Children's health and food

Making a Meal: Reflections on funding mission-driven food ventures

8 June 2023
6 min read

Three years of learnings from our perspective as funder on the Everyday Takeaway project.

When we partnered with social impact-focused design organisation Shift on the Everyday Takeaway project in 2019, we had little idea how the project – and the world – would evolve over the course of three years.

The recently published Making a Meal is an excellent summary of three years of learning from the project, which was designed to improve access to healthier food for families living on low incomes. This is a key focus of our Children’s health and food programme.

Throughout several iterations – and a global pandemic – the project moved from focusing on providing healthier and affordable takeaways to families with young children in Lambeth and Southwark towards community food provision.

Impact on Urban Health partnered with Shift on Everyday Takeaway because we believe ventures have the potential to disrupt existing markets. We’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on our role as funder and share our key learnings and recommendations for other funders or social investors looking to invest in mission-driven food ventures.

Key considerations

1. Who’s on the board?

The Everyday Takeaway project has shown us that a successful venture needs strong commercially focused advisory support to complement a charitable funding approach that focuses on social impact. We didn’t have a board in place when the project was set up with Shift and unfortunately, we lacked people whose commercial expertise could have helped shortcut some of the learning process. Someone who is able to interrogate the financial accounts and challenge routes to profitability.

Equally as important is making sure the venture – from staff up through the Board – represents the community you seek to engage. Given we were trying to set up a business that significantly focused on serving Black and other minoritised communities, we should have been more insistent on ensuring these voices were represented and informed the development of the venture.

2. What funding structure works best for the business?

As a funder, Impact on Urban Health aims to provide long-term funding to our grantees to enable them to test and learn, take risks and plan for the future. While this might be good practice for charitable organisations, it might not be the most rigorous approach for commercial ventures. One of the most interesting – and counterintuitive – insights from the Making a Meal report is that funding instalments should have been linked to milestone review points. Shift hypothesises that this would have pushed the team to more rapidly test, iterate, and re-route if necessary. 

We recommend having open and early conversations about how the funding should be staged and structured to ensure the business can pivot and respond quickly to customer needs. This might mean instating fixed review points to review finances, impact, and progress against milestones. Together, funders and food operators should explore how to merge good practice from the commercial and social sectors to provide a robust foundation that gives businesses the greatest potential to grow and have impact.  

3. How can local authority commissioning and procuring food-related services support a local good food system?

Through the project’s later stages, we uncovered serious challenges within local authority procurement systems, where suppliers are judged on price points that are often too low for suppliers offering Shift’s definition of ‘good food’ to deliver against.  

The team at Shift engaged with Southwark Council and other smaller suppliers to understand what pricing would be possible. The council eventually shifted their procurement approach to enable smaller contracts rather than just one large contract. Despite this good practice, we think even more can be done.  

Local authorities can play a role in supporting local ‘good food’ ventures to thrive, through direct commissioning of suppliers and by strengthening the infrastructure needed for smaller players to be successful. They should be encouraged to review their entire commissioning cycle and interrogate their processes to explore how they can be made more inclusive to enable local suppliers to bid for and win contracts. In addition, local authorities should also consider their role in brokering support for suppliers to help them scale. Some relevant areas where these principles could be applied are through the commissioning processes and strategies around holiday food provision programmes, school catering, leisure centre catering contracts or council event catering contracts. 

Working with the local authority to really consider the levers and assets they have at their disposal can lead to important reflections on how they can wield their power to change the current system. For example: 

  • Can they enable access to kitchens or venues that could be used by local food suppliers at low or no cost?  
  • Can they broker deals with larger suppliers of sustainable freight, servicing, delivery and packaging organisations to support groups of local food businesses?  
  • Could they support and resource partnership working across local suppliers in an area?  

Ultimately, bringing Shift’s vision of a good food system to life will involve local authorities, funders, and local food businesses collaborating to deliver better outcomes for health, the environment, and the local economy.


Bringing Shift’s vision of a good food system to life will involve local authorities, funders, and local food businesses collaborating to deliver better outcomes for health, the environment, and the local economy.

Throughout the Everyday Takeaway project, it became clear just how difficult it is to provide healthier takeaway food that is affordable and tasty, and that it’s nearly impossible to do that while trying to run a business ethically. Despite the immense challenges we faced, and the ultimate closure of the project, we think it’s important for funders to take risks and be prepared to fail – especially when funding impact-focused ventures.  

In adopting this mindset, we were able to learn an immense amount about the takeaway industry, delivery aggregators, how to better set up operations with a community focus, local authority commissioning, and so much more. These lessons inform our and Shift’s on-going work and ambition in this space. 

A key conclusion from the report that we continue to grapple with is that within the current system, marrying commercial viability with social impact is tough and often requires significant subsidy. So, we think an important question for other funders and social investors to ask themselves is how they can use their platform and resources to challenge this.