Make It Work: Marble LDN on delivering seasonal produce, as well as events

An illustration of a person serving a box full of vegetables.

In our new series, we ask creative entrepreneur members how they’re pivoting during these uncertain times. Here, London member, Darren Haskell-Thomas, shares how he’s adapted his experience agency to offer a new weekly food delivery service, Marbleous Boxes

By Jess Kelham-Hohler    Illustration by Elena Xausa   Wednesday 20 May, 2020   Short read

When lockdown came into effect in the UK in late March, it put a number of the projects for Darren Haskell-Thomas’ experience agency, Marble LDN, on pause. But while he couldn’t get people together in person, he was determined to find a way to connect with local communities. On 10 April, he launched Marbleous Boxes, a farm-to-table delivery service, bringing seasonal, locally sourced produce selected by acclaimed chef Tom Thornton to the doorsteps of harder-to-reach communities around south-east England. Here, Haskell-Thomas shares how he crafted his new business plan and the ways in which Marbleous Boxes has grown in just five weeks.

Life in ‘the before’
‘I run Marble LDN, an award-winning live experience agency that binds brands, agencies and experience. Our events team delivers end-to-end branded experiences for the likes of the BBC, Red Bull, Nike and Google, with all of our projects underpinned by design, collaboration and sustainability.

‘Our industry thrives on bringing people together, usually in a physical format, using the power of experience to facilitate emotional connections between consumers and brands. However, the current climate and various restrictions on social gatherings did make it fairly difficult to carry on business as usual. We wanted to channel that creative energy into a new initiative.’

The big idea
‘We recently moved out of London, and when lockdown hit, we found it impossible to order from the existing delivery companies we had previously used – so it was clear demand was exceptionally high. I started working on the idea for Marbleous Boxes, a fruit and vegetable delivery service that takes the same sentiment of Marble LDN of uniting communities, but adapted to the challenges facing people and charities across the south east of the UK. 

‘While Marble LDN is still organising events – in a virtual format for immediate needs or planning physical ones for the end of 2020-21 – the area of the business that’s unable to work in its usual guise at the moment is our site and operations team. So, we needed a new focus here. By applying our years of experience in operations, I knew we could utilise our site crew’s hard work and dedication, and got the Marble LDN vans moving with this new venture. The evident demand for food produce, coupled with our existing infrastructure of vehicles and personnel, made me confident that we could make a success of it.’

Taking the leap
‘I reached out to a local chef and friend, Tom Thornton, who we had worked with before on a number of our projects. He was already doing food drops, as well as cooking 500 free meals a week for the NHS at Swindon hospital, so a collaborative business felt like a natural progression for him, too. 

‘Like any new business, there were teething problems. Chuck a worldwide pandemic into the mix, with a compromised food chain and, well, you get the picture. With 15 years in event production and operations, though, I like to think you can throw pretty much anything at me and I won’t be too fazed by it.’

'In terms of where we take it next, I just try to think about what I would like to receive on my doorstep each week. We’re in this together, so it’s a pretty safe bet that we’re all craving the same things'

The response 
‘We were incredibly proud of the finished product as the first week’s deliveries went out, which took place just nine days after we first came up with the idea.

‘Five weeks later and the response has been really great. Tom brings the culinary creativity to the boxes, and is really on the pulse when it comes to what produce we should be including each week. The longevity of a business like this relies on good, honest feedback, so we have been extremely receptive to anything our customers have told us and adjusted our produce where necessary to make sure that we are providing the highest quality. I think as a society, we are all becoming more understanding of seasonal produce and how this may vary from week to week. This has allowed us to change the boxes depending on the food we can get.

‘Since launch, we’ve been continuously building and developing the business. Aside from smoother logistics, we are now partnering with some of our favourite food brands on a more collaborative approach. On top of adding a Mega Roast Box with the trimmings for a full Sunday roast, we have recently released the Marbleous Lockdown Hamper, which includes some of our favourites such as Patty & Bun, La Nonna and Tribe.

Life in ‘the after’
‘We are certainly going to keep this going and are hoping to have the new website live in June, where people will be able to select small, medium or large fruit and vegetable boxes. There will be also be a bolt-on function, including DIY burger kits, homemade pizza kits, pasta boxes and cocktails. In terms of where we take it next, I just try to think about what I would like to receive on my doorstep each week. We’re in this together, so it’s a pretty safe bet that we’re all craving the same things. We want the journey to be super simple – click, pay and eat.’
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