“As the maker intended” – Foodifox leads the charge of a new frontier in dining experiences at educational facilities

by Helena Morgan
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Forever committed to solving food delivery woes, Foodifox is thrilled to expand its presence into the educational residency market with the installation of QR-code operated heated lockers on the University of New South Wales (UNSW) campus just shy of two months ago. This initiative is the first of its kind in the Australian education sector. 

Foodifox’s partnership with UNSW demonstrates the company’s steady upward trajectory and a commitment to guaranteeing convenience and security to enrich living and working experiences across a variety of facilities.

The QR code – like hand sanitiser, focaccia-making and well-curated Spotify playlists – is a layover of the lockdown years that is still alive and kicking. QR codes are now common sights at many hospitality establishments and necessitate adherence to a now familiar ordering ritual. 

For Foodifox, society learning QR code etiquette was fortuitous. Foodifox started as an app in 2019 that allowed workers in high-density office buildings to order lunch that would then be delivered to QR code-operated thermal lockers. 

In March 2020, the newly founded supplier of central thermal locker systems for online food deliveries was grappling with how to pivot from a workplace lunch delivery service, in light of office buildings clearing out due to lockdown orders. 

Hope was momentarily lost, as offices only contained cobwebs, someone’s hastily abandoned lunch in the fridge and the occasional facilities manager drifting in for a routine inspection. However, with the advent of people staying home and ordering big, Foodifox emerged with a reawakened determination and spirit. 

Hidden silver linings 

“What correlated nicely across those horrible two years was food delivery went through the roof and the bottom fell out of the workplace attendance market,” Foodifox co-founder and chief strategy officer Tim Pagram tells Facility Management. The profit and popularity of food delivery companies such as Doordash and Uber Eats soared.

“We had two problems solved. First of all, trying to explain to the world a QR code was no longer our problem” says Pagram, of the uptake in QR usage. 

“We pivoted hard and decided to bring the residential locker solution forward and start working with facility managers and building managers to get the lockers deployed into those locations.”

Therefore, ironically, the boom of Foodifox aligned with the lockdown years and the stall in life as we world knew it – carless roads, eerily quiet and low-morale supermarkets, scheduled park meet-ups at a respectable 1.5 metres apart and sporting whatever mask was snagged on the dash out the door.

As mentioned, people were relishing the chance to order food to their door, however, food often arrived cold – enter Foodifox. 

The lockers at UNSW are also fitted with an LCD screen that outlines the daily menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The missing link

Melbourne-born and based Pagram boasts a vast technology-heavy career. He had an industry start in telecommunications with Samsung and Ericsson then managed and operated a software development business for a Milanese-listed Italian company called Bonjourno.

He reports being driven to uncover the missing link and go above and beyond to provide more sophisticated services. “I always found that there was always something beyond the service that we were building or the product that we were selling that could probably be a little bit better,” says Pagram.

Food and technology 

Foodifox’s pioneering service slashed time lost scouring the area for food – the app enabled people to place a lunch order in the morning and then have it stay warm in the lockers for up to three hours. 

When reflecting on the motivations behind Foodifox’s inception, Pagram references how he and his co-founders Shawn Yi, Tang Wong and Tiger Liu are bound by a love of food and technology. 

“We were really trying to figure out how to synthesise food and technology. It was the starting premise of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to be,” says Pagram. 

A sector worth investing in 

The quartet were inspired to combine their shared passions and craft a convenient, easy and quality dining experience in the comfort of one’s home, office or facility – food would be delivered as the maker intended. 

Conversations between the founders saw them arrive at the possibility of providing heated lockers to facilities, primarily to office buildings as a workplace lunch service. Foodifox would collaborate with companies such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, Deliveroo, Menu Log and Hungry Panda and Fantuan, two smaller but agile and specialised delivery services. 

The lockers are paid for by the aforementioned delivery services, rather than the building owners.

“We realised that food delivery wasn’t going to go away and if anything was probably going to accelerate over time”, says Pagram. The founders believed capitalising on this growth in the market was a wise decision, as investment into this area could only produce plentiful rewards.

They strategised how to deliver this vision in a thoughtful, meaningful and considered way. “It was really a case of thinking about what the market wanted and where we could bring these two things together,” says Pagram.

From left to right: Foodifox co-founder and chief strategy officer Tim Pagram, operations, office of the pro vice-chancellor, education and student experience Luke Jones and executive chef Dominique Heitz.

Convenience and security 

They brainstormed how to add technological innovation into the equation and sought inspiration from heated lockers, particularly in Japan and China. “We decided to deploy lockers into residential buildings as a handoff point for all of the food delivery platforms,” says Pagram.

A locker-less facility receiving food orders plays host to mess, confusion and theft. The team spotted an opening to provide an experience of ease, convenience and security for all stakeholders. “With the locker designed elegantly, all of the complications go away almost instantaneously,” comments Pagram. 

“It makes theft a non-issue for the residents and it makes the delivery of the product a really efficient moment for the drivers.” 

Foodifox remedies a time-draining experience all too familiar to delivery drivers – arriving at a facility and attempting to quickly locate one apartment in a 71-floor building. “You get to the location and go inside and you’re looking for the person to hand the delivery to and they’re five minutes away because they’re upstairs waiting for a lift,” explains Pagram. 

The more time that passes, the possibility of delivering the eating experience originally desired by the producer dwindles in likelihood. Foodifox is committed to avoiding this likelihood and is driven to sustain the quality of the food.

“We really care about the quality of the production of the food,” says Pagram.

With Foodifox’s thermal lockers, drivers are guaranteed to enter and leave the building in under a minute, Pagram says. 

Avoiding the occasional inflexibility of set meal times

While Foodifox is likely most applicable to high-density areas, the recent installation of thermal self-service lockers at UNSW means the service has the potential to resonate in facilities across a variety of locations, mainly those looking to avoid the occasional rigidity and inflexibility of set meal times. 

Hotels, healthcare and aged care facilities and student campuses require the diner to work around meal times, however, Pagram believes that by offering the food producer the opportunity to make food earlier or later and place it in a locker, ease-of-operation is reached for all. People no longer need to request a late meal, reheat cold food, miss set times or sacrifice a meal. 

“If the food producer places it in a locker for people to pick up at their own convenience, these peaks that they go through are flattened down,” says Pagram.

“They get more yield purely from a business perspective in a day. And the end user just gets the convenience that they desperately seek.”

Enriching the student living experience

After discovering that students living in on-campus residencies were missing meals due to clashing commitments, UNSW and its caterer, the Catering Project, strategised how students could access meals at any time of the day and subsequently have a richer campus living experience.

Luke Jones oversees the contract agreement for catering, operations and cleaning facilities within the UNSW student experience portfolio. He witnessed the complications of set meal times and realised it was a “pain point” for many of the almost 2220 students across the residential colleges.

“We used to put a meal into a fridge but it was a really poor product at the end of the day,” he explains. “You’d come back from the lab at 10pm, open the fridge door and you’ve got a meal that’s been sitting there and it’s cold, or if you’re lucky, it’s lukewarm.”

Jones also addresses the unfairness of students missing meal times due to study or work commitments and then having to pay for another meal. 

“If they’re starting work at 5pm and finishing at 12am, buying a meal can add a massive expense onto their daily living, which we already know is a bit of a struggle.” Students pay a weekly fee for food, so they are entitled to reap the benefits of the three meals a day regardless of their schedule, Jones maintains.

First of its kind in the Australian education sector 

Foodifox emerged as a viable option to ensure food remains warm in line with food safety standards. After consultations with Foodifox, Catering Project and the back-end late meal ordering system, My School Connect, the pilot scheme began with the first trimester in February. 

Students requesting the service are sent an individual QR code that they use to scan and open the locker at whatever time is convenient. 

Foodifox’s lockers are fitted with heat pads that allow food to remain at kitchen temperature, almost as if it has just arrived on the table. “The food’s got the best chance of shining as possible with the lockers,” says Pagram. The lockers at UNSW are also fitted with an LCD screen that outlines the daily menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Initial reception gauged from a food committee meeting involving representatives from each college was encouraging, Jones says. “The feedback’s been really positive and the students love using it and it ensures that they get a hot meal instead of something that’s been in the fridge,” says Jones. 

Pagram says the success of the UNSW initiative illustrates that the self-service feature can move regionally and rurally. “It could go regional – anywhere where food is produced and the convenience is a high factor for the consumer,” he says.

Beacon of hope for other facilities with set meal times

Nearly two months in, Jones praises the work ethic of Foodifox and hopes the trial functions as a pillar of guidance for other facilities struggling with set meal times. 

“Foodifox is so flexible and they see that the product adapts to what the requirements are for us,” he says. “We were so confident in the product within a week that we didn’t really do a soft launch. We just went straight into operations and there were no issues at all.” 

Jones says reviews will be conducted halfway through the year to ascertain engagement levels and locker usage patterns, and to consider if the lockers can be used for UberEats orders to avoid food not clogging up space in the residency’s reception area. 

“I think it’s about that final part of the journey and how those lockers play a part there,” he says. 

Rejection of traditional office model not just a lockdown layover 

Foodifox has thermal lockers deployed across 50 locations, which is a major leap, as in September last year, the company had lockers in 36 locations. Pagram says the company is beginning to broaden its horizons and aim beyond merely servicing office buildings due to the well-reported battle of employers struggling to lure workers back to the office full-time. 

“We’re shifting away from servicing workplaces as some of those are effectively deemed as of no interest to us,” says Pagram. “If you don’t have a really steady level of employee attendance at your workplace, it’s going to be difficult for us to make the [workplace lunch] solution really work for your people.”

Pagram sympathises with the plight of employers mandating people return to the office, yet understands why people are reluctant to return to an office that is not surrounded by desirable amenities and features such as cafes, pharmacies and supermarkets. 

“If their office or workplace finds themselves in an area that has had a pretty severe economic downturn because the cafes and restaurants couldn’t survive, then all of a sudden people are returning to a place where all the surrounding facilities no longer exist,” says Pagram. 

Foodifox will earn a place on a facility’s amenities check-list

Foodifox is motivated to solve problems, provide a convenient living and working experience and refrain from being a loud, dominant and monopolising presence in the industry. 

Pagram says the company is content with having people breathe a sigh of relief and feeling reassured by the presence of heated lockers in their facility. He envisages Foodifox eventually earning a spot on a facility’s checklist as a valued and sought-after amenity. 

“If you’re moving in somewhere, you’re ticking off the need for concierge, a spa, bike racks, and now, heated food lockers – that’s where we want to be,” finishes Pagram. 

Photography supplied by Foodifox and UNSW.

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