As part of the new wave of companies that looks after their employees, SoundCloud offers a wide-ranging food programme that supports people to realise their creative potential. The startup’s employees are offered a catered meal cooked by talented chefs twice a week and a range of healthy snacks. Lisa Schröter takes care of the programme and I spoke to her about this over one of their weekly lunches.
What is the intention of the food programme here at SoundCloud?
It all comes down to a healthy and well nourished employee who will be more productive in their work. The concept and office of SoundCloud is very modern and health is a priority.When I first started three years ago, the food programme consisted of some drinks in the fridge and weekly fruit and vegetable baskets. Once a week we would hold Masterclasses and it was a chance to get to know each other over lunch. When Kelly Robinson came on board in 2012 to help design the new office space, she set the foundations of what the food programme is now.
How did Kelly find the chefs?
We tried out different chefs from Kitchensurfing, who all had different tastes and approaches, and we stuck with two that people preferred – Laurin Hackney and Lauren Lee. Eyal Hageby was a suggestion from a friend. He started by helping out in the kitchen and he was really passionate about food, so we let him cook for one of the lunches and since then he’s become one of our main chefs.
I hear you have a rooftop garden and a team of volunteer gardeners too!
The idea behind this is to connect people to the food they are eating and encourage cross-team collaboration and exchange. The group has regular educational meetings run by Hannah Cleaver from Eat Your Roof. Hannah has made chutneys out of the tomatoes that grow up there, and when Sophie Hechinger from the Rawesome Factory came in for our Smoothie Fridays last summer, she used ingredients from the garden for green smoothies.
Do you have any golden rules?
The golden rules are no junk food and to include everyone. We do sometimes offer “healthy junk food”, in the form of burger or wrap lunches, but with the side salads and the fresh organic ingredients, it’s still a healthy meal. We try to include everyone – our lunches have vegan, gluten free, lactose free and nut free meal options – if we offer something, everyone should have the opportunity to take part.
What kind of challenges do you face?
It’s hard to keep everyone happy as our employee base is so diverse. We try to consider every dietary requirement and have a variety of different meal options on the menu, not just one dish where it is difficult to separate the individual ingredients. For example, we always try to put nuts on the side, so people who have a nut allergy don’t have to avoid the salad. It’s the same with the cheese. It’s also tricky to get the amounts of food right, because the food is so good, some people come back for more but we’re getting the hang of that now.
Is the programme having a positive social impact on the office?
It’s difficult to measure, but you get feedback from people and you can really tell that it is influencing and inspiring people to a healthier way of working. If you’re working on something very intensely and want to get a drink, you make the journey to the kitchen and you might end up talking to someone who can give you a new perspective on the problem you’re solving.
Food is a great connector – you can see it in people’s faces, they’re eating together and sharing food, and that means sharing ideas, thoughts and reaching out from your heart.
What direction is the food programme headed in the future?
We recently made the change over to 100% organic meat, which is expensive, but our chefs have made this work. I’m especially concerned when it comes to the meat we buy, because not only do I care about the health of our employees, but as a vegan I do not want to support mass meat production and the unethical treatment of these animals. It’s about including everyone, even if it means that as a vegan I have to accept there are meat eaters, and I totally respect that.I want to raise awareness of where our food comes from. Ideally I’d like to have an even better idea of where our food is sourced by setting up relationships with certain suppliers who meet our high standards and who we want to support. We are buying massive amounts of food, so it really makes a difference.
Do you have any tips for other startups or companies?
It is definitely worth providing food programme! It is an investment in the health, wellbeing and happiness of your employees, which in the long run means more productivity and creativity in people’s work. It’s about the little things – maybe certain snacks you offer, or even one lunch a week for the entire office, which can be even nicer for a small office because it’s like a family setting. I know a couple of small companies who even cook together and this has a really valuable impact. Food is a wonderful thing to connect on and that can only be positive for any company.
Giving everyone in the office the chance to eat together.