Detox Kitchen was set up in 2012 from modest beginnings with the idea of providing convenient, healthy nourishment and has since exploded to offer a home delivery service that delivers over a million meals a year to health-conscious Londoners, two (temporarily closed) Central London delis and a grab-and-go retail range that can be found in Selfridges, Planet Organic and General Store.
Friends, former colleagues and fellow founders, our very own Jules Miller catches up with Lily Simpson of Detox Kitchen over a socially-distanced Google Hangout call about intuitive eating, the irony of “treats” and the mental health tools essential to running a business.
Jules: How has your business been impacted by the pandemic?
Lily: We are actually doing well. I’ve always wanted that moment of proper growth and we’ve never had it at Detox Kitchen—it’s always been quite steady but we launched the vegetable box obviously at the right time and in 48 hours, we sold 4000 boxes, 90% of which were new customers who found us through social media. No-one had anticipated it and we couldn’t fulfil the orders to the level we wanted so it was a pretty stressful week and there were a lot of customers who were frustrated with us but I think we just about managed to sort it out.
Detox Kitchen's Veg, Essentials & Brunch Box
Since the launch of that and our fridge fill box, I’ve realised it’s what I want to be doing and I don’t know why I didn’t do it before; it’s an affordable product that is much more scalable and it’s a different audience. The meal plans are great and I massively believe in them but there’s something about this boxed product that can reach so many more people so I’m really excited about the business in the future.
Detox Kitchen's Mixed Fridge Fill Box
Jules: For the majority of business owners, I think it’s been such a moment of clarity: it’s the ultimate fight-or-flight mode—you have to work things out, you have to be really efficient with what you’re doing. I think people have started to realise that being aware of ingredients and where they come from is a process of eating. Could you talk us through what drove you to set up the Detox Kitchen and how you first got started?
Lily: I was running my own catering company and wanted to start creating better food. A friend asked me to deliver healthy food for her and she loved it; she saw a massive change in the way she felt as she’d just had a baby and didn’t feel good in her own skin. Food from us for two weeks transformed that, which is basically why we started because I believed in the food and I wanted to see more people reconnect with food in the way she did, and really understand that the food you put into your body has a huge impact in how you feel (and ultimately how you look). I also just loved cooking!
Jules: For me starting The Nue Co., the word “wellness” really grated on me because I knew it to be something so beneficial, so powerful, and founded on us wanting to do better for ourselves, each other and the world—but there was also a lot of negative connotation around it and it still gets a bad reputation sometimes. I know you’ve often thought about the word “detox”—what does it mean to you and how have you taken the definition and evolved it from a quick fix into a lifestyle?
Lily: I’ve struggled with the word “detox” but I’ve always come back around to thinking it’s right. It’s a bold word and it means a lot of different things to different people, it’s also often interpreted in the wrong way.
For me, what’s very clear is that our food chain is broken. Whether we’re consuming or inhaling or smothering them on our skin, we’re more exposed to toxins than we’ve ever been which is really scary and it’s crazy that we can’t talk openly about that. Even now, when I speak to my parents who totally understand my business, they think that choosing not to give my children refined sugar is cruel, yet sugar is toxic—it leads to obesity, diabetes, it's the biggest cause of disease in the world. It’s okay to talk about giving your child chocolate, yet it’s not okay to talk about the importance of not giving them sugar and the shame felt that you’re “depriving” your child of having these things. The way we’ve all been brought up is that sweet stuff is to “treat” yourself which in my mind is the complete opposite of what it actually does since it’s definitely not something that is good for your body.
Jules: Why do you think there’s a fear of change when it comes to food for some people?
Lily: People can’t see the direct effects quick enough to really understand the impact of food. People can’t seem to connect food with the cause of emotion, yet that’s what I massively believe in, that’s what our whole business is founded on; that there is a direct correlation between those two things.
