Absolutely meets Jennifer Irvine, a woman who’s built a successful business around healthy eating.
Words Pendle Harte
When people come and say they want to lose weight what they really mean is, they want to be happier.
Pure Package and Balance Box are meal delivery services designed for wellbeing and weight loss, with a variety of different options. Founder Jennifer Irvine started the business in her own kitchen 18 years ago, and at the time there was nothing similar on the market.
So you invented the idea? “Well, obviously, the concept of breakfast, lunch and dinner was around already,” she laughs. Now the Pure Package is a large, slick operation, but to start with it was Jennifer in her small Notting Hill kitchen, cooking meals and delivering them herself. And she’s neither a chef nor a nutritionist, just a foodie who wants to enjoy food without feeling guilty about what she eats. Now the business looks after royalty and movie stars, people in the public eye who need to look good, as well as clients who have been with her from the start. “Stephen Fry lost four stone with us over lockdown,” she says. She won’t reveal any other names, but clearly, he’s not alone.
It’s been a successful journey. “I’m very risk averse. I started from the kitchen sink and calculated that I was able to handle nine clients. After two weeks I had to put another fridge freezer in the spare bedroom, followed by a walk-in chiller in the tiny garden. After three or four months I had to move it out of the house. I used to go to bed with my husband and wait for him to go to sleep. Then I’d get in my little car and whizz around London dropping off meal packages. When I got complaints about my loud music I’d have to pretend that I’d tell off the delivery driver.”
It works like this: you sign up for a package, choosing from options including weight loss, training support, vegan, longevity and more. You’ll have a brief consultation on Zoom with a nutritionist focusing on your goals, and decide whether to go for three, 10, 30 or 90 days. And the next thing you know, you’ll be waking up to a personalised cooler bag on your doorstep, delivered overnight, come rain or shine. “Even when the weather stops the post office from delivering, we still deliver,” says Jennifer.
Over 18 years the service has evolved, but many of the original clients are still with them.
“Originally it was all about weight management, which is still the main thing people ask for and we have that down to a fine art,” explains Jennifer. “Nutritionists are as important as chefs for us, and we always focus on essential fats and natural fresh vegetables. Each plan includes 15 or 20 different fruits and veg every day. Compare that to a normal home-cooked meal where you’ll probably have two or three.” As Jennifer’s life changed, so did the packages. Soon there were pre- and post-natal options, and then training support, then pre-and post-operative. Now there’s a focus on hormone balancing, menopause and longevity. Fundamentally, the idea is that a happy, healthy gut has an enormous effect on general wellbeing and mental health.
Most clients come and go in phases. “Mostly women will do a plan for 90 days in the year, as three separate months. A month after Christmas, a month in early summer and then a month in September/October and they stay for years and years.” There are lots of times it can prove convenient as well as nutritious. “Sometimes people come on when their partners are away,” says Jennifer, though she appreciates that there can be a tricky element to such a unilateral approach to eating. “Women with families realise that sometimes they have to put themselves first. I have four daughters myself and they might all want to have waffles for breakfast – but I don’t. They understand that and can see how happy I am.” Men take a different approach, and there’s a core client base of men who rely entirely on these services. “We find that men stay on for years. They come on to lose weight and then stay. We have one man who’s been on for 10 years.” A meal delivery four days a week can be an ideal solution, leaving people free to eat what they like on weekends.
With kitchens based at New Covent Garden market, access to super fresh ingredients is easy and the business runs like a well-oiled machine with three nutritionists and 12 chefs on duty for each shift. In addition to the personalised Pure Package, there’s a nationwide Balance Box option, which is cheaper but doesn’t cater to whims (“if you don’t like tomatoes, you’ll just have to pick them out”).
Ultimately, it’s simple, says Jennifer. “When people come and say they want to lose weight what they really mean is, they want to be happier. You feel energised and better when you eat well.”
My three day experience
I’m half-expecting it not to turn up, but at 7.30 on day one I find the promised cool bag on my doorstep. The menu comes with my name on it. Breakfast is apple bircher muesli with Greek yoghurt, with the explanation that cinnamon has a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels. It’s a surprisingly large portion; clearly feeling hungry is not part of the deal. Snacks are encouraged: a good handful of pumpkin seeds and a pear, for instance, or strawberries with a chocolate (yes, chocolate) mousse dip. Chocolate contains serotonin, apparently, and they want us to be happy. Lunch is an enormous salad. I have to decant it into a family-sized serving bowl. Boiled eggs and asparagus come with what is likely an entire cucumber cut into painstaking seedless half moons, plus radish and tomatoes and a sour cream and chive dressing. Dinner is lemongrass pesto chicken with pak choy, green beans and flat noodles, and it’s a generous helping. I’m probably not supposed to have a glass of wine with it but I do anyway. Instructions are clear and simple, yet minimal, which I appreciate. At £49 a day it’s clearly more than you’d spend in the supermarket, but it’s hard to overestimate the freedom of not having to shop, plan or cook for yourself.
Day two’s breakfast is two slices of rye bread with peanut butter and chia jam, and again it’s quite a lot. There are no instructions as to whether coffee is allowed, which I take to mean that it is. For lunch it’s a vast plate of falafel and quinoa tabbouleh, and dinner is cottage pie, and there’s a snack of carrot batons and guacamole.
By day three, I’m jumping out of bed to claim my delivery. Breakfast is muesli with yoghurt, blackberry and melon – a large helping, but probably less muesli and more fruit than I’d have prepared myself. Lunch is salmon and rice noodle salad, and dinner is nasi goreng with chicken, prawns, mange tout and romanescu. Who’s denying themself?