Victoria Benhaim offers a fresh take on institutional catering
Published on 11 June 2022 by NEOMA
- Our Alumni
NEOMA graduate Victoria Benhaim wanted to revolutionise corporate catering, which is rarely synonymous with healthy, delicious dining. In 2017 she launched ILunch, and after five successful years, the company is now onto a new venture. On 4 April, it became Fraîche Cancan to “better convey its friendly aspect”. Here’s a look at this success story.
This past October, you raised 5 million euros through Banque des Territoires, Karista through the Paris Région Ventre Fund (PRVF), Financière Tuileries AND Noveo. As an entrepreneur, how did feel about this fund raising.
First, I was relieved. It was the outcome of 6 to 8 stressful months where we had to convince investors and handle the legal aspect, which took a long time. When we raised 5 million, there was a large administrative part to settle. What I then felt was pride, especially since I started out alone and with nothing. Being on your own is hard and so too is being a woman entrepreneur, not to mention starting with zero euros. That’s hard too. I had to cope with these three hardships.
I knew that this fund raising was the result of my work and resilience and the team’s resilience. I know what it is to commit yourself body and soul to a never-ending project. So, I am happy to see that it’s finished. And I wanted to share this joyous moment with my team.
What will this major source of funding be used for?
First, it is to speed up our growth. To do that, we recruited a great deal of different profiles: marking directors, a sales director, salespeople, tech specialists, dishwashers, commis chefs, delivery personnel, logistics managers, etc. In one year, we went from fifteen people to seventy employees, amounting to 300% in growth. Then, we plan to invest in tech, particularly to keep to our zero-waste goal, to track containers, manage stocks, etc. And lastly, we are going to develop our brand recognition. At ILunch we’ve never had the chance to invest in marketing and communications. We became known through word of mouth. On 4 April, we changed our identity, ILunch became Fraîche CanCan. The name is more French, bolder and memorable.
You just mentioned the difficult times you’ve had since the start of ILunch in 2017. What do you take away from these five years of entrepreneurship?
I had a lot of people around me for the launch of this company, which wasn’t the case for the last one. I was able to start with Didier Taupin from NEOMA, my first business angel, then Olivier Rebiffé who is also from NEOMA and Marc Radigales (editor’s note: CEO of C10Pla). This time, I had real coaches who wanted to progress with me.
The ILunch adventure also had a team. My first employees are still with me. I know that you don’t make it alone. Without realising it, I’ve set up a very participatory management style. I give my employees the chance to express themselves, and they feel involved in the projects. It becomes their business as well. I’ve come away with extraordinary human relationships.
I’ve also taken away from these five years the fact that work pays off. I understand that you need a work-life balance, but when you have major ambitions, you need to work, and you get there in the end. On the other hand, you need to be resilient. At the start, I wondered if the deliverer would show up on Monday morning. There were a lot of challenges to overcome. In 2020, the health crisis was an enormous shock. For several months we were raising funds and we were going to make a massive communication announcement on 30 March, with a huge launch party. Then an entire market collapsed. But we knew how to bounce back and set up home delivery.
You are now moving beyond delivering meals to employees by proposing to transform company canteens. What is this about?
After several months of telecommuting, employees don’t want to go back to the office anymore, and they want to eat tasteless meals at a sad company canteen even less. The employers of tomorrow have a real challenge: provide in-house service and quality to make their employees come back. The employees need to have their eyes and tastebuds dazzled. If the food is good, if the place is pleasant and if they can have lunch with their co-workers, then they will want to come for an enjoyable experience.
That’s why we propose to transform the living spaces in company offices. We work with interior design agencies on the space design and on the user pathway to make them enjoyable. We put a lot of effort into marketing connected fridges that distribute healthier products to replace sweets machines. Companies thus need to provide new solutions because we know that the junk food has consequences on one’s healthy and productivity.
For two years, your company has been very environmentally committed. The glass containers are refundable, placed on specific shelves at the end of the meal, picked up by the deliverers the next day and reused. That’s not so easy. How did you meet this challenge?
We decided to deliver reusable containers to our diners, not as a marketing tool, but because it is our real conviction. But the problem is that we were the first and only ones to do and we had to create a market for it. I never want to create a market again. I’d rather be the second to arrive! Everything about it was hard: buying the containers, figuring out how to clean them and put labels on them. Today, we have started a movement, and the Ministry of Ecology has encouraged these practices.
Today, if you had to convince a company to follow your lead in this environmental effort, what would you say to them?
Go and do it. It’s the same price. We’ve estimated that the price balances out from 15 reuses and up. At the beginning, we charged for the containers, but there were too many obstacles, so we changed our economic model. We changed three things so as not to impact the price and not to reduce our margins too much.
On your professional path, what has NEOMA provided you with?
If I hadn’t done the entrepreneurship major in the Master in Management programme, I wouldn’t have become an entrepreneur. What started me down that path was the common thread project that we had to develop over four months and present to the school. I learned a lot about what you need to do to start a company. Also, I didn’t really start out with nothing because NEOMA gave me everything I needed to get started: 10,000 euros at the start, a network, two investors and visibility. This visibility was what surely made Didier Taupin and Olivier Rebiffé want to invest in my second company. And I’m trying to give back to NEOMA what they have given me.
Entrepreneurship: 4 lessons from Victoria Benhaim
Lesson No. 1: You should have support, particularly for help with legal matters.
Lesson No. 2: Avoid creating a company by dividing it up 50/50. And even less with a business angel. If someone has a 50% share, they need to be as active and involved as you. Sharing the business is also sharing the work.
Lesson No. 3: Never give up when coming up against the first obstacle because there will be hundreds more. You need to know that things go up and down. You should know that when you’re down, you’ll end up bouncing back.
Lesson No. 4: Trust your instincts.