Can City Pantry make catering cool again?

Stuart Sunderland has just raised £1m to banish stale sandwiches for good.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 05 Aug 2016
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Future Business

If you spend your life in and out of meetings then office catering can get pretty tiresome. The first time you get to help yourself to free sandwiches and little bits of quiche can be pleasant, but an in-house caterer’s repertoire can only stretch so far.

It was in the hope of injecting some more flavour into the nation's offices that Stuart Sunderland set up City Pantry, which touts itself as a provider of ‘hassle-free office catering’. The former forex trader says he decided to launch the business because of his passion for independent food traders. ‘I wanted to get them to a bigger audience than they could reach with a shop,’ he tells MT. Currently available just in London, the start-up lets companies order catering from dozens of suppliers offering everything from ahi poke to shakshuka wraps and whoopie pies.

City Pantry’s business model has been compared to that of Deliveroo, the feted London-based food delivery start-up that’s just raised a blinding $275m (£210m). In both cases customers place their order through an online platform, it’s passed to restaurants who cook it and then the platform takes responsibility for delivery (though a small proportion of City Pantry’s partners do their own logistics). 

They differ in two significant ways, though. City Pantry is aimed at corporate clients who want large amounts of food for their meetings or events (its average order size is for 35 people). And rather than providing an on-demand service it takes orders well ahead of time, to help the restaurants plan for demand. ‘A lot of these people are one or two man stalls, so the idea of the on-demand model doesn’t work too well – you just end up with more orders at peak times,’ Sunderland says. ‘When actually what they really needed are more orders in advance that they could manage their kitchens around.’

Sunderland isn’t willing to talk turnover figures but says the company is serving food for around 10,000 people each week and growing. It has 25 permanent staff who deal with the tech and other office functions and pays as many as ‘hundreds’ of people each day to handle deliveries (and some clients also get City Pantry staff to present the food, serve diners and such too).

You might think investors have lost their appetite after gorging on food delivery start-ups over the last few years but apparently not – City Pantry has just raised £1.1m from the Angel Co Fund and the London Co-investment Fund among other investors.

Is Sunderland worried that Deliveroo or even Uber could go after his B2B slice of the market? ‘Not really,’ he says. ‘I see the markets that we’re playing in as very different.’ The market for catering is worth £48bn across Europe, he notes, but City Pantry is focusing on London for now. ‘We’re working hard to scale in one city first and then we’ll think about when we‘ll go into the next.’


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