Foundational Economy Capability Networks: Can Cook

Can Cook, a social enterprise, is tackling food poverty and unhealthy eating habits in Wales by providing fresh, nutritious cooked from scratch meals at affordable prices.

Can Cook 

Well Fed – MealLockers / Plastic-free and Net Zero Programme 

 “We all want a food system that wants to feed children and people good food. Ultra-processed-free has everything to do with people’s health, we match the price and impove the quality.” – Robbie Davison, Director of Can Cook. 

Can Cook, a social enterprise, is tackling food poverty and unhealthy eating habits in Wales by providing fresh, nutritious cooked from scratch meals at affordable prices. Their “Well Fed” programme includes initiatives like Cook-at-Home meal boxes, mobile shops, and Meals on Wheels.  

With support from Welsh Government’s Backing Local Firms Fund, a recent focus has been to develop and improve 3 new aspects of delivery: plastic-free vending machines (eatTAINABLE) ‘MealLockers’  and a Net Zero emissions-reduction programme with solar energy integration. 

The Challenge 

One of Wales’s key public health challenges concerns food poverty and rising childhood obesity rates. 1 in 4 children born in 2022 will be obese by age 5 in Wales and over 50% of the UK population cannot afford a shop based on fresh produce. Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are prevalent in the average weekly shop and also dominate school meals.  

Robbie explains that the project came about after identifying that, despite meeting nutritional standards, the majority of food eaten by children at school is ultra-processed. “If ultra-processed foods help schools meet nutritional standards, then we are in the wrong place.” he concludes. “Our primary concern is feeding children well. We are looking at everything in the supply chain to eliminate UPFs and preliminary the big issue in cooking at scale is the stocks, gravies and sauces” 

Having identified the main ingredient to change in their meals – stock – the Can Cook team went about developing a UPF-free alternative. The solution is a stock made from mushrooms, sourced from a local farm, that can be cooked at scale, stays within budget, and with the same taste and properties as commercial alternatives.  

This demonstrated to the team that the elimination of UPF ingredients is possible. All the meals provided by Can Cook are now UPF-free and the project helps others avoid these in their wider diet also by teaching people how to cook from scratch. 

Another challenge concerning the Can Cook team is that isolated communities often lack access to fresh, nutritious food options. Traditional catering methods can be impractical for these areas.  

Can Cook’s solution includes an initiative to dispense fresh, healthy pre-prepared meals to isolated communities through MealLockers located in public spaces. They are also developing a plastic-free vending approach dispensing meals in returnable, microwavable stainless-steel containers – an innovation targeting workspaces and is convenient and accessible to customers, whilst also reducing waste and energy in reheating.  

To help reduce thier own carbon footprint, Can Cook is moving their production kitchen towards Net Zero through the installation of solar panels by June 2024 to reduce reliance on non-renewable electricity by 60%. 

Looking forward: 

For the future, Robbie notes that continued efforts are needed to identify reliable suppliers of UPF-free ingredients for large-scale production. He also believes the MealLockers model has huge potential to expand to efficiently deliver healthy meals to more locations, including schools, hospitals and rural areas, which public sector commissioning could support. He explains: 

“To truly benefit public health, it is vital that public sector commissioning moves towards encouraging and protecting quality and social value. We believe that a social food model for public sector contracts is needed now, to make sure everyone can eat well, regardless of income.” 

The Can Cook team believe there is huge potential for initiatives like these to make a significant contribution to public health in Wales and further afield. We at Cynnal Cymru are excited to keep you informed about the progress of this work. 

Robbie Davison – Director of Can Cook 

The Foundational Economy Challenge Fund supported innovative, experimental approaches to community wealth-building and resilient local economies.

Cefnogodd Cronfa Her Economi Sylfaenol dulliau arloesol ac arbrofol o adeiladu cyfoeth cymunedol ac economïau lleol cadarn.

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