By: Melissa Villeneuve

Every day around 4 p.m. it’s the same routine between my spouse and I – “What shall we do for dinner?” This then evolves into a hectic routine of making an actual decision, searching for a recipe, digging through cupboards, and a rushed trip to the grocery store. It all comes together in the end, of course, but we could save some time (and stress!) by planning ahead. Or, letting someone else figure it out for us. Enter Mocha Local, a Lethbridge-based meal kit service that helps busy people create nutritious meals using locally-sourced products.

Mocha Local was launched to the public in May by Angel Harper and Jaclyn Geddes, co-owners/operators of Mocha Cabana restaurant. The pair met through past employment working in healthcare food service management. As their friendship grew, they made the leap to partner up on a new venture. Together they have a combined 50 years of experience in food nutrition and culinary arts. Since buying Mocha Cabana in 2014, they’ve noticed fewer people are leaving their homes to go out to eat. So they embarked on an entrepreneurial adventure to find out why.

With the advent of food delivery companies such as Skip the Dishes and Uber Eats, and “grocerants” such as Save-On Foods that sell ready-to-eat meals and install dining spaces within their stores, Angel says they could see something was changing in people’s dining habits. “But we were like, how do we evolve with the changing times, leverage our education and our knowledge and still support our community? So we decided to do some research,” says Angel. They signed up for courses through Alberta Innovates, which helped them build a strong business plan, learn more about technology, and figure out the best way forward. They learned that yes, people are dining out more, but they are replacing it with convenience. “It ended up that like 70 per cent of people that I did research with were eating out or buying ready to eat prepared foods three to five times a week,” says Angel. “And often the biggest thing that they didn't like about it is that they didn't know where the food was coming from, what was in the food, and there weren’t always healthy choices.” 

Through this research, Angel learned that 30 per cent of the people she surveyed used meal kits. She took the information back to Jaclyn and the pair knew they were onto something. While meal kits are a “booming” business in the United States, they are still relatively new to the Canadian market. And so, the idea of building a meal kit using fresh ingredients from Lethbridge-area suppliers, original recipes, and reusable or recyclable packaging was born. “This just was such a fit for us,” says Angel, “to incorporate recipes we've used over the years being busy professional women, to feed our families and to develop new ones. But it was about having fresh local ingredients, fairly healthy meals that you could make in 30 minutes.”

But they wanted to take it one step further. The option to add extra items such as produce or honey (or cheesecake!) on to a meal kit order provides a mini “Farmers’ Market” to customers year-round. “It’s important for us to support our community. Family is important to us… And I think with meal kits, it can bring us back to sitting down and eating as a family. Cooking in our kitchens again, with real ingredients, not processed foods, and just being proud of what we're doing,” says Jaclyn.

Since their launch, Mocha Local has received excellent feedback, says Angel, along with several suggestions. As a result, they have now added meal kits for children, with recipes that even picky eaters find appealing. There are gluten-free and vegetarian options, and every week there are new meal kits to choose from. Angel does all the recipe prepping and testing at her home. With assistance from Output Media, high-quality digital photos are created for the website and recipe cards.

To order, visit the website and add items to your cart. Farmers and producers will deliver ingredients for your order to Mocha Cabana, where they will be measured and packaged for your kit. Currently Mocha Local offers delivery service only, but soon there will be a storefront at 320 – 5 Street South so customers may pick up an order or purchase locally produced food products off the shelf. Renovations are underway to revitalize the space and they hope to open in the New Year.

Mocha Cabana consistently receives excellent customer reviews and remains near the top on sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. Mocha Local has received similar feedback and a high client retention rate of 85 per cent, says Angel. A big part of that, she says, is the community believes in the value of supporting local businesses.

“I think our community really supports us, like our farmers. They love what we do.”
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