Blue River Dairy

Free lunch programme delivers more than just food

An innovative initiative that 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 unique programme designed to promote camaraderie amongst the team, by bringing people together for a meal in the midst of their busy workday.

General manager Robert Boekhout says the staff lunches were launched after he saw a similar programme in action when he visited Blue River’s China headquarters to meet the China-based team. The workplace culture benefits of eating together he observed led to a more engaged team and a true sense of family among colleagues, he says.

“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.”

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

Import/Export team member Aju Zachariah says having lunch provided by Blue River is one less thing for him to worry about, giving 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 says.

Procurement Coordinator Celia Shi says having lunch arrive ready to eat means she has 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 take a walk, getting away from my desk” she says.

Charlie’s Kitchen is one of the catering businesses that supplies the lunches, and owner Sandra Skeggs describes 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 says.

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,” Sandra says.

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 says sustainability and community are core principles she upholds.

“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 says.

“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,” she adds.

For more than two years, the free lunch programme has been just one of the many ways Blue River Dairy goes the extra mile for its team. The company’s commitment to caring for its staff was recognised with the Workplace Wellbeing award at the most recent 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,” Robert says.

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