Co-founder and CEO of SPATULA Foods
Ian Weng is co-founder and CEO of SPATULA Foods, an innovative gourmet meal subscription startup founded in Toronto, that delivers meals developed by local chefs that are flash-frozen at the height of freshness. SPATULA meals magically transform into restaurant-worthy creations after being cooked in a pan for 10 minutes.
The idea for SPATULA struck Ian last year while he was studying for his MBA at a France-based business school, INSEAD. His busy schedule didn’t leave much time to prepare dinners from scratch. At the same time, Weng didn’t always want to order out. He discovered a solution the French have been enjoying for years – flash-frozen gourmet meals to satisfying their discerning taste for great food, prepared quickly.
When he returned to Toronto, Weng teamed up with Michelin-trained chef and Top Chef Canada finalist, Wallace Wong. Together they co-founded SPATULA.
Ian’s previous experience as Head of Strategy for Uber Eats Canada armed him with an intimate understanding of consumer needs and challenges around taste, convenience and affordability. With this invaluable experience, he and Wong developed a solution that meets the needs of today’s food-loving consumer that’s faster than any meal kit or food app on the market that starts at under $11.49 a plate.
What was the idea behind starting SPATULA Foods, and what are you aiming to achieve through this startup?
The idea for SPATULA struck me last year while I was studying for my MBA at a France-based business school, INSEAD. My busy schedule didn’t leave much time to prepare dinners from scratch. At the same time, I didn’t always want to order out. That’s when I discovered a solution the French have been enjoying for years – flash-frozen gourmet meals satisfying their discerning taste for great food that is also prepared quickly.
When I got back to Toronto, I partnered up with Michelin-trained chef Wallace Wong and together we started to work on SPATULA.
What do we want to achieve? We are on a mission to raise the bar for consumer expectations around convenience and taste.
There’s nothing like SPATULA on the market in Canada. We deliver a delicious, restaurant-worthy dinner solution with a 10-minute promise that’s ready at least three times faster than a meal kit and about four times quicker than delivery apps.
We also want to provide another revenue stream for chefs following the challenges many faced as a result of the pandemic.
Our recipes are developed by some of Toronto’s most talented chefs and the dishes are what you would expect to experience at a top restaurant at a fraction of the cost — while also providing another revenue stream for local chefs.How Ian Weng Is Carving Out a New Foodservice Category with Spatula Click To Tweet
We’re carving out a new category in the foodservice sector with a huge runway for growth that has already been embraced by countries like France.
SPATULA dishes can be heated in a pan with the stir of a spatula in under 10 minutes, allowing consumers to enjoy a foolproof, mouthwatering dish on weeknights or even special dinners at home. Our meals are made locally with high-quality ingredients and you can’t detect they were previously frozen because of our freezing technology.
Your company claims to deliver a restaurant-worthy dinner solution with a 10- minute promise that’s ready at least three times faster than a meal kit and about four times quicker than delivery apps. What do you have to say about this?
We’re offering a dinner solution that is at least 3x faster than any meal kit service on the market and ready to eat up to 5x faster than any app can deliver food to your home. The quality of SPATULA is what you’d experience at a restaurant so we’re winning on convenience and quality.
The average food delivery is 40-50 minutes. While meal kits promise meals ready in 30 minutes or less, the truth is that is a high bar to set for most people.
Wallace and I have devised a winning formula of speed, convenience and taste that differentiates us from what’s available through meal kit companies, and food delivery apps. We’re raising the bar for busy consumers who are increasingly hungry for convenience and looking for the next best solution. SPATULA Foods is that solution and we’re seeing that through our repeat business and feedback from happy customers.
What are the methods used by your company to make sure that people don’t get a feel of frozen food? Are those methods helpful?
Our meals are flash-frozen at the height of freshness, and they are specially engineered so you can’t detect they were previously frozen.
If you’re serving up SPATULA to friends or family at home, they would never suspect they were previously frozen because the integrity of the dish is as it was intended by the chef that developed it. Nothing is compromised through the flash-freezing process.
You’ve probably heard of this Tik Tok trend – ‘no one will ever know!’ SPATULA meals are just like that.
We know from customer feedback that people are actually quite amazed and their skepticism is quickly diminished once they have a SPATULA experience. They quickly learn that flash freezing in no way compromises the integrity of the dish. Consumers don’t realize that the flash freezing technology we use is very different, technical and sophisticated than what they experience when freezing something in their freezer.
In France, flash-frozen gourmet-style meals are a multi-billion dollar business. And if the French – being the food lovers they are – enjoy it then that’s a great standard.
Dishes made at SPATULA are internationally inspired to celebrate the diverse cultures and flavours that influence how Canadians eat and are created in each chef’s own, unique signature style. Is this special feature helpful in attracting your customers?
Yes, absolutely! We’ve collaborated with some of Toronto’s most celebrated Chefs to create a deliciously diverse menu. At SPATULA, we are inspired by chefs and part of our success is the fact that they each bring their unique style and expertise to the table that allowing us to provide our consumers with restaurant-quality food that consumers can confidently and conveniently cook and be proud to serve to anyone.
With investors from leading meal kit companies, will SPATULA’s business model of local chef-developed recipes, ready in 10 minutes to be the next iteration of the meal kit – an industry already facing challenges in a post-pandemic world?
Meal kits have dominated the market for so long. While they offer ingredients for recipes, it’s essentially pre-packed groceries.
Whereas, we’ve already done all the heavy lifting. When a customer purchases SPATULA dishes, on top of amazing food, they’re buying convenience in a package that is ready-made and requires zero prep and minimal cooking. Meal kits are like IKEA where you have to assemble the furniture, and we are the fine piece of furniture that’s ready to go.
SPATULA chefs have prepared and engineered everything so that all customers have to do is heat in a pan with the stir of a spatula, and everything will be ready in 10 minutes. Given this level of convenience, we consider this a new category of food with a new willingness to pay.
There’s nothing like SPATULA available to Canadian consumers, and by the reaction and repeat sales we are receiving, we see a huge opportunity. When a consumer orders from SPATULA, they get speed, convenience, affordability, quality and restaurant-worthy dinner solutions that no meal kit or delivery app can compete with.
In addition, our business model also focuses on local chefs who receive a percentage of sales each time their recipe is sold. This acts as an additional revenue stream for these talented chefs who have witnessed the impact of the pandemic on the restaurant industry.
Has your experience as Head of Strategy at Uber Eats Canada helped you inspire the new company to address the challenges with 3rd party delivery?
I have a deep understanding of the importance of providing consumers with convenience and how that dictates their purchasing decisions. At the same time, affordability and creating a magical experience are all key and we’ve created the perfect balance of all of those things with the launch of SPATULA.