Lisa King is most well known as founder of New Zealand social enterprise Eat My Lunch. She was 2019’s MYOB Woman Entrepreneur of the Year and a 2019 New Zealander of the Year finalist after starting Eat My Lunch from her home kitchen in 2015. Now in 2020, she has created AF Drinks, underpinned by a new social mission of its own.
Business with heart Eat My Lunch is perhaps New Zealand’s best known for-profit social enterprise. The premise is simple – order a delicious lunch into your office and you’ll be sending one to a hungry Kiwi kid. With a 27% child poverty rate in New Zealand, hungry kids were top of mind for lots of Kiwis – and the business model struck a chord. The company hit its three-year target in the first 12 weeks. “We’re serving about 2,000 kids a day,” says Lisa “That's eight per cent, so while those numbers sound big, in my mind we’ve got a long way to go.” It’s estimated that around 25,000 kids are going to school every day without lunch – so Eat My Lunch’s impressive stats aren’t even touching the sides.
Getting kids learning
For those kids in the scheme, the benefits have gone far beyond a full belly. 60% of schools have reported improved attendance and 89% reported an improvement in student health and well-being. “There were parents and families not sending the kids to school because they were really embarrassed about their kids going without lunch,” says Lisa. And when the kids show up, being well-fed makes all the difference. “Teachers tell us they can tell when a kid’s had food. They’re just different people when they come into the classroom.”
Unravelled food insecurity
Consistency, says Lisa, is key to making sure the scheme has a positive, long-term impact. “We make sure that we're providing to the same schools all the time so the kids are getting these lunches every day, and what we're giving them is fresh and healthy,” she explains. That gives a feeling of security – where the next meal is coming from is a big worry for these kids, so being able to rely on lunch is huge. When we started, some of the kids didn'tt actually eat the food at lunchtime. They took it home because they were really worried about when they were next going to get fed.” The variety of tasty and healthy food is good for growing bodies but also sets them up for the future. “They’re being exposed to all these different kinds of foods that they've never had before. Really basic things even, like cherry tomatoes or pretzels.”
I WAS MADE TO FEEL REALLY SOCIALLY AWKWARD. THAT’S WHERE THE IDEA FOR AF CAME FROM — NOT JUST A PRODUCT, BUT A WORLD WHERE IT’S OK TO MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS AND TO DO THAT WITH CONFIDENCE.
Enter AF Drinks
With Eat My Lunch now humming along, Lisa’s new start-up is helping people
explore a new relationship with alcohol. It all started when Lisa connected her bouts of vertigo to her beloved gin-and-tonics and decided to give up the drink for a while. She quickly realised there were very few good alternatives to alcoholic drinks. “Either they didn't taste that great or they were really expensive.” There was a clear gap in the market – not just for a nice, grown-up AF drink, but for a brand that could lead an attitude shift. Lisa could see her new alcohol-free life being permanent but she got a lot of push-back. “It's like, ‘What's wrong with you? Are you pregnant?’ I was thinking I'm making a really good choice here, but I was made to feel really socially awkward. That’s where the idea for AF came from – not just a product, but a world where it’s ok to make your own decisions and to do that with confidence.”
The alcohol-free G&T
A happy non-drinker, Lisa still really missed her gin-and-tonics, so AF Drinks’ first product range would start there. A key element is an extract called Afterglow that mimics the warmth you get from a spirit. “Over a period, I can feel my face going red, even though they have no alcohol,” laughs Lisa. “It's a really great, adult, complex drink.”
That thread of a social mission that started with Eat My Lunch has found its way into AF drinks – a socially acceptable alcohol-free alternative, all underpinned by a mission to normalise not drinking. “It’s a really great thing for people to consider having a different relationship with alcohol,” says Lisa. “It’s a huge source of a lot of social problems and mental wellness issues.”
Soberish for life
While Lisa mostly doesn’t drink, she wouldn’t call herself a teetotaller.
“When there’s a special occasion or someone’s bought a very special bottle of wine – I'll have a little glass here and there. It's about really being mindful of those occasions and thinking, ‘Actually it's worth it tonight for me to have that glass of wine.’ It makes those moments more special, right?”