Free lunch scheme delivers

Blue River Dairy staff members Gareth Lyness and Celia Shi share a free daily lunch with colleagues. Photo: Supplied

AN initiative which started from a desire to bring people together has grown into a daily
event that supports workplace wellbeing and local businesses at one Southland company.

Since 2019, Southland-based nutritional products manufacturer Blue River Dairy has been providing a free, daily lunch to its staff. It’s a programme designed to promote camaraderie among the team, by bringing people together for a meal in the midst of their busy workday.

Blue River Dairy general manager Robert Boekhout said the staff lunches were launched
after he saw a similar programme in action when he visited Blue River’s China headquarters.

He noticed the workplace culture benefits of eating together led to a more engaged team
and a true sense of family among colleagues.

“The value the programme brought to our China-based team was obvious, so it made
complete sense to trial it at our Invercargill manufacturing plant,” Mr Boekhout said.

Every day, staff are provided lunch from a Southland business. From fresh sandwiches to
hearty hot options, all staff dietary requirements are catered for. Wednesdays – curry day – are a particular highlight.

Import/export team member Aju Zachariah said having lunch provided by Blue River was
one less thing for him to worry about, given the busyness of his working day.

“It’s quite good to be able to take that break with my colleagues; there’s a good variety to
pick from, and it makes getting ready for work so much easier,” he said.

Procurement co-ordinator Celia Shi said having lunch arrive ready to eat meant she had
more time to stop and take a break at lunchtime.

“I don’t have to think about what to have or spend my lunch break going out to buy lunch
– it just arrives, ready to eat, which gives me more time to take a walk, getting away from my desk,” she said.

Charlie’s Kitchen is one of the catering businesses that supplies the lunches, and owner Sandra Skeggs described the initiative as a welcome boost to her business.

“It’s good to know we have regular income coming in, especially during these difficult Covid times,” she said.

Charlie’s Kitchen tailor-makes each lunch to suit the team members’ individual dietary
requirements and preferences.

“I am proud of my staff for rising to the challenge and delivering high-quality lunches to this local business.”

Since its launch, the programme has grown and evolved. There are always new food
providers, new menu options and, most recently, Blue River Dairy has started using  reusable containers instead of disposable packaging from some lunch providers.

Lee’s Catering is one of those providers and owner Debbie Monteith said sustainability and
community were core principles she upheld.

“Blue River is supporting my business and that enables us to support other local businesses. We have a paddock to plate philosophy and source all our ingredients from
local providers. It’s all about taking care of our community and the environment,” she said.

“Our relationship with Blue River means a lot because I really like what they’re doing by
providing for their team – I do the same for my team.”

The company’s commitment to caring for its staff was recognised with the Workplace
Wellbeing award at the 2019 Southland Business Excellence Awards.

“Ultimately we, as a company, want to help our people be the best versions of themselves.

Providing lunch is a small gesture, but it makes a difference,” Mr Boekhout said.