Also, I think ultimately we are a nation that are addicted to sugar, not only physically but mentally. Breaking that is scary, like any addiction. You need to understand what the other side looks like if you really reduce the amount of sugar and processed foods you’re eating, make a conscious effort to change your lifestyle and exercise more. That’s why I love what we do at Detox Kitchen because if you eat our food for 20 days straight, I guarantee you will feel that effect. That’s the transformative effect we want people to understand; we don’t care if you lose weight as it’s about putting food into your body that will make you feel good—like the true version of yourself with pure clarity and the energy that you should have.
Jules: That really resonates with our ethos; we encourage our customers to listen to their body. On our website’s consultation, we ask what we can help with to turn the focus on which issues are most pressing. If you really truly listen to your body, you will be able to feel those benefits but you have to really try and be connected. I didn’t previously have that ability; it was my experience with IBS that caused me to be more open-minded to changing my behaviour.
Lily: Hindsight is interesting because when I look back at university, I was probably quite unhappy. I was drinking a lot, not eating very well, and I probably could have done a lot better had I had the mindset I have now. Maybe you need to have that instance we both had, since I had a stomach ulcer that triggered something in me where I realised what I was eating was impacting the inside of my body.
I always used to get annoyed that since living in London, people assume that my body type is genetic and that I wouldn’t put on weight if I ate loads of burgers, but I eat intuitively now to eat what I want when I want it. If I drink wine or devour a pack of digestive biscuits, it’s my choice and I know the impact of eating those foods. It’s not a control thing; the feeling I get when I am eating well is so much better than any other feeling. It’s not about what I look like or weight, it’s about being clear-headed, focused and happy.
Jules: What I love about Detox Kitchen is that it’s not complicated; as the human species, we have always eaten when we were hungry and slept when we were tired but these things that were so innately natural to us have become such big challenges. The idea of intuition is so important; to reconnect with your body, the food we’re eating and where it comes from.
Lily: People shouldn’t feel bad about not understanding intuitive eating though as it’s a conscious effort and a process that people have to go through. The way the food market is now goes against all of those intuitions. From a young age, we’re exposed to bright wrappers on sweets and we’re told that we should “treat” ourselves to the things that are not going to make ourselves feel great. When do you ever see an advert that says how amazing fruit and vegetables are for you?!
The Detox Kitchen's recipe for Beetroot, Za'atar and Tahini Salad
Jules: Imagine if vegetables were bad for you and how much we would crave them—they’re so delicious. In an ideal world, if we could eliminate the so-called good and bad foods and really listen to our bodies, it would be much more simple. You’ve gone on your own health journey but in the last five years, you’ve also run a profitable business, raised capital and given birth to three children. How has that health journey evolved?
Lily: I feel like I’ve got a really good foundation when it comes to my health and the choices I make: I have to drink two litres of water a day; I have to sleep 6 hours a day, which is non-negotiable; and I do 30 minutes of yoga every day, and if I can’t do it in the morning then I’ll do it in the evening. I eat really healthily because I love it and that will never change. Those base routines have always remained consistent, regardless of my children.
Real life gets in the way sometimes, more so mentally with juggling work with family and the emotional stresses that there are that make me less clear-headed than I’d want to be. I probably could step back from being the CEO of Detox Kitchen and do a different role but I absolutely love my job and my kids, and the side effect is being a little bit more stressed than I would like, but that’s the price I’m paying. As long as I have those foundations of good health, I feel fine.
Another thing to consider, especially as women, is the way we feel is led by hormones. It’s very different for everyone who has a child but I’ve found that since having children, my hormones have been much more level; I haven’t had the ups and downs of PMS that I had previously, which has made a massive difference. It’s so individual though.
Jules: You always make difficult things seem really easy, whether it’s the message you’re putting out there or the work you do. It’s that efficiency with your thought process and time that perhaps when you are a mother and have other priorities, you don’t have the luxury to ponder over decisions. Have you felt that your mental health has been compromised?
