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Llandeilo man used pandemic experience to launch community interest business

Alex Cook of Swperbox - the business currently delivers to customers in the SA postcode area, but plans to expand across Wales.

A passion for food and the local community has led to the creation of a Welsh recipe box enterprise which is creating jobs and demand for sustainable food and drink.

Swperbox was founded by Alex Cook, whose experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect on his Llandeilo community spurred him on to build a business that not just serves its customers but local producers too.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Alex Cook saw bookings for his hitherto award-winning catering business disappear overnight. So, he began helping out at the local Foodbank and coordinated the Feed the NHS Wales campaign in Carmarthenshire.

His experiences led to the creation of Swperbox, an enterprise that makes fresh, local produce readily available and equips customers with the ability to use that produce to create a range of dishes at home.

Alex said, “I noticed that some people coming to the Foodbank didn’t know what to do with the fresh produce we were giving them. So, I did some research about recipe boxes and came up with Swperbox.

“The recipe box market is growing in the UK, but not yet in Wales. Swperbox has been set up as a Community Interest Company because I wanted it to deliver fantastic fresh food to people and help those who produce it and the local economy.

“When I was working with Feed the NHS, there was an extensive supply chain. But many of the producers were small family-run businesses that didn’t have access to broader markets or necessarily had the facilities to sell alone online.

“I want to help them create a strong demand for their produce and help those in the community who have been affected by the jobs lost in the hospitality sector.”

Swperbox connects with local small-scale farms and forges direct links with those across the food supply chain – supporting the circular economy and creating new networks, and reinvesting profits into training and development.

There is an emphasis on climate issues, and Swperbox is a plastic-free business using compostables and supporting regenerative farming. Its aim is to work with others to create a “healthier, wealthier and greener Wales”. Alex is also the National Director for Slow Food Cymru Wales representing good, clean and fair food for all here in Wales.

Menus change according to what produce is in season and what suppliers are growing. Customers can choose from six recipe options – including vegetarian – and receive an easy to follow recipe and ingredients.

“We like to create recipes that draw on different flavours from around the world. Currently, our dishes are summery and have a Mediterranean influence. All the recipes are nutritionally balanced and contain a minimum of two of the recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.”

Customers can subscribe at www.swperbox.wales The menu features dishes such as Spring Vegetable Ragu and Welsh Lamb chops with kidney beans and organic and British heritage grains.

“In each recipe, there is an element of learning to start the home chef on their journey,” said Alex, who is undertaking an NHS nutrition course.

Swperbox’s sustainable business model has already attracted attention, and the enterprise has been shortlisted in the 2021 Wales Start Up Awards.

Currently, deliveries are made to customers in the SA postcode area. But there are plans to make Swperbox deliveries across South and Mid Wales and Wales-wide within two years. It is also Alex’s ambition within three years to create 24 jobs in his local community.

Along the way, Alex has received support from bodies such as the Food Centre Wales, Social Business Wales and also Cywain – a Menter a Busnes project that supports the development of growth-orientated businesses in the food and drink sector in Wales.

Alex said, “Cywain have helped me in a variety of ways, with planning, logistics and access to marketing support, also 1-2-1 digital marketing support and help with branding. I’ve also been part of the Cywain Scale Up Challenge, which helps enterprises grow and build commercial confidence.”

Cywain Development Manager, Louise McNutt said, “Alex and the team at Swperbox are showing that start-ups can establish themselves under the most challenging circumstances and remain true to their values.

It has been remarkable to witness their determination and genuine desire to make a positive contribution whilst delivering unrivalled quality. I wish them every success with their venture and am delighted that Cywain have been able to be part of their story.”