Driven by the vision


Looking back to those early days of our business, starting from absolute scratch, with hardly any money and no contracts, it took real guts and huge belief to set out on that long road of making our school food vision a reality. A burning question at the time was what we were going to call the company.

There are those who say names are not important, it’s what you do that counts – “a rose by any other name” and all that – so why not just name your business with your surname, or your children’s initials? I never went along with any of that. I wanted the name to indicate clearly what we were about. As such it was a kind of mini statement of intent – that the food really was the main thing for us. Which is why we called it Cucina – the Italian word for kitchen.

Food is the fulcrum of everything we are about and the name Cucina helps people keep sight of this. Italy is a wonderful food country, and the kitchen is the heart of a home, the heart of a family and really I guess, the heart of life itself. I noticed that quite a few competitors were calling themselves after their founders, creating an upmarket feel by double-barreling a couple of surnames. Then there were companies who seemed to be basing their offer around the creation of upmarket dining environments. While the dining environment is still an important part of what we do in creating school restaurants, that wasn’t as important as our key objective of influencing kids’ eating behaviour by creating irresistibly good food. We knew we couldn’t do that by focusing on tables and chairs, or by implementing margin-driven business models.

With this vision, it therefore followed quite naturally that we couldn’t have our managers hidden away in offices. If we said the food was the most important thing for us, our catering managers had to be foodies too, and they had to be seen in the kitchen, where the food was being prepared. It makes sense, doesn’t it? How can you talk about food being the most important thing in your company if your team is driven by somebody who has different skills – good as those skills may be?

Because we believed that food was the most important thing, we knew the Exec Chef had to be the head of the team, and the catering manager had to work for them, not the other way round. So we set up a structure to match our beliefs. Other catering companies don’t do it that way, because their main priorities were actually not about the food, they were about managing the books, completing the weekly returns and getting the paperwork sorted. These things are important, of course, but we were very clear when we started, about what ‘Cucina’ was going to mean.

Our guiding vision also became very effective for the way we marketed the company. There’s an old saying: ‘success is being disliked by the right people’. Putting it another way, our priorities say quite clearly that we are not the caterer for every school – far from it. We can only succeed in contracts where the school’s priorities match our own. In the past ten years with Cucina, and before that, in my area manager role, I had seen enough to know that for every 100 possible school contracts, we could feasibly say ‘no’ to over 90 of them. Arrogant? No, it’s just the reality. Governing bodies and senior management teams have sometimes overwhelming agendas which they have to prioritise. Only those with food at the top of those priorities would be able to succeed with us. So, from a marketing perspective, our target market comes nicely into relief.

And that is how we’ve continued. The focus on the food has led us in some wonderful directions with exciting new ranges that reflect current food trends. Our new range is really something, and we’ll be sharing a lot more about that in the next few months.

Till then,


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