From actively considering closing down for three months, Pollen and Grace were able to feed staff at 30 London hospitals and GP practices with 4,500 free meals, thanks to The Arch Company’s rent relief package, and a government loan.
Despite having to cut their production to four days a week and furlough some of their team, Pollen and Grace were also still able to begin a new collaboration with The Doctor’s Kitchen – the YouTube channel run by NHS GP Dr Ruby Aujla, who has his own BBC Food programme and books promoting a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition.
Pollen and Grace thought they’d have to put the idea on hold if the business had to close for lockdown, but on 18 May they started the collaboration and now all the proceeds from the sale of two meal packs on their website, pollenandgrace.com/the-doctors-kitchen, are donated to NHS charities.The company, which cooks from dedicated premises at Handel Business Centre in Vauxhall, was set up in 2015 by Kristina Komlosiova and Stephanie Johnson who met at work and shared a passion for good food.
Kristina said: “Having the rental holiday from our landlord was a huge saviour because we realised we may be able to keep going. It meant we kept our brand alive and were able to supply free meals to hospitals around London. It was our own initiative when we realised the NHS wasn’t able to access fresh food.”
April was the worst month for the company, with a dramatic decrease in volume of 80% in March and April. They had to reduce hours to 4 days a week and furlough some of the team.
“We didn’t expect to get a rental holiday, but it has kept us going. We were considering closing down production completely for the duration of the lockdown because our food is bought by people on the go and no one was going out anywhere so we had no customers. Not having to pay the rent makes a huge difference to a very small company like us, to keep us going as best we can.”
Before the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, Pollen and Grace had sold more than 1.5 million products, achieving 10 x growth between 2015 and 2016 and going from a boutique lunch delivery service to a retail brand stocked in places like Planet Organic, Selfridges and Harrods.
Since 2016, the business has grown more than 50% year on year. Launched nationwide on Ocado in 2018 Pollen and Grace quickly became one of the fastest growing vegan brands in the ready meal category.
Kristina said: “We started our company super-small, it was very much a passion project from Stephanie’s home kitchen. We started with supplying 2-3 meals a day. We were always dreaming really big but if you asked us where we thought we would be in 2020, we didn’t envisage it would be so big so quickly.”
Since Pollen and Grace started, they’ve seen a revolution in attitudes to ‘food to go’ and the big retailers looked for brands like theirs to offer what more and more of their shoppers want. Within 5 years they’ve seen their meals going onto the shelves of supermarkets like the Co-op and Tesco.
Kristina said: “Our mission, philosophy and ethics have not changed. But people’s attitudes to the kind of food we supply has. We wanted to be about wholesome quality foods and ingredients. We wanted to sell 100% natural food with a high nutritional value. If you think back to 2015, if you wanted to grab food to go, the traditional choice was usually a sandwich.
“We want customers to get 2-3 of their five a day, high fibre and a natural source of plant-based protein from our meals. And customers have embraced that. This is a testimony to how the industry has moved on. Customers are more educated about what food is good for them and what they should be feeding their body.”