How Able Foods are shaking up the ready-made meal space

 

Dylan Alcott in meeting room

Championing food accessibility and centring the voices of disability are core drivers of Able Foods, says co-founder Spencer Ratliff. After launching in 2020, Able Foods now offers a range of ready-made meals, snacks and sweets for delivery across Australia. It’s heady rise for the purpose-led business who employ people with disability right throughout the business and are well on their way to ‘shaking up the ready-made meal space’.

“The other layer to that as well, when we talk about accessibility, obviously the product and how it’s delivered, but also the customer experience around that as well. And that was really important for us… being a real ally in that space, understanding how it works, makes the world of difference,” Spencer told Inform.

“We speak to a lot of people that say they’ve got a million other things they want to worry about, they want to be able to call their meal provider and know that they know what they’re talking about… then that’s one less stress, I suppose out of their lives. So as much as our products and our packaging and the types of food is all focused and centred around accessibility, it’s also that customer experience and customer service piece that we’re going to really focused on as well.”

 

Choice and control

Ashlee is the Customer Experience Manager for Able Foods. She’s also a customer. “I am on the NDIS myself,” Ashlee told Inform. “I have a neurological disability… that mainly affects my mobility. So, I’ve been using meal providers for a lot of—quite a few years before Able Foods and it just gives you, I guess more choice and control over what food you’re eating.”

For Ashlee, access to a service like Able Foods also helps her to live her life the way she wants to. “We’ve all got busy lives, and you want to still work, you want to access the community. So, I have support workers help me do those kind of things. I don’t spend a great deal of time at home. So, the option for me to have food delivered to my house is amazing. I don’t have to spend time at home having someone else prepare the food for me.”

“I also want to use my [NDIS] funding in other kind of areas. So, it just allows you choice, and I feel like everyone should be able to have access to healthy food options.”

Dignity in dining

Those healthy food options include things like a beef burrito bowl, pumpkin and kale risotto and chicken parmigiana—a dish Ashlee says is ‘fan favourite’ Able Foods also provide gluten free options as well as low FODMAP, vegetarian and dairy free meals.

“All of our meals are made fresh each week,” Spencer said. “They’re not frozen, which means that they have that fresh flavour and they do taste better, which is really important.”

“We’ve also got a range of texture modified meals, for people that have dysphasia or have trouble swallowing. We’re really proud of that initiative as well. We launched with a range of remoulded texture modified meals. So, what that means is they are actually level four puree, but we remould them and set them to look like their original form. So, the chicken or the steak looks like chicken or steak and the corn looks like corn, the broccoli looks broccoli.”

Spencer says the remoulded texture modified meals contribute to Able Foods’ mission to bring ‘dignity back to dining’.

“We have a lot of people say that it makes them feel confident that when someone comes over they can eat at the dinner table with their guests. Because they’re not worried that they’re going to be looking and thinking, what the heck is that that you’re eating? Or that looks disgusting, or whatever. So, it gives people that confidence back as well.”

 

Able Foods understands the language of the NDIS

While you don’t have to be an NDIS participant to buy from Able Foods, having staff who not only understand the language of the NDIS but live it means Able Foods can offer that little extra when it comes to customer service. Ashlee says the team at Able Foods can really ‘talk you through the whole process’.

“So, from the start, people get in touch and don’t really know what’s required. So, we talk people through what they need to ask for in their plan, how they need to prepare for plan reviews, and that kind of thing. And we provide them with a quote, to take to their plan review.”

“Or we’re actually telling people [to] go directly with that quote to their local area coordinator. So, if they don’t have it included in their plan, they can actually get it added.”

“I guess, just being on the NDIS myself, I know it can be pretty tricky to navigate. So, I guess when people get in touch with us having that firsthand experience, I can always sympathize with them and know that it can be hard. And we’re there to kind of support people in the process… and really, I guess help advocate for people who perhaps can’t do it for themselves. So, whether that be getting in touch with their Support Coordinator, and just having a chat with them. Yeah, we’re always here to help.”

Able Foods currently deliver to around 80% of the Australian population. But Spencer says just because they might not deliver to your address doesn’t mean they can’t find a way to get your delivery to you.

“On our website people can go in and quite easily type in their address here. And most key regional areas we deliver to, but there’s always instances that we’ll be able to work around it. For example, if someone lives at an address that we don’t deliver to, but they might go into town once a week for an appointment or whatever it is we can organise to drop it at another address, sometimes in those regional areas.”

Championing for change

While bringing dignity to dining for disabled Australians is a big part of the mission of Able Foods, but it’s not their only focus.

“I think that one of the things that we’ve said from the beginning is that we’re constantly wanting to champion change, and advocate for our community. So, I think that it’s knowing that we’re not just a meal provider, we’re actually a part of the community and that’s where our focus is.

It’s this championing of change that has led to their newest product: a range of baked beans in accessible pouches available exclusively in Coles supermarkets.

“We ran some focus groups on accessibility around food. And what we identified is there are a number of people that had issues with cans in particular. And then baked beans is one of those strange products that are still in a can that hadn’t really seen any innovation in quite a while.”

Able Foods offer four flavours of beans, smoky barbecue, cheese, chili, and tomato flavour. Spencer points to the beans as the next evolution of the business.

“What we want to achieve is more than just deliver[ing] food to people. We actually want to create a business that almost shines the light on all of the great things within the disability community. And is also a bit of an example for other businesses to follow as well. We’re not hiring people with disability because we think it looks good. We’re hiring people with disability because we know what great employees they are. And we just sort of we want other people to follow suit.”

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