Lily: I am still breastfeeding so at the moment, I feel good all the time because I think I’m being pumped full of that hormone which makes you feel happy, but I definitely can wake up in the morning and know that I’m not in the best of moods so I’ll just switch whatever I’m doing that day, like reduce my 1-on-1 calls.
I’m quite introverted; I don’t particularly like working with anyone else. I recharge by being on my own. The best thing for me to do if I don’t feel clear-headed and that my judgement could be impacted is to hold off on making decisions. I probably won’t go into the office and I’ll work in a cafe by myself. As I have to be creative one day, a people person the next day, then a finance person, I have to wear lots of different hats so being in tune with myself mentally is really important as I can’t do all of those things if I’m not feeling focused.
One thing I’ve loved about everyone working remotely is the razor-light focus that we’ve had as a team. It makes me feel like this is the way that businesses should always run. The strategy is focused, the timeline is precise and the response from the team has been amazing. Understanding how we feel and being fluid with our time is important.
Jules: Leaning into your strengths is such a key thing to do when you’re running a business; you can’t excel at everything as you want to be doing the stuff that no-one else can do. What would your advice be for the health of someone who’s starting out a new business?
Lily: Mental health-wise: don’t cry over spilt milk. If something has happened that’s out of your control, the only thing you can do is resolve the issue. Find the answer to the problem, solve it as quickly as you can, learn from it and move on. I never look back, I always look forward and stay optimistic regardless of what’s happened in the past and how stressful it’s been. For me, that’s the only way to manage stress. Built into that is resilience; if we look at the very basis of people who survive events like war, they move on, look forward and have hope. As a business owner, you do the same.
Jules: When you’re kind to yourself, it gives you so much power. It’s something I see in so many founders.
Lily: When I started Detox Kitchen eight years ago, I thought I could do anything. I had so much self-confidence as I hadn’t made big mistakes in the past so I walked into everything thinking that I was the best and that I could do it. As time goes on, and more people come to the table, you have investors and other stakeholders who might not think that you can do everything, and it really chips away at your confidence. I had a couple of years after my first baby where I wasn’t kind to myself and I’d lost my optimism and confidence, and as a result the business wasn’t as successful as it should have been. There’s such a direct correlation between belief in yourself and success.
Jules: What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about running their own business?
Lily: That you’re going to make loads of money! You don’t, funnily enough, despite putting your life and soul and heart into all of it. Very few people realise financial gain from setting up a company. I liken it to being a pop star because the odds are the same. Yes, we see the big entrepreneurs who have made it from nothing and are now are running big billion-dollar companies but they are very few and far between. For every person in that situation, there are a million other failed entrepreneurs or small businesses entrepreneurs that aren’t able to grow or don’t want to. You have to put that into perspective and know that it’s a gamble so you have to go into it with a massive amount of passion. For me, whether I make money or not, I honestly don’t care as I love what I’m doing—the challenges, the experience, the freedom… that’s what keeps me going. You have to go into it with motivation beyond financial gain.
Also I think that some people think it’s easy to start a business, but it takes hard work; it’s very different to working for someone else. Be prepared to do long hours.
Jules: There are certain challenges which founders don’t talk about, and that I didn’t really understand in the beginning like what we were saying about wearing different hats and having to do things that aren’t natural to you—that make you feel quite scared which impacts your adrenaline.
Lily: Every single day, I still have a voice in my head that says, “Why are you doing this?! This is mad! You have three young kids, you’re stressing yourself out and putting pressure on yourself!” but the answer always is that I love it. I don’t care if I succeed or fail, but I want my life to be exceptional; that’s why I’m doing this.
Jules: I think you’ve achieved so much in such a short space of time. If you think about your mission to get people to feel amazing because they’re eating the right food, from my own personal experience with Detox Kitchen to the vast number of meals you’ve delivered, you’re clearly living out that vision and mission.Lily: Well, thank you and you are too!