SME Champions

Shaping the palates of the future

Customer Focus of the Year 2019 Winner

Leela’s Lunches wins Customer Focus of the Year in Gulf Capital SME Awards