When you’re swamped and stressed at work, you don’t tend to come home at night and whip up nutritious, delicious, tasty meals. You eat quick, convenient, comforting-but-unhealthy food. That’s how Will Nelson was living two years ago.
“I was working a corporate job in downtown Halifax, was super busy and never made time to cook healthy meals at lunchtime or when I got home from work,” he says.
The frustration of that lifestyle and the realization that many others live the same way inspired Nelson and business partner Andy Hay to start a company called Sauté.
“Andy and I found services that were offering healthy meal delivery in Toronto, New York, and San Francisco,” Nelson recalls. “And when we came across those, we said ‘hey, these companies seem to be doing well, there’s nothing like it in Halifax, maybe we could bring it here.’”
There were hours of planning and research. “We launched a landing page to get people to enter their email and then surveyed those people for three months, asking them what their pain points are when it comes to eating healthy, what solution would make their lives easier, that kind of thing,” says Nelson.
Those surveys were useful as plans progressed. “People said they don’t have time to cook at home, and would just go out for a random meal that ran them between $16 to $18,” says Nelson. “So, being able to deliver a lean option to their home made a lot of sense to them.”
Using the survey results, the duo created a website and looked for culinary partners. “Our vision from day one has been to grow a big company that helps as many people as possible eat and live healthy,” says Nelson.
They started in 2015, offering prepared meals for delivery to homes and businesses in the South End. They rented kitchen space at a local restaurant where workers prepared and packaged the meals. As the idea caught on, they expanded delivery around the city, eventually adding Dartmouth and Bedford. Next the company moved into a bigger space in the North End. The loft has a big kitchen where food is prepared and stored, plus office space.
In the beginning, Nelson and Hay thought they would be catering mostly to gym goers and athletes but the client base has changed. “It expanded to corporate and we started doing catering, and it turns out now we mainly cater to families and busy professionals,” says Nelson.
Mike Leger is one of those busy professionals; he’s been a Sauté subscriber for about a year. “It’s a zero-effort way of eating healthy,” he says. “You stick to your diet, and you eat very healthy and it’s just a lot easier than running out and getting something.”
Leger has three fresh lunches delivered to his office every week. They come on Monday morning and he keeps them in the fridge and eats them on busy days. There are also other meal plans that offer delivery twice a week for meals for all five days, as well as plans that include frozen dinners and smoothies. The meal plans are customized for people with allergies, intolerances, or specific preferences.
Those are all factors that head chef Allison Fenton takes into consideration when she’s designing the meals. “I’m trying to work out some balance,” she explains. “You want a little bit of carbs, a lot of veg, a lot of protein.”
Fenton often comes up with new recipes and has even published a cookbook with some of her favourites. “They always come up with unique recipes with a lot of healthy alternatives,” says Leger. “A lot of the meals are things I might not take the time to make for myself at home.”
And they also rely on their customers to let them know what they do and don’t like.
“We get a lot of feedback from our customers,” says Fenton. “So, we go with that and the menu changes every week so we can change it based on what people like.”
Along with fresh and frozen meals, Sauté also offers smoothies and soups and they are also now offering a “teatox” program in partnership with a local naturopath. That’s one part of their plan to move beyond food.
“We’ve also been trying to add a fitness component and it will involve a recipe book, with a shopping guide and a fitness plan,” says Nelson.
Now they’re serving major centres in the Maritimes, but they hope to expand. “One of our main initiatives right now is to reach a wider geographic area, so, expanding to the rest of the Maritimes,” says Nelson. “We’re now shipping to Moncton, Fredericton, Saint John, Charlottetown…Allison has spent a lot of time recently reaching out to local farmers to see what we can afford to buy from them.”