Five reasons why your next job should be at a recipe box company

Deciding your next step on the career ladder is never a simple task. Not only do you have to choose what you want to be, but you have to think about where you want to be. These choices aren’t made any easier by most of us having preconceptions about different companies and the challenges they face.

Ben Brown
Ben Brown
Sep 10, 2018 · 5 min read

Before joining Gousto in September 2017 as Head of Engineering, I had my own ideas of a technology-driven, recipe box company. Gousto had only been around for five years, the meal-kit sector was young and the wider UK grocery market wasn’t associated with being at the forefront of innovation.

A year later, I’m pleasantly surprised. So, what are some of the interesting challenges we have ahead of us at Gousto and why are we excited by them?

1. A Perishable Physical Product

One reason I joined Gousto was to experience working with a physical product. After years spent operating purely digital systems, where I’d resolve problems with a quick data-fix, I’d become accustomed to small implications for errors in the system. When you ship out a physical product this all changes. Mistakes at Gousto can mean that a family somewhere don’t have the food they’d planned for the week!

Gousto is hugely proud of its commitment to reduce food waste. Our factory currently runs below 1% food waste — better than any leading supermarket. The challenge of a physical, perishable product with a focus on removing waste, demands us to think hard about how we solve problems.

If a package from Amazon arrives late the implications are mainly an annoyed customer. If our package isn’t delivered on the right date then the complete box must be destroyed to ensure we meet our food safety obligations.

Gousto rises to the challenge with sophisticated forecasting algorithms, which use historical information about order volumes and customer preferences to ensure our buyers keep food waste low.

2. Minimal Lead Times

The ‘anytime, anywhere’ mindset is spreading fast, with consumer expectations demanding next day (or even same day!) delivery. Gousto’s current three day lead time is market-leading, but to continue to meet customers’ needs, we have to shorten this.

Our current challenge: reducing lead times, without increasing food waste. We can only do this by using our expert forecasting algorithms, to ensure we purchase the right food at the right time, to be shipped out to customers.

Lead time reduction becomes even more complicated, when it requires coordination between our technical and factory operational teams. Technology can push orders to our factory in sub-millisecond time frames, but this doesn’t mean it’s the most efficient way to get thousands of orders out per day.

Getting the right flow of orders to our factory and using our Data Science capability to efficiently organise the factory layout all help. We use genetic algorithms to calculate the optimal layout of our warehouse from tens of billions options every week. We’re on the case and short lead times will be here in no time at all!

We’re addressing this challenge by moving our order process from a batch that runs every-day to a continuously flowing process, feeding orders to the warehouse on-demand. This requires totally rethinking our whole order process and how that is described to our customers. We will also revamp our algorithms and factory technology to support this new model. Minimising lead time also requires us to integrate seamlessly with our logistics partners to ensures boxes reach our customers on-time. All of this while also growing our order volumes over 200–300% in 2017 and over 100% in 2018.

3. More Choice

Historically, other recipe box companies have focused on providing minimum features to satisfy their customers, whilst at Gousto we go above and beyond. Our competitors typically offer around 10–15 recipes each week (unlike our menu of over 30 recipes across a breadth of ranges!).

Our competitors model allows for easier scaling of operations as the number of ingredients handled by the factory is much less, but it doesn’t provide customers with the choice and variety they need.

Customers are at the heart of our business, which is why we constantly work to increase recipe choice. The goal? Hundreds of recipes for our customers to choose from every week! To achieve this, we have to rethink the recipe choosing experience. We don’t want to replicate the daunting experience of standing in an aisle in Tesco searching for your evening meal, online.

We’re looking to address these challenges by creating a complex taxonomy of products that understand how similar recipes are. This taxonomy can be used by our recommendation algorithms to automatically recommend the recipes your most likely to enjoy.

Recommendations based on past purchases as well as recommending something new based on recipe similarity and other customers selections are all planned. To display these recommendations in the best way also requires a total rethink of our user experience for search and discovery of recipes as well as building the appropriate backend storage and APIs.

4. Offering Great Value

Offering an industry leading product and service means offering great value, as well as choice and convenience. Technology makes this possible! We can only continue to scale Gousto by using technology to make our operations even more efficient and our food waste even less.

Challenges over the next 12 months will include designing and improving our factories to allow us to scale efficiently. Working out where we should automate our packing and how to organise factories for the greatest throughput. Introducing features such as self-service customer care to deal with our most common queries, reduces customer friction but also improves our efficiency.

5. Technological Challenges

Just like any other technology-driven organisation we have our fair share of technical improvements we want to make to our product too. We’re already 50% of the way into a move to microservices and heavily use AWS Lambda for moving our orders between the platform and our factory after replacing our ERP system in May. Last year we also introduced an Amazon Alexa function to read out the steps to cook a recipe.

In 2018 we’re planning a move to a fully containerised solution based on Kubernetes and revamping our API layer with the introduction of GraphQL. As we scale the technology team we’re also looking at how we create fully autonomous squads with members across both our technology and business teams, with the first squad in place for Q3 this year.

Hopefully, this article provided you with a short introduction to the challenges we face at Gousto. Our team regularly update our tech blog, TechBrunch, with more of the solutions to the problems we face on a daily basis.

We’re massively proud to be enabling families to eat fresh, home cooked meals without the hassle of visiting a supermarket. All the while reducing food-waste and bringing people together through food. If you’re looking for a new role and want to work for a company looking to make people happy and healthy we’re rapidly growing our team and have roles available at all levels, in all teams.

This article originally appeared in The North Starr Magazine, Q3 2018 on 1st August 2018.

Ben Brown

Written by

Ben Brown

London based Engineering Leader, Technologist and Foodie. Loves travelling and eating and blogging about it afterwards!

Gousto Engineering & Data Science

Gousto Engineering Blog

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