How A Women-Led Startup Is Making Local Italian Cuisine Accessible Around the World
Nov 16, 2021

PayPal

By Jim Magats, SVP, Payments and SMB Solutions, PayPal

As a proud Italian-American, I was excited for the opportunity to speak with Chiara Rota, CEO and founder of My Cooking Box, an Italian meal kit startup, to hear more about her work to make authentic Italian cuisine accessible around the world, her continued work to make the product sustainable, and her advice for other entrepreneurs.

After spending years in the tech industry, Chiara decided to turn her passion for cooking into an actual business. The increase in preference for homemade meals among younger generations has led to a rise in the meal kit market. In 2016, Chiara realized there was a need in the meal kit space for fresh, authentic Italian cuisine, and so My Cooking Box was born, featuring popular meal kits like Pici Toscani and Mezzi Paccheri Campani.

Today, the women-led business has customers across 20 countries and aims to bring authentic Italian cuisine into homes around the world, while also tackling food waste through sustainable packaging.

 

Jim Magats: Can you share a bit about yourself and how you came up with the idea for My Cooking Box?

Chiara Rota
CEO and Founder Chiara Rota

Chiara Rota: I’m 36 years old, have a degree in management engineering and have always had a strong passion for cooking. In 2016, I launched My Cooking Box, a startup creating boxes with Italian recipes and ingredients that allows everyone to prepare Italian dishes at home, without any waste.

The idea was born out of working with foreign customers who were on business trips in Italy. I had been working as an engineer for various big companies and I used to invite customers out for business lunches, and once they returned home, they’d ask me questions like, “How do you prepare that dish?” or, “That pasta was so delicious, would you give me the recipe?” That’s when I realized there was space for spreading “Made in Italy” worldwide.

I’ve built my luck on the “no” and “can’t be done,” and I’ve always kept a lean approach, learning from mistakes. We’ve now raised over four million Euros and we distribute our boxes across 20 countries, including the U.S. and Germany. We are a team of 30 people – eighty percent of which are women.

 

My Cooking Box team
My Cooking Box team

JM: Small business owners wear many hats. Can you share what your typical day looks like?

CR: Every day is different, but I do have some important routines that I never fail to do. First of all, a kiss to my little daughter when I bring her to kindergarten and then a rush to the office. Once there, for the first 30 minutes, I focus on planning my priorities and activities for the day. Then a quick meeting with my internal teams: sharing new launches with the marketing department, checking KPI progress with the administration department, taking a tour of production to see in which countries our boxes are destined to, and then all the calls to customers with the sales team. The end of the day is normally dedicated to networking, meeting people with whom I can share my ideas and receive suggestions or improvements from – this is one of my favorite parts of the day!

 

JM: What are your aspirations for your business?

CR: In order to maintain our leadership position in the Italian market, we keep our eye on the excellence of “Made in Italy” ingredients and we’re continuously offering new culinary experiences to our customers. We are also focusing on growing our business internationally, and particularly in the DACH (Germany and Austria) market. We have launched a global e-commerce website with a dedicated German section. We’re also focused on the U.S. We are already present in some retail chains there, but our next step, after affirming our presence in Germany, will be a wide distribution and sales network in the United States. 

 

JM: Has PayPal helped you move into new markets?

CR: PayPal is an ideal partner for My Cooking Box because of its brand recognition and the trust associated with it, but also because it is a secure payment provider that helps identify and reduce fraud. Beginning as a start-up, and even now as we move into new markets, initially we’re not a well-known brand. To attract customers, we need to be credible and above all reliable. By using PayPal for our payments, our customers know they can trust us with their payment information. In addition to the trust PayPal provides, PayPal offers a very wide range of payment methods -- which is great as we continue to expand globally -- and on top of that, the integration was easy.

 

JM: You specialize in providing high quality products for easy cooking, without waste. Can you share more about your environmental sustainability initiatives?

CR: What makes My Cooking Box unique is that all the ingredients and condiments contained in our boxes are exactly measured, thus avoiding any kind of food waste. We are also studying new sustainable materials for all of our packaging. It is a task we believe in and in which we are investing a lot of resources. 

 

JM: Can you speak more about your process for curating each meal kit recipe?  

CR: It all starts with the identification of a recipe from Italian regional traditions or from a proposal dedicated to a specific consumption purpose. Once the recipe is defined, chefs collaborating with the Accademia del Gusto (a highly specialized cooking school focused on food and wine) formulate the recipe and identify the needed ingredients. Then begins a long and meticulous scouting phase among local, artisan Italian companies that can provide and guarantee high quality standards. Once the recipe is tested, the supply chain is activated, and the packaging work begins.

 

JM: Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs or people looking to start their own business?  

CR: Believe in what you are doing and be as determined as possible, having clear objectives of what you want to achieve. From my side, despite the resistance and the initial difficulties in obtaining funding, I’ve never given up, and I’ve gradually built a working team that coordinates all the aspects of our business. Determination and networking are fundamental to starting and growing a business. 
 

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