Baby boomers drive sales surge as Parsley Box raises fresh cash

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By Kristy Dorsey

Edinburgh-based Parsley Box saw sales more than triple in 2020 as demand for ready meals delivered direct to its core market of older consumers soared during lockdown.

Speaking as Parsley Box unveiled its latest £5.2 million fundraising, chief executive Kevin Dorren said revenues during the year to the end of December surged to £24.5m, up from £7.4m in 2019. He added that although the pace of growth has slowed, it remains in the double digits with more than one million meals delivered each month.

Meanwhile, online sales now account for “about 40 to 50 per cent” of revenues, compared to roughly 20% in 2019.

“In the last 12 months there has been an acceleration in the online purchasing behaviour of all consumers, regardless of the demographic,” Mr Dorren said. “We have seen an acceleration in that in the last year as well.”

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Despite the jump in sales, Parsley Box still has just a tiny fraction of the online food delivery market, with Wiltshire Farm Foods its best-known rival in the 60-plus age category for ready meals. The fresh cash injection of £5.2m will be used to increase marketing, invest in online infrastructure and expand the product range as the company pursues continued growth.

The money has been raised from a mix of new and existing investors, with Scottish Enterprises’ Techstart Ventures and Guinness Asset Management among the former. Existing investors include Mobeus Equity Partners and gaming entrepreneurs Chris van der Kyle and Paddy Burns, the founders of 4J Studios.

Prior to its initial £4.6m funding round last year, Parsley Box employed about 30 people. That number has since grown to 120, driven primarily by growth in the company’s contact centre, where the headcount has increased from 10 to 90.

“We are still quite an offline business,” Mr Dorren said. “A lot of our customers like to order by phone.”

The company sells nutritious meals that are quick and simple to cook to customers throughout the UK. Best sellers include cottage pie, lasagne, sweet and sour chicken and beef stew from a menu of more than 60 main meals, along with a range of desserts, cakes, wines and spirits delivered in single serve portions.

“Our customers, who are primarily over 60, are enjoying freedom from responsibilities, they increasingly want convenience, don’t want to be tied to a cooker and are very much part of the behavioural revolution buying food online for home delivery,” Mr Dorren said.

Parsley Box was set up in 2017 by Mr Dorren along with Gordon and Adrienne MacAulay, who came up with the idea while assisting Mr MacAulay’s mother with care arrangements within her home. Mr Dorren – a serial entrepreneur who began his career in software before moving into food and consumer goods – took up the role of chief executive last year.

The three founders retain a roughly 40% stake in the business, with the largest external investor being Mobeus.

Customer numbers have doubled to 400,000, with Mr Dorren seeing ample room for further growth. According to the Office for National Statistics, by 2029 more than a quarter of the population – 27% – will be over the age of 60.

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“This is a very under-served demographic, which I think not even we fully appreciated when we started the business in 2017,” he said. “A lot of people are chasing the younger consumers, but this market is growing.”

Parsley Box was named as “One to Watch” in the latest Sunday Times Fast Track List, the annual ranking of the UK’s top 100 companies based on sales growth over the previous three years.

The company has yet to achieve profitability, Mr Dorren said, as it has heavily re-invested in scaling up operations. Along with expanding its contact centre, last year’s fundraising also paved the way for senior appointments including that of Mr Dorren, and the recruitment of a dedicated marketing director.

“Growth is our core objective, and our investors understand that,” he said. “We want ours to be a household name synonymous with the market we serve.”

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