Due to constraints around shopping and cooking, Alcott has often relied on takeaways, which he felt wasn’t the best option for his health and fitness.
“We wanted to provide fresh, not frozen, healthy but delicious meals for the 4.5 million people in Australia who have some form of disability. I think there was a lack of choice out there in the market and we wanted to give a few options for people to pick some delicious food,” he said.
The profit for purpose startup is co-funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which covers the costs of preparation and delivery, and ensures that eligible customers will pay no more than $3 per meal.
After working with a team of dieticians and nutritionists and partnering with a kitchen in Melbourne, the business launches today with more than 30 fresh meal options on the menu.
Accessibility on the menu
Accessibility is, of course, front of mind, with braille stickers on packaging for people with low/no vision and remoulded texture modified meals for those with difficulties chewing, who would otherwise need to blitz the food before eating.
“We texture modify [the food], and then we remould it back into the shape of real food. We call it dignified eating for people who might have a high level disability.”
Everything from the website, where orders can be placed, to the call centre, is fully accessible.
“We’ve got this thing called an accessibility widget, which means the text size can be changed. We use screen readers so people with dyslexia can use it, so we’re trying to think of everything.
“We are disability voice led so we understand our customer base because we all have disabilities, we know what people need.”
Leading by example
In 2019, Alcott launched the Remove The Barrier campaign through the Dylan Alcott Foundation, to encourage businesses around Australia to commit to hiring people with disability.
Now, instead of just talking about it, Alcott is showing businesses why this works.
“We’re hiring people with a disability right throughout the business, so from our boardroom to our PR and marketing, our call centre, our warehouse, our delivery drivers, the guy who drives the forklift uses a claw as one of his hands to be able to drive; I’m talking everywhere throughout the business we’re hiring people with a disability,” Alcott said.
Able Foods’ employees may have a physical disability, intellectual disability, autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, it really doesn’t matter, Alcott said it was about finding the right talent.
“We could have hired able-bodied people to do the roles, and probably found them quicker, but we didn’t want to rush into that because we wanted to, not only find people with disability, but we wanted to find bloody awesome talent,” he said.
According to a 2011 Deloitte study, 90 per cent of employees with disability are equally or more productive than other workers, yet the unemployment rate for people with disability is around 1.5 times higher than for those without a disability.
“[People with disability] have higher retention rates, low absenteeism, yet they can’t find work. So, rather than telling people, I’m going to show people exactly why we’ve done it,” Alcott said.
“We’re not doing it for the CSR or to look good, we’re doing it because people with disability make bloody good employees, and we’re gonna have a kickass business because of it.”
Staying true to its values, Able Foods is working with like-minded manufacturers and suppliers, and has partnered with The Dylan Alcott Foundation through a number of grants to support young people with disability to achieve their goals.
Just the beginning
The business is currently delivering to Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia, and is soon set to launch into Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
“It’s about getting Able Foods into as many people’s hands as we can. We’re so proud of the fresh produce that we’re providing … People with a disability don’t want to eat frozen foods their whole lives, so we’re really excited about it.”
Alcott has big plans to grow the business, with an FMCG line in the mix and B Corp certification in its sights next year.
“We’re just starting in the food industry and we definitely want to explore other areas; it’s going to be a big 2021 so what this space.”