Behind your meals: Pieter & Mika

New year, new blog post! We thought it would be a great time to sit down with the two names behind FuelMe: co-founders Pieter Dreesen and Mika Rekola. How has the meal delivery company dealt with the given circumstances, how did it all start and what will the upcoming year bring? 

Hi guys! Before we jump to the ”FuelMe of today”, let’s dig in a little and hear, in your own words, what are your backgrounds and how did the idea of a shared business come to you?

Mika: I met with Pieter at the box (a crossfit gym) where we had a small group of enthusiastic everyday athletes. In that group we came up with an idea to organize an outdoor crossfit-style summer event, called Hietsu Beach Battle, which we eventually organized together in the summer of 2016. After that me and my wife spent one year abroad and once I got back to Finland, Pieter approached me with this business idea in mind. 

Pieter: I actually had a few ideas, but a meal delivery service was one of them. 

Mika: It didn’t take us long to realize that we struggled with the same kind of every-day problem: after a long work day, going to the gym late in the afternoon and eventually heading home, we opened the fridge to find out there is nothing good or nutritious to eat. For me, food didn’t have that much of a variety: chicken, rice, broccoli – the usual and quite boring stuff. Or the alternative was something unhealthy or take-away. So why wasn’t there a service from where you could order meals and guarantee that you always had tasty and yet nutritious food at home available? I did some comparisons with local lunch restaurants and figured that our idea could be more affordable and provide more value for money. 

Pieter: We did some research on similar types of companies in the US, those in our sport circles (crossfit) and others as well. There were some companies in Finland too, but we thought they weren’t operating from the healthy-first perspective that we aimed for. At that point our background and connections in crossfit became handy, and we started to pilot the idea in nearby gyms.

Now we could say that that pilot phase took us around 1,5 years. We weren’t able to pay any salaries, but our main focus and goal was to engage new customers and confirm there was a demand for our idea. Though we admit that the taste wasn’t anything like it is today and the meals were too macro-oriented, we managed to strengthen and confirm our belief that there is a demand for this kind of service.

Mika: It definitely gave us confidence to keep going. For the mention, we didn’t have our home delivery option at that point, only a handful of pickup points.

After the first hurdles, what happened?

Pieter: I started to look for investors since we didn’t have any starting funds of our own. But we did have friends and advisors, so we managed to raise enough for a launch. However, what we lagged then was the knowledge about the flow of the product planning: preparing the food and the basic logistics to get the service in the hands of  the customers.

Mika: Even though we didn’t have that much kitchen experience, our strength was to make our operation cost-effective. I know some restaurants where things are the other way around where there’s not enough experience on the financial or operational side. 

Pieter: Of course we had a lot to learn at that point. At the start, I did essentially everything by myself – operating in the kitchen, cooking the food based on recipes we purchased from a chef, ordering the ingredients, events, sales, deliveries, customer support… 

But then covid happened, we moved in to a new kitchen facility, and one major turning point was when we started to offer home deliveries. 

Mika: And covid actually tripled our sales – for some obvious reasons too, of course.

Pieter: That’s when we shifted our focus and started to target wider than only the crossfit community. We went back to the original thought: that there’s still plenty of people like us who want that relief from knowing that their daily cooking and groceries are properly covered.

Now we’re closing in on delivering 1000 meals every week. We started from 100. We’ve been able to recruit better and create a reliable team around us, while improving the product with the support of our loyal customer base. 

Mika: At this moment we are trying to develop better ways to get direct feedback from them and keep making improvements to our products and service in general.

Pieter: Now that we’re offering nine different meals plus sides on a weekly basis, the response has been positive. 

How does FuelMe affect your personal lives?

Mika: I did have sort of a test period when I couldn’t order meals, the time when I lived in the Netherlands – and it was remarkable how little time I actually had to spend in the kitchen cooking something more than just low bar basics.

Pieter: Before FuelMe, we both had gone through meal prepping phases, but our routines didn’t work out that well and the food itself got quite repetitive.

Mika: It was always the same stuff. In the Netherlands, I started to notice that in my body as well. I’m an active guy, and with the foods that I prepared I couldn’t assure that I’d get enough energy. Overall I didn’t have the energy I needed to, and it affected my sleep too. After a couple months I ran out of meal ideas. 

Pieter: It is crucial that we put ourselves in our customers’ shoes so that we know what their needs are and react to those needs. Though cooking doesn’t need to be complicated, we’ve noticed that by ordering our own pre-cooked meals we create far less food waste at home, which is really important for us from a environmental perspective. In the FM kitchen, we also try to use everything to its core – every bit and piece – and create as little waste as possible.

Mika: And what’s great about this service is that I can share this with my whole family. My kid eats the same things as I do. 

Pieter: Mika’s example supports our focus shift to a wider audience. We want to offer more for families, and also to reach more elderly, offices, etc.

What are your roles in the company?

Pieter: I run the daily operations from marketing, sales, customer support, strategic planning, recruiting. It’s quite varied, but I try to put 50% of my effort into marketing and sales and inquire how to get more customers. In this phase, there’s more time to think about the bigger picture compared to the beginning.

Mika: I do mostly financial tasks. I have a day job too, doing project management. If you’d ask me what I would like to do the most, it would be this (FuelMe), but maybe in the future.

So what's next?

Pieter: The main focus stays on B2C operations, to offer the most suitable products for different audiences, such as family packs. We are testing different ordering options, such as a Grab & Go-style where meals can purchased by a QR-code, and payment by  lunch vouchers on our website. For the meals themselves, the vegetarian/vegan side is something we’re putting more and more emphasis on. One day it could be that we lean towards only vegetarian dishes, but we need to follow eating trends and wishes carefully.

Mika: Of course we are also looking for opportunities and ways to grow our business model, but the scaling needs to be done thoughtfully. If it heats up too fast, we might sacrifice quality. We are aiming for steady and organic growth.

Pieter: There might be some piloting options in other cities as well, but it’s too early to say more.

To wrap up today, what are your own favorite meals?

Pieter: I think... First off, our chef Marc is doing exceptional work. Every time I scroll through our weekly menu, I realize how many great options there are at the moment to choose from. Even though we change and vary meals and ingredients based on the seasons, it’s a constant and exciting process for us to make tasty and special meals available. Personally, I prefer the Italian cuisine dishes and my food intake has become much more vegetarian/vegan as we have a lot of high-protein plant-based meals on the weekly menu.

Mika: I would say the tofu meals - I tend to order those and quite like them! Otherwise, since I order for my whole family, I try to pick different meals. But tofu dishes and then the homemade beetroot patties… yum. They are always the favorite! One thing I’d like to improve is the packaging. We are constantly researching on how to make them even more biodegradable or reusable. That way we could make the operations even more environmentally-friendly.

Pieter: At this moment we’re at an ok-level with the recyclable packacking, but as always, we’re aiming to get better.

Mika: Yes! We’re constantly trying to improve different aspects of the service.

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