It is such a privilege to introduce Lisa King, a woman who needs very little introduction. If you don’t know her name, you’ll know one of the businesses she co-founded along with a foodie friend of hers.
We’re not kidding when we say Lisa is a big deal, a handful of her achievements include but are not limited to:
- Co-founding Eat My Lunch with her pal and chef extraordinaire, Michael Meredith in 2015
- Winner of MYOB’s Woman Entrepreneur of the year
- Being New Zealander of the year finalist
Yeah, Lisa is the real deal which is why we’re incredibly grateful to her for sharing her time and chatting all things business, life and drinks.
Curious AF? Read on friend…
Lisa, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what led you to become the woman you are today?
I was born in Hong Kong and came to NZ when I was 2 years old. My parents were entrepreneurs and started several of their own businesses. They were also heavily involved in the Chinese community and helping new immigrants, so giving back was a natural part of my upbringing.
I grew up in Auckland and was very privileged to attend a private girls school and go to university. My first job was with Fonterra and eventually I ended up going to the Philippines with them, marketing NZ dairy products. The disparity between the rich and poor over there was unsettling and challenging to live amongst. After 5 years with Fonterra, I went to London and worked for Unilever. On my return to NZ, I’ve worked for big food companies such as PepsiCo, Heinz Watties, Cadbury’s and Fonterra again.
Wow! Let’s chat Eat My Lunch to start with, take us back to the beginning, how did it begin?
I was watching a news piece back in 2014 that compared school lunches of kids in a decile 10 school and those in a decile 1 school. All the children in the decile 10 school had a beautifully packed lunch with them. In contrast, only 2 out of the 24 children in the decile 1 had bought a lunch, mainly consisting of chips and white bread. I remembered feeling shock watching this news piece and couldn’t imagine that there were kids in NZ going to school without any food. I knew I wanted to do something about it.
A few months later, I was wearing a pair of TOM’s shoes who donates a pair of shoes to children in developing countries for every pair bought. I thought it was such a simple, effective model and why couldn’t we do the same for lunches. So that was how the idea for Eat My Lunch came about – from a pair of shoes! I approached Michael with the idea and 7 months later we launched Eat My Lunch from my home kitchen.
And those first meals? Did you know then, what you were doing was going have such a profound impact on the kids and the families you’re helping?
I thought it would be amazing if we could give even just 100 lunches a day and maybe if the business ever got big enough, 100,000 lunches a year would seem like a huge achievement. I had no idea that in just the first 4 years, we would be able to provide 1 million lunches to kiwi kids. It seemed simple and logical that kids need full tummies to learn but I didn’t realise just how important our lunches would be. We know that Eat My Lunch has helped attendance at school (some parents were keeping children home if they had no food to send with them); it’s helped with behaviour and concentration in class; schools who get Eat My Lunch also saw the general health and wellbeing of the kids improve; and the kids are learning what healthy eating looks like.
The impact is significant in so many more ways than we could have ever anticipated and it is what drives the team every single day.
In 2020, AF drinks was born, what was the driving force behind this new project?
Just before the first lockdown in 2020, I decided to stop drinking for a while. I had suffered a few bouts of vertigo and thought that alcohol might be a contributor. I was surprised by the constant judgement when I was out socially, and also disappointed by the lack of alcohol-free choices. Not only did I wanted to create some better, sophisticated alternatives, I also wanted to create a mind shift around the importance alcohol plays in society. We all know we should be drinking less, yet we don’t make it easy for people to make that choice.
The mission of AF is to help people have a better and more mindful relationship with alcohol, but doing it in a positive, aspirational and fun way.
From a business point of view, we understand the challenges that come with creating, producing and launching a product. Can you tell us how you got AF Drinks off the ground?
You can’t do anything well and successful on your own – it comes down to the people in your team. I can confidently say I have the BEST creative and strategic team working with me on AF. I contacted Nick Worthington, the brilliant creative chairman of Colenso. I told him about my idea and he gathered James Hurman, Arch MacDonnell and Kyle Melnyk to help bring AF to life. The experience these guys have between them on building brands and communications, is an absolute godsend for any business, let alone a start up. I also have Kris Teale (our first employee from Eat My Lunch) and Matt Johns (ex-head of strategy at Deloittes) who make sure that things happen everyday.
That sounds like an impressive dream team to launch with! What are peoples reactions when you tell them about your sober AF G&T’s?
It’s been so rewarding getting feedback from people when they discover AF. They have been needing something like this - something that helps them feel included in social occasions, that’s not sickly sweet, allows them to enjoy a drink without the downsides of alcohol. Particularly through Dry July, having an option like AF helped many people keep on track, and of course the benefits they experience from cutting back is so noticeable. People told us they’ve lost weight, have more energy, sleep better, feel more focused and realising they don’t need alcohol as much.
The positive impact AF has is the reason we’re all doing this – we’re not just another drinks company.
It helps that they taste so good too! Ok, time for a quick fire round…
What motivates you? Seeing the tangible, positive difference that EML and AF is making to people’s lives
What inspires you?
It upsets me deeply seeing the inequality and injustice that exists in society. My inspiration comes from my knowledge that I can do something about it.
Conversations you wish we were having more of? Placing more importance on the good that businesses can do, not just how much money they make.
Daily rituals? Long showers in the morning which is my thinking time and where my best ideas come about.
Mantras you live by?Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Actions, not words.
Daily practices you’d recommend to recharge? Cooking is my way of recharging and de-stressing every day. I especially love chopping things up ;) I also go for walks at night time which I find much more relaxing and peaceful.
Where do we find AF? Most supermarkets including Countdown, New World’s, Farro, and online at www.af-drinks.com.
What do you love most about Saben / wearing Saben? I love they are from NZ and each piece is so beautifully made. They complement any occasion and each style is a statement in itself.
What is your default Saben style? (the one in heavy rotation) Gita Handbag (I am always carrying my laptop and notebooks and a million other things everywhere!)
And your stand-out piece? Odette!
We love her too. Sadly, due to Covid 19 restrictions, we were unable to photograph Lisa with her Saben bag by her side.
We have a little treat for you, to make your next drink delicious AF - use the code SABENAF for 15% off at AF Drinks (valid until November 30th).
We are celebrating Gin and Tonic Day (Sober AF) ! Tuesday October 19th is International Gin and Tonic day, and to celebrate we are giving away free Non-alcoholic (but still delicious AF, if we do say so ourselves) drinks from AF drinks. Choose click and collect, and receive x2 free cans on collection of your Saben purchase.