How to build a D2C food platform 🍩

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to pivot from founding the most delicious and successful donut business to a DTC food platform? I have.

So it was rad to sit down with JP Then, founder of Crosstown and Slerp, to learn all about it.


Describe what you do

I am the Founder and CEO of Slerp. Slerp is a technology business built by hospitality operators for the hospitality sector. Our core objective is empowering restaurants and food operators by enabling them to directly connect and transact with their customers through their own digital channels. We are enabling them to grow their omni-channel offering and build stronger relationships with their customers.

We work with hospitality businesses, franchises and groups ranging from 2-5 sites up to 100+ sites, offering them a highly customisable online ordering and delivery solution. We're proud to have partnered with renowned brands across London and the UK, such as Pasta Evangelists, Ottolenghi, Eataly, JKS Restaurants and many more well-known names in the industry.

One of our significant achievements earlier this year was winning the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator Award for Best Technology.This recognition highlights our commitment to providing innovative solutions within the hospitality sector.
My primary focus is to support the business in every possible way to drive growth and improvement. This involves internal operations, externally engaging with existing shareholders and investors and prospective ones, and ensuring that the company is well-prepared to handle scaling.

Tell me where the original idea for Slerp came from.

It came when I was looking to take Crosstown online. We were very early adopters of marketplace ordering (Deliveroo & Uber Eats). It was great to see the traction of same-day deliveries, but Crosstown is also hugely popular for gifting and also pre-ordering, both things marketplaces don’t fully offer. In addition, the lack of brand identity and transparency around data didn’t make sense to me, or for our brand. It just made sense to diversify, or as we now call it, become omni-channel.

I had a strong belief in the potential of online ordering for the restaurant sector. Direct-to-consumer (D2C) models have already proven successful in other industries like retail and hotels, so it became clear to me that the next phase for the restaurant sector was adopting D2C methods as well.

Considering my own thoughts and experiences, I realised that if I could see this potential for D2C in the restaurant industry, others would likely be thinking the same way or would soon come to that conclusion. This sparked the idea for Slerp—a platform that would empower restaurants to establish their own direct online ordering channels, enabling them to take control of their customer experience and future-proof their business.

My sense is that hospitality in general is weathering the current economic climate better than other sectors. What are your general thoughts on this? And how is this translating to online hospitality?

It really depends on what the operators are actioning and how they are tackling the current climate. Those that are more progressive in their mindset are executing omni-channel strategies and learning how to build digital into their business. Those that aren’t, will more likely struggle.

Forward-thinking businesses are recognising the need to diversify their revenue streams and meet customers where they are. This includes investing in direct digital channels, such as their own websites or apps. By enabling multiple ordering touchpoints and leveraging the power of direct channels, businesses can gather valuable customer data and provide a better overall experience.

The concept of direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels is still relatively new in the hospitality sector, with global players leading the way. However, SMEs and the mid-market players are starting to take notice and realising the potential benefits. The technology required to utilise D2C channels is also now more accessible without significant capital outlay, making it easier for businesses to diversify their ability to reach customers.

What do you guys think about aggregators like Deliveroo? Competition? Or do you see them as a necessary channel for a food brand?

Aggregators (or marketetplaces) have undoubtedly made a significant impact on the food industry, both in terms of consumer expectations and the competitive landscape.

They are an important part of the omni-channel strategy for many food brands, providing a convenient and widely accessible delivery option for customers.
But they are not without their flaws too. They introduce a new layer between the restaurant and the customer, potentially diluting brand visibility and customer loyalty. They control the customer data and have the authority to set the search algorithm, determining which restaurants appear at the top of listings. This can create a sense of dependency on the aggregator's platform. The introduction of ads within these marketplaces to be at the top of the listings just reiterates this.

Most Slerp Partners are on one or multiple marketplaces, but they also want a direct channel that gives them more configurability, more control and access to customer data. Ultimately, the decision to rely on aggregators or seek alternative ordering channels depends on how much control the operator wants.

How have consumer behaviours towards online food changed from 2021 to now? And how has the Slerp product adapted to these changes?

There have been a few notable shifts post pandemic and with the cost-of-living crisis having an impact. I think for us the key ones have been the following:

The decline in popularity of meal kits. As people's routines have returned to ‘normal’, the appeal of meal kits as a convenient option has diminished, people aren’t finding them as convenient any more as time once again becomes more precious with the return of the commute and so on, so instead consumers are looking for more diverse and hassle-free choices when it comes to their meals. On the other hand, catering orders have been on the rise. With more events being hosted at home instead of going out to restaurants, the convenience of having food delivered for these occasions is on the up. Plus, as people are getting back to the office and feeling more comfortable making plans, the demand for office catering and corporate food deliveries has gone up too. A meaningful proportion of our orders are pre-orders and many of our partners offer corporate catering now, which is something most marketplaces just haven’t tapped into in a meaningful way.

Another trend is the desire to support local businesses. This has become a prominent movement since the pandemic hit. Consumers have realised the benefits of ordering directly from their favourite local restaurants instead of going through online marketplaces. They understand that by buying direct, both the customer and the business can benefit. It's become the norm to seek out direct ordering options and support their community.

And we can’t ignore the cost-of-living crisis. It has been great to see that our Partners are seeing year-on-year increases of 39% in revenue and a 55% increase in orders per store for both delivery and click-and-collect. This is reflective of the other trends mentioned, but consumers are becoming more conscious of their spending, who they place it with, and how. They want value for their money, but that doesn't necessarily mean going for the cheapest option, they're more selective with their spending choices and want to make sure they're getting both quality food and a good deal, hence why smaller businesses really need to consider how they build (and offer customer loyalty) and get those repeat visits.

You’re also the founder of the UK’s best doughnut brand, Crosstown. How has this association helped in developing the Slerp product? Has it hindered in any way?

Being an operator has been vital to both identifying the opportunity and developing the product. Being on both sides gives us the unique position of understanding how to build a platform that really solves pain points for other operators. This first-hand experience has provided insights into the challenges and requirements of running a food business, which then has allowed us to define the ultimate playbook from all the Crosstown learnings. Our focus is now on how we channel that to other operators and continue to build on it to create the best possible products.

Overall, professionally it has been nothing but an advantage. Personally, as the co-founder of Crosstown it has been hard to step away and fully focus all my efforts on Slerp, but the opportunity and the potential for Slerp is so large, it was something I wanted to throw my full efforts into.

You guys have been picking up some excellent clients. Tell me more about your recent partnership with Kricket.

Our recent partnership with Kricket is one example of a great, premium partner who wants to become omni-channel. Whilst they remain on marketplaces such as Deliveroo,, they also recognised the need to establish their own direct-to-consumer (D2C) channel.

Kricket is leveraging a significant portion of our technology stack including utilising our digital loyalty programme and CRM integrations, allowing them to make the most of the rich customer data they can then collect. By implementing these tools, Kricket can enhance their understanding of customer preferences, behaviour, and purchasing patterns which in term means a data driven approach in personalising their offerings and marketing efforts, resulting in improved customer engagement and retention.

In addition to the D2C channel, Kricket will also utilise our platform for catering orders. This feature enables them to efficiently manage and fulfil orders for large-scale events or corporate clients, expanding their reach beyond the traditional restaurant experience.

One particularly exciting aspect of our partnership with Kricket is the implementation of nationwide shipping for their BBQ kits. This initiative also allows Kricket to capitalise on their popular offerings and reach customers across the country. This allows Kricket to expand their customer base outside London and generate additional revenue streams.

Overall, our collaboration with Kricket demonstrates the versatility and value of our platform and we are proud to be working with such a great brand in their journey towards becoming omni-channel.

There have been some hospitality tech casualties in the last six months (e.g., Mr Yum). Do you think this was inevitable?

I think the market will naturally evolve as we establish what a post-pandemic era looks like. We doubled down on the fastest growing order type which is delivery. It has been growing at a 10-12% CAGR continuously so an obvious opportunity if we could get the platform right for operators. It has been a lot of hard work and a real team effort but we are happy with the progress we have made, particularly on Slerp Dispatch where the operations team do an exceptional job and we get a lot of positive feedback from our partners. In terms of the business, our most recent quarter was three times up on last year, so the signs are all promising.

What would your advice be to somebody raising money right now? Would you advise them to go for it? Or hold off until the markets are a little more settled?

That is a really tough one as the fundraising landscape is not looking the best for early-stage start-ups. The buzz around AI is evident but many other sectors are lagging. If you have a strong product-market fit, a strong leadership team and you can show a big opportunity to investors, cheques will still get written.

But before committing it is important to always ask yourself, can you work with these investors for 5-10 years? It’s important that the chemistry and commitment is there on both sides.

It would be remiss of me not to talk about Ai in July 2023. How are you experimenting with Ai and what impact do you think it will have on hospitality and/or food tech?

We’re really excited by AI and starting to use it to enhance operational efficiencies and provide our partners with better experiences and tools. We are helping partners to elevate their marketing and in combining AI with our new Slerp CRM product this has seen an average of 15% uplift in GMV.

We are focusing on how we can use AI to practically help our partners. We don't make partners feel like they're using it, but we use it in the background to make fast, real time recommendations for them on products, discounts and promotions they can run. There are lots of other exciting things we have planned too, but I won’t say too much, you need to stay tuned!