We love to share successes of our clients, business partners and friends. Here is an example of how seeing a need in our schools can not only help in raising more funds in the school system but be a successful business at the same time. Many people see a need but few have the courage to solve the problem. Congratulations Mark Roberts, Melissa, and Jamie Russell!
By Troy Bridgeman
GUELPH—For decades elementary schools have administered lunch programs to help raise funds and provide students with healthy meals and now a group of Guelph entrepreneurs have developed a service that does all that and more.
“We essentially partner with schools and manage and maintain their school lunch programs,” said Melissa Roberts, manager and co-founder of Lunch Box Orders.com. “We have taken the concept and modernized it so to speak.”
Traditional school lunch programs require parents to fill out forms each week that are typically returned to the school by the students along with payment. The forms and fees are then processed and food orders are placed by a number of people such as teachers, secretaries or parent councils.
“It is super labour intensive and highly administrative with a lot of paper,” said Roberts. “There is also some risk associated with money coming in and out of the school getting lost because it does cross so many channels.”
The Lunch Box Orders platform developed by Roberts, her husband, Mark Roberts, and business partner, Jamie Russell, is paperless and cashless and allows parents to order and pay directly for lunches online using the company’s website.
Parents can place orders on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.
The system tracks orders at every stage of the process, thereby improving efficiencies and reducing potential for errors.
The school is involved in selecting vendors, delivery schedules and establishing what percentage of program fees go toward their individual fundraising needs. Everything else is taken care of by the service.
“We haven’t found anybody in the country that does what we do as far as everything that we offer,” said Russell. “There are programs out there that may offer food for lunch or certain aspects of what we do but we brought it all together.”
Russell said the business partners are all parents and have had to deal with the forms and the cash for the pizza days and the sub days. “It’s hard. Every week another form comes home and you are writing another check or giving cash. We wanted to make it as easy as we could for us and we have.”
Russell and Mark Roberts have extensive business backgrounds and, among other things, are partners in a real estate holding company as well as a property management company called Inspirah Property Management Ltd.
They have learned from experience to trust their business instincts.
“The concept for Lunch Box originally came from two elementary teachers,” said Mark. “Everybody we talk to thinks it is going to be a million-dollar business.”
They knew from the start they had the acumen and experience to make it work.
“Mark and I loved it the first time we heard it,” said Russell. “The idea of making it easier and pairing with vendors is such a simple idea and there is such a need.”
They have partnered with local vendors representing franchises, such as Swiss Chalet and Subway, as well as independent restaurants, such as York Road Kitchen & Chocolate Bar. All meals must meet nutritional standards in compliance with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s food and beverage policy PPM-150.
The concept for Lunch Box Orders has been in development for about two years and was first introduced on a small scale in September 2013.
“It started with a trial in four schools,” said Melissa. “We tested the platform and learned a lot in terms of what we wanted it to look like – what we wanted to focus on.
We did a re-launch in January 2014 and have grown on that platform. ”
They have secured 75 Ontario schools, including 20 in Guelph, and work with10 public and separate school boards.
“Right now there are about 19,000 schools in Canada and about half of those are elementary public and Catholic schools,” said Russell. “The stats show that 40 to 50 per cent of those elementary schools have lunch programs. So, that is our target.”
They attribute much of their success to their policy of continued improvement and building relationships with everyone involved.
They have three simple goals: make it easy for parents, healthy for kids and beneficial for schools.
“We do definitely see a need out there for a program like this,” said Mark. “Once people come on board there is no turning back. We are batting 100 per cent and it is fun going to see some of those principals when you are dropping off the check at the end of the month. They really do love us.”
Lunch Box Orders
Established: September 2013
Founders: Melissa Roberts, Mark Roberts, Jamie Russell
304 Stone Rd. W.