It’s not every day someone sends a text message to their brother asking them to ditch their overseas startup and start an entirely new company. Fewer still receive a response in the affirmative.
But that’s exactly how My Muscle Chef — the $100 million family business taking Australia’s prepared meal market by storm — was born.
Back in 2013, recent university graduate Tushar Menon was working a corporate job in Sydney, looking for an affordable, convenient and healthy way to get his meal game on lock, a situation not unlike others grinding the nine-to-five.
“I was a bit of a gym junkie,” co-founder Tushar Menon tells SmartCompany.
“I looked into Lite n’ Easy et cetera, but the main issue was not enough protein in meals.”
Figuring he couldn’t be alone, Menon had an idea, but his brother, Nishant Menon, a software developer, had the technical skills — hence the text message.
Today, My Muscle Chef has grown into something neither brother expected. Hitting $830,000 in revenue in their first year, the pair relished success fairly quickly, and by 2017-18, found themselves running a $19 million business.
In the early days, Menon, looking to save money on marketing, personally signed up customers by visiting half-a-dozen or more gyms a week. Back then it was 20-or-so customers at a time, whereas today the company sells a whopping 190,000 meals each week.
Last financial year revenue really exploded, hitting the $100 million mark on the back of a combination of e-commerce growth and retail sales through independent supermarkets such as Harris Farms.
“Our target customer base is growing very rapidly as people are starting to trust ready-made meal services more,” Menon says.
“We’ve shifted away from the frozen $3 meal.”
“We made a lot of mistakes”
The brothers haven’t reinvented the meal delivery wheel, so to speak. There’s no Uber-style 20-minute delivery time, and at about $9.95 per meal, prices are broadly in line with competitors such as YouFoodz.
But their menu of 50-plus meals is meticulously crafted (and marketed) as a healthier, higher-protein option for busy professionals in the 29-35 age bracket. That’s won them a loyal, and fast-growing, customer base.
But Menon explains this view of the My Muscle Chef customer is a relatively recent discovery. Last year, after seeing growth was starting to plateau, the founders made some drastic changes to the business after realising they had incorrectly diagnosed their target market.
“The first five years, we made a lot of mistakes,” Menon says.
As the business name suggests, the brothers had assumed their approach into the relatively saturated meal market was primarily angled at gym-frequenting bodybuilders and athletes.
“We were presuming our customer was some bodybuilder-type,” Menon explains.
But as the company grew, it became increasingly clear the My Muscle Chef customer was much more aspirational: health-conscious professionals looking for meals good enough for athletes.
“We did a lot of research and changed our focus to become a more data-driven company,” Menon says.
“We had to understand exactly who our customer is … they just want meals that are healthy and have a lot of protein.”
Equipped with insights, My Muscle Chef undertook a significant rebranding last year, updating its logo and the entire look and feel of its product.
For the first time, private investors were brought on board and, equipped with capital, the new design was outsourced, positioning the business to jump from $19 million to $100 million in just 12 months.
“Now it’s all about making the brand very, very strong, getting away from the ready-made meal category,” Menon says.
“The other ready-made meal offerings are for everyone, and our product isn’t … I call Muscle Chef a functional food business.”
Woolworths, Coles on the horizon
A more nuanced view of the customer has also necessitated a broader look at the competitive landscape. If customers are busy professionals, then other ready-made meal companies aren’t the only ones vying for their attention.
“One of our main competitors are the likes of UberEats and Deliveroo — it’s all a convenience piece,” Menon says.
The brothers want to book $200 million this year and have some big plans to try and make that happen, including a recently launched line of vegan meals, as well as a broader transformation that will see the brand move into snacks and drinks.
“We want to be a performance platform,” Menon says.
Also on the horizon are negotiations with Australia’s two largest supermarkets, Woolworths and Coles — somewhat of a rite of passage for entrepreneurs working in the food and beverage industry.
Menon says he’s in no rush though and will take talks with the major retailers in his stride.
“I don’t think we’re ready yet as a business,” Menon says.
“Those deals can change the entire nature of a business. I’m sure we’ll be ready at some stage next year.”