From Google to Sodexo, Adrian Evans leads large companies in disrupting their sectors. We ask Adrian how it’s done…
When the French Ministry of Culture wanted to create a new cultural centre for Paris, with a budget of millions, it turned to two unknown architects. Unafraid to propose ground-breaking ideas, Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano were selected in 1971 to design the Georges Pompidou Centre, which made their name, and remains iconoclastic to this day.
Similarly, when International Business Machine changed its name to IBM, it brought in a team of four creatives: graphic designer Paul Rand, architect Eero Saarinen and product designers Charles and Ray Eames. The corporate identity they created (IBM’s 8-bar logo), and extensive application across every touchpoint, transformed the business and was the making of modern branding.
“Why work with the biggest agencies in the world if you want to create something different?” asks Adrian Evans, Food Transformation Director UK and Ireland at the world’s 12th largest employer, Sodexo. “The benefit of working with a boutique agency is that they’re brave and agile.”
Earlier this summer, together with Sodexo, we won The DBA Design Effectiveness Gold Award and Grand Prix Award for our work on its corporate catering brand, Modern Recipe. But the journey to the finished product started several years ago…
How Modern Recipe was created
Like with most things, meticulous planning leads to excellent (and, often, seamless) execution. Key to the success of Modern Recipe was the creation of a small, core team within Sodexo to lead the project independently. “It’s not how most large companies work, but it’s how they absolutely should work,” Adrian explains. “Lots of organisations expect people to do things at the corner of their desks, but if you want to disrupt, you have to give people time. And challenge them.”
Before the design brief for Modern Recipe was even created, Adrian knew he had to get the core team into the right mindset, so he played them videos about Moonshot Thinking – an approach to problem solving that encourages individuals to shoot for the biggest challenges, in order to reap the biggest rewards.
The clip that resonated with Adrian and the team discussed the effects of incremental change to a product: “everyone else in the world is working on the next 10%. If you can be the one to deliver 10 times the improvement, you have a chance to really change things,” says the voiceover. “Moonshot Thinking is ripping up the rulebook and going back to basics – to reinvention,” Adrian explains. “There are so many rules, structures and processes – and rightly so – in big organisations. We needed to be agile here.”
Having Google as a former client set Adrian in good stead for what was to become Modern Recipe, and was part of the reason he was brought into Sodexo. “I was used to working in an agile way when I came in from Google,” he explains. “I was fortunate to look after businesses around the world, so I had lots of different cultural perspectives. The focus was very much around experience, on challenging yourself, on being comfortable to challenge others.”
Having set up the core team to deliver Modern Recipe, Adrian needed external collaborators with a similar approach. “As we were writing the design brief, we realised that we needed some very different thinkers on our team,” he says. “What you find in a big organisation is that, through the course of the project, you might compromise and not end up with what you’d intended to deliver. So we needed the help of an organisation that would challenge us and continue to challenge us so that we could reflect on ourselves.”
And challenge we did. Sodexo’s original brief was to create a B2B brand, but we knew from our experience in consumer hospitality that they needed a B2C brand instead. “We talk about consumers all the time at Sodexo, but we’d briefed a B2B brand – why weren’t we connecting the dots?” Adrian recalls. “It was one of the important moments in the pitch.”
Our pitch was exclusively ideas-driven, a risky move when you’re presenting to a large organisation, with layers of structure and process. “That actually resonated with us,” Adrian admits. “Other agencies had come to the pitch with cookie-cutter approaches. When I look back, Without’s was a really simple pitch, but because it was simple, it was easy to connect it to what we were looking to achieve.”
Soon after the pitch, we were introduced to the wider Sodexo team, from senior management to food development and sales team – building those relationships at the initial stages is crucial to the successful delivery of a new brand. “It was really important to get them in front of the Without team. When we introduced the CEOs – they absolutely understood. They wanted to disrupt the market, too. Andrew Wilkinson was instrumental in forming the core Modern Recipe team.”
Modern Recipe has proved to be a commercial and consumer success. Not only has it improved retail sales by up to 60%, the brand has helped to secure millions in new and retained corporate contracts. It has since been rolled out by Sodexo in North America and Asia.
The future of food and works spaces
And what of the future, given the evolution of traditional work spaces and patterns? “Food spaces have the opportunity to connect people, to be the heart of an office environment. You need to design food delivery systems that support flexible and hybrid working,” says Adrian, pointing to Food Connection, the business’s new approach to food experiences in the workplace. From pre-order, click-and-collect and scan-and-go to food lockers and agile delivery models – a replication of the high street. Bringing it all together is the Twelve Pay app, which Sodexo will launch across the Modern Recipe site, to drive this flexible and seamless experience.
“This isn’t just about click and collect; it’s about the integration of all food solutions, and the biggest asset is the ability to flex up and down throughout the week,” Adrian explains. “Now that people are going into the office one or two days a week, they’re having a different, more elevated experience.”
But that was always the beauty of Modern Recipe; it was designed with flexibility and agility in mind before the pandemic. Adrian recalls, at the very beginning, concern from some clients that the brand was “going too far”, the RIP message was too much. They wondered if it could be tweaked. “No,” Adrian insisted. “We’re making a statement.”
This article first appeared in The Brief, a monthly email with conversations and provocation for leaders and founders of brands . Just sign up here to receive it directly to your inbox – and join the debate.