The Hot Business Trend in Employee Satisfaction: Free Kitchen Snacks

Now small companies can attract employees with a big company perk: GOOD FOOD

People eating lunch in the office
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Benefits can make or break small business efforts to attract great employees in a tight hiring market. Small-to-midsized companies from San Francisco to Silicon Valley are attracting employees with big company perks: kitchens stocked with healthy, tasty snacks and foods that make employees happy. 

These days, small companies may be challenged competing for the best talent. High quality, healthy snacks are one of the highest bang-for-buck, most visible benefits that virtually every staff member uses and that align with the corporate trend in helping employees stay healthy.

Snacks and drinks can be the first thing prospective employees notice when they interview and the first thing they miss when they switch companies. 

The company powering many of these healthy corporate kitchen  programs is Buyer's Best Friend, itself a startup based in San Francisco who I've known since their early days. (Food startups can learn a lot more about BBF in my book Good Food, Great Business.)

A Little Background on Buyer's Best Friend

Co-founders Adam Sah (ex-Google technologist) and co-founder Joyce Guan (experienced food broker) founded BBF as an online marketplace for retailers to find healthy, delicious foods to buy directly from producers. The website quickly became the largest online wholesale food and products catalog, solving a problem of food startups wanting to directly connect with buyers all over the U.S. 

Buyers ranged from small specialty stores to Google, Virgin America, and Whole Foods Markets.

 

Like many startups, the company evolved to solve other big problems, which led to the healthy kitchen program team — a boon for companies, employees and food producers as you will learn in this Q&A:

How Did the Healthy Corporate Kitchens Program Get Started?

The healthy kitchen program solves another problem — helping smaller companies compete with big companies by providing healthy kitchen options that usually only larger companies could offer.

 

Our goal was to give offices in SF and Silicon Valley better options for healthy snacks, drinks and fresh local fruit and dairy foods. The focus is to serve employees with different diets and to give all employees more healthy mid-day snacks with lots of nutrients.

What Types of Companies Provide Free Snacks as an Employee Perk?

The industries range from drones to data centers, banks to venture capitalists. 

We're currently working with a few hundred offices and most have about 15-400 employees. Most of the tech companies that get bigger start to build out their own kitchens and hire chefs who handle making snacks, meals and everything in between.

About half of these companies also provide lunch to employees. 

What's the Business Case for Providing Free Food to Employees Anyway?

Companies that are new to providing food for employees often are thinking about a better return their investment in human capital — happier, healthier and more productive employees.

Financially, snacks are a small cost in a benefits package when you're paying staff $100,000+ per year, paying the highest office rents in the country, hiring recruiters, etc. Plus people are snacking more than eating full meals these days.

Every company looks to optimize this cost and get the most for their budget. Internally, BBF has the largest selection in the world and we use proprietary software to help create the perfect "set" for customers, optimizing in one category to impress in another.  We can fit any budget.

Were These Companies Stocking Kitchens with Snacks Before Some Other Way?

A lot of the offices were stocking snacks from Costco and Safeway, using delivery services such as Instacart. But if they wanted to focus on healthy, interesting foods with local and fresh options, the options were limited. 

For companies that aren't sure about offering a snack program, we might start with fruit and two snacks. Or they might want bulk food to get a really great price point. 

What Problems Does the Healthy Kitchen Program Solve?

Office managers tell us that have been spending 5-6 hours a week keeping the kitchen stocked.

After they start working with BBF often report spending more less than an hour each week. That's because they no longer have to proactively place orders or find individual items, stock the product or respond to staff requests. 

All they need to do is give us feedback on the items they ordered in the last delivery. Internet style, in about 30 seconds, the manager can indicate if they liked or disliked the foods. Buyer's Best Friend immediately adjusts the order to maximize the budget and employee engagement with the food and drink selection.

Or, they can make special requests for an office event and also request samples depending on what executives or staff are asking for.

We also check expiration dates, takes notes on what's moving quickly then makes edits to upcoming orders. This often happens after employees get tired of a certain food. BBF works with so many brands that there is always something new or different they can test out.

How Does a Company Get Start with an Office Food Delivery Program?

When we first start talking to an office about their kitchen program, we sit down and snack with them and talk about their priorities including their kitchen layouts, budget, and packaging preferences. We also ask about the kinds of categories they want to provide and what the company's values are.

We put together a custom offering from smaller brands that we're working with — that are tasty and have a great ingredient list — all the way to staples from milk to fresh fruit from local farms to soy milk. We can even provide mainstream drinks like Diet Coke. 

We do office deliveries on a regular, dependable schedule that fits the office's needs.

What's Your Geographical Range?

The heart of what we're doing is between San Francisco, the East Bay, and Silicon Valley. We can deliver perishables and dry goods, all the way up to a full-service option where we stock the kitchen and provide them with everything they need. 

We also are working with companies in cities across the U.S. which want to set up automatic shipments of dry snacks.

What If a Company Just Doesn't Have the Budget to Feed Employees?

We've had companies that have a subsidized program where employees put in $1 and the company pays the rest of it. 

A Great Way to Market a Natural/Specialty Food Brand

Why Should Food Brands Get Their Products into the Program?

The healthy kitchen program is a great way for a smaller food brand to get in front of consumers. You're getting instant access and "samples" to the types of people who are tastemakers in this area.

People are fanatic about food and talk about it if they find something really great.

What Are the Most Popular Food Categories?

Everyone is looking for low carb, high protein, in line with general better-for-you food trends. Paleo is really big as is gluten free. We've even done totally nut-free selections, based on the office's needs. 

Jerky is always extremely popular. We carry beef, pork, turkey, salmon in various brands that have different flavors. Ready-to-eat breakfast foods like Greek yogurt is really popular too as well as specialty brands like Siggi's and Chia Pods. Hard boiled eggs — who knew that was a "product" — and cheeses are also popular.

Learn more by visiting the Buyer's Best Friend website to see all of the options for being part of the BBF catalog. And keep an eye on the latest food and eating trends for ideas of how to be the next hot healthy snack food!