in-house phrase! A dog looks up to you, a cat looks down on you, a pig looks you in the eye…we like to be honest and open with each other and tell people things how they are)
- Be Part of the Family
- Have Fun (we organise fun things for the staff to join in with)
Churchill’s Pig is Matthew’s favourite, Claire particularly likes Be Remarkable.
- What, to you, would be a perfect day (personal or business)?
Matthew’s response, from a business viewpoint, was to be able to go out and about, as every day is different.
- Which superpower would you like to have, and why?
Claire said ‘being a working mum’ is her superpower…it’s not easy!
Matthew would like to be able to click his fingers in one position and look back across the years, almost like time travel.