Gourmet Grades: Carmen Chilton

Gourmet Grades: Carmen Chilton

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What possessed her

Carmen was a working mom who found she lacked both the time and creativity to come up with a daily school lunch that was both interesting and nutritious — and that her son would eat. At the same time, she’d been experimenting with ways to get her picky child to eat healthily, ‘hiding’ nutritious ingredients in his food using fruit and vegetable purees. Realising other parents must be experiencing the same daily challenge, she hit on the idea of a school lunch service that would provide convenience and nutrition, and Gourmet Grades was born.

Early success and future plans

Within nine months of starting out, Carmen had secured permission to pilot Gourmet Grades with the school’s Grade 1 class. So successful was the concept, that after a term she was able to roll it out to Grade R and Grade 2. “We’re building slowly, using word-of-mouth, because the school understandably has a policy against letting companies bombard parents with marketing material,” says Carmen. She’s received queries from parents at other schools and in the coming year will investigate these opportunities.

All systems go

Using her ‘hidden nutrition’ ideas, Carmen designed a menu that would appeal to kids and parents alike. “We have four categories: Sarmies & Wraps, A Bit Like Take Out, Sneakily Good Snacks, and Drinks,” she explains. Understanding parents’ need for convenience, she set up an online ordering system that allows parents to select and pay for a week’s worth of school lunches. “Weekly ordering means I know exactly what I need to prepare, and how much, and it prevents wastage,” she adds. School lunches are prepared daily and delivered into children’s lunch boxes, which are placed outside the classroom in their lockers.

Winning over the market

The idea was innovative and Gourmet Grades’ service definitely filled a market gap, but Carmen needed the buy-in of both schools and parents to get her start-up off the ground. She started on home-turf, approaching the headmistress of St Stithians Junior Prep where her son was in Grade 1. “Although the school has a policy of no junk food in lunch boxes, many children were still eating very unhealthy school lunches, and the headmistress wanted to address the issue. Fortunately, she bought into the concept,” says Carmen. She also distributed flyers to parents and hosted a tasting day at pick-up time after school.

What possessed her

Carmen was a working mom who found she lacked both the time and creativity to come up with a daily school lunch that was both interesting and nutritious — and that her son would eat. At the same time, she’d been experimenting with ways to get her picky child to eat healthily, ‘hiding’ nutritious ingredients in his food using fruit and vegetable purees. Realising other parents must be experiencing the same daily challenge, she hit on the idea of a school lunch service that would provide convenience and nutrition, and Gourmet Grades was born.

Juliet Pitman
Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.