Ben Davidson is the founder of Total Diet Food. Before setting up the company, Ben ran a Recruitment business in London’s West End. Frustrated with the lack of readily available healthy options, he set up the business with his wife Maria (who prepares and cooks all of the food) in late 2011. The business offers personalised diet food plans, delivering fresh food within the M25, seven days a week. Today the business delivers hundreds of meal plans across London.
In this interview we speak to Ben about the growing demand for services like Total Diet Food, why fitness businesses should provide guarantees to their clients, and why the industry needs to be more collaborative.
Why do you think people use Total Diet Food?
People today are more aware of their food choices, but more time-poor than ever. Today’s culture is: decide what you want, click on it, and get it delivered shortly after. Most of the companies in the market weren’t freshly preparing their food every day. We set Total Diet Food up differently by cooking and delivering fresh food, 7 days per week.
Generally the people who come to us through our online marketing are working professionals looking to lose weight to reach a variety of healthy goals, and have a basic requirement based on calorie intake and macros. If you marry the two things up and give them food they genuinely look forward to eating, and the right balance of protein, carbs and fat that doesn’t make them cheat, it will work.
We are so confident that we can help people reach whatever goal they have, whatever their situation that we’ve just launched a 30 Day Weight Loss Promise – ‘If you don’t lose weight in the first few weeks, we’ll pay you back.’
We also work closely with nutritionists and dieticians. We’ve helped people overcome particular health issues, and, on several occasions, been thanked for helping women to get pregnant. Because of the fact we cook specifically for each client, we can manage extremely specialist diets and requirements.
Do you think there’s an element of exclusivity in what you offer?
I’ve never wanted this to be a brand that excludes people, and I think at the price point (around £30 per day), people working within London can justify this, at least for a period of time. It might just be for a 4 or 6-week goal. If you’re eating out two or three times a day and add up that spend, it can very easily be more than £30 per day. We are pitching fairly broadly – we’re not purely for guys at the gym or ladies that want to lose weight, it’s for everyone, and we think this is reflected in our prices too.
What are your main channels for driving business?
Around 50% of our business comes from partnerships and referrals from PT’s, nutritionists, and healthcare professionals. We can work closely with them and their clients, which works really well for all concerned. This also infers a guarantee of success for PT’s – if your client leaves your session and eats badly all week, you’re doomed! We offer that level of control outside of the session. It also increases their expertise and brand outside of their core services.
For larger groups such as networks of fitness trainers and a couple of big name nutritionists who work with top end celebrities, we white label our services.
The other 50% of the business comes from online advertising and SEO. Facebook Ads have worked really well for us, better than Google pay per click ads. We also write blogs, and do recipe distribution and PR.
I believe there’s huge potential in the corporate market. When businesspeople do the entrepreneurial calculation of value for money, a service like ours is great. Many of them really don’t have the time, but need to keep healthy and keep their mind clear.
How do you think the health and fitness industry has changed over the last five years?
Like all industries it has become so much more technology-driven, which is an area we’re currently exploring. People want an easily accessible technological purchasing solution. As is the case in all industries, people want things instantly. If I want something that will make my life easier and can’t find it and have it delivered the next day, I’m kind of frustrated.
Our business tries to help with that, which is why it should always be a growth industry. People increasingly want and expect a very personalised service and experience. With Total Diet Food, you can contact me 24/7, and the food is completely tailored for your individual requirements.
Any industry will grow if it gives the results people want in a shorter period of time. You can pretty much invest your money in anything that does that; people will run away from anything that does the opposite.
You work closely with a number of PT’s, what changes have you seen in that market?
The biggest challenge for PT’s is going from just having themselves as the business to other people representing their brand, and growing the brand whilst maintaining control. This can be even more difficult if they don’t have a physical location. I’ve seen PT’s succeed when they have a bigger offering – by working with the likes of nutritionists and massage therapists.
PT’s should start guaranteeing success. People like to go into something with a 6-week goal, knowing that at the end of it they’ll be ripped. Most PT’s don’t want to give their clients an end date because they make the most money from their ‘long-term’ clients. But if their clients are doing well and seeing improvements, they may stick around anyway! 6-week transformations would also create great testimonials.
Do you think the fitness industry should be more collaborative?
Personal relationships will always be super-important, and there’s definitely much more room for collaboration in the space. It’s something we try to do a lot. Many people in the fitness industry brand themselves as the experts in one area, then thrash that area and work really hard to belittle anyone that disagrees with them. That attitude makes collaboration in the industry more difficult.
On a wider point, people struggle to be collaborative because they need to brand and separate themselves. An easy way to do this is to pick a particular philosophy and run like hell with it, but these things get discredited all the time. Paleo is a fantastic example of branding, and has certainly helped more people eat healthily. We work with maybe 20 nutritionists every day; each one will have a different perspective but they will all have something in common. If somehow the industry stopped belittling other people’s opinions, it would be a much better industry to work in.
How will the food industry change over the next five years?
I see the knowledge continue to expand from all the good work the public health campaigns are doing; but at the same time I doubt that more people will start cooking fresh food, or spending the time learning how to do it.
Understanding the real path food takes to your door has changed. We buy our foods from the supermarkets, so there has to be some sort of commercial imperative for the supermarkets to supply and promote healthy food. Obesity is so prevalent because people want food quickly and conveniently.
Somehow we’ve got to find a way for it to be economically important and viable for the big food retailers to sell us fresh food, perhaps offer cooked food that is healthy and fresh. But of course it’s more expensive to do, and people want that short-term sugar fix. We need to make it easier and cheaper for people to eat fresh food. People do what’s easiest and cheapest for them – you won’t start changing their habits if the options are not there in front of them.