Eat My Lunch Founder Is A Finalist For The Cartier Women's Initiative Award

Lisa King is up for a top award and is still finding new ways to give back after the challenges of lockdown

CEO and founder of Eat My Lunch Lisa King. Photo / Supplied

One of New Zealand’s most recognisable social enterprises, Eat My Lunch, has caught the attention of French luxury goods house Cartier. Eat My Lunch CEO and founder Lisa King has been named a global finalist in the 2020 Cartier Women’s Initiative, an international business programme that aims to support businesses led by female entrepreneurs.

Founded in 2006, the programme is open to businesses, run or owned by women from any country and sector, that aim to have a strong and sustainable social and/or environmental impact.

Lisa was selected from 1200 applications from 162 countries to become one of 21 finalists. This is the first time New Zealand, and also Australia, have been represented. The stakes are high — more than NZ$1.7 million in prize money will be distributed among winners, to be announced in June.

The premise for Eat My Lunch is simple: for every lunch bought by a New Zealander, Eat My Lunch provides a lunch to a hungry school child. The team was planning to announce the international recognition just as New Zealanders went into Covid-19 lockdown at the end of March, Lisa tells Viva. Under lockdown the business, which has co-founder and award-winning chef Michael Meredith at its helm, was forced to revamp its operations to continue its efforts feeding children even when schools shut.

“It really didn’t feel like an appropriate time to announce it,” says Lisa, “but I was pleasantly surprised to say the least when I found out - it’s really exciting because of the calibre of the other finalists and for networks around the world to see an idea like Eat My Lunch come out of little New Zealand.”

Eat My Lunch rely's on it's dedicated voluntary workers to put the lunches together each morning. Photo / Supplied

Lisa was also due to travel to Boston in May to spend a week with all finalists, benefiting from training sessions from Cartier’s partner Insead Business School. However, the coaching shifted online, and was a great help in lockdown, says Lisa.

“It’s been an amazing amount of coaching that you just don’t receive locally, particularly because it’s been such a hectic and crazy time for us changing the way we do everything," she says. “It’s been a valuable opportunity to have expertise on the other side challenging us with what more we could be doing.”

Previously, Eat My Lunch was feeding about 2000 kids a day across 77 schools in Auckland and Wellington. With schools closed in lockdown, Eat My Lunch started delivering food packs to children’s homes, with milk and fresh ingredients for a week’s worth of healthy lunches.

Lisa says the need to feed hungry children doesn’t go away when schools are closed. If anything, the need is greater, she says.

Before lockdown Eat My Lunch was feeding about 2000 kids a day. Photo / Supplied

“We didn’t want kids to go without, particularly during a time when things might get harder at home with parents losing their jobs. We knew kids were losing access to a lot of food provided at school.”

Foodstuffs donated $100,000 to help launch the new initiative, named Give. It cost about $40,000 each week to deliver 2000 food packs to children's homes.

Eat My Lunch reached out via email to the families of the 2000 children in the schools’ programme. More than 1500 responded, requesting that the food kept coming — but the original model wasn’t going to work.

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Traditionally, Eat My Lunch has relied on corporate businesses buying lunches to fund the free lunches. Since the Covid-19 lockdown, most of the corporate demand disappeared, although Eat My Lunch provided food to some essential services and made home deliveries of fresh groceries.

“It added a huge amount of complexity and additional costs for us,” says Lisa, “but we’ve found the impact of delivering food individually to children’s homes was better than what we’re doing through schools.

“Kids are actually seeing the raw ingredients versus just having lunches turn up at school pre-made. We are looking at whether we can continue home delivery for kids.”

Eat My Lunch has been delivering since 2015. Photo / Supplied

Lisa says this period has pushed her team to improve ways of doing things to better themselves and others, and encourages more businesses to do the same. “I think businesses across the board will have to start thinking more about how they give back to the community," Lisa says. “Before this, it was like a tick-box exercise for a lot of businesses and corporates. I think we’re going to go back to supporting local businesses, which we’ve already seen, particularly around people getting behind restaurants doing deliveries.”

Eat My Lunch was “fortunate” to keep all 42 staff employed during lockdown, and has even taken on new staff to cope with the increased deliveries, including hiring redundant Virgin Australia cabin crew.

Lisa credits her drive and the success of her business to its core purpose — along with the squad of hundreds of volunteers lending a hand since 2015.

“Our motivation has never changed and that’s what’s driven us through lockdown. Eat My Lunch was set up to make sure kids don’t go hungry so we’re never going to stop doing that. It’s the reason our team gets out of bed at five in the morning. It’s not an easy job and we’ve had so many chefs and well-known Kiwis support us over the past few weeks too.

“I think this time has shown people are willing to put aside their own problems to help others who are a little bit worse off.”

Following the cancellation of the awards ceremony in Boston, the laureates for this year will be announced next Tuesday 16 June. 

For anyone interested in applying for next year’s Cartier Women’s Initiative, the call for applicants for the 2021 edition have opened and will run until July 31. Visit Cartier Womens Initiative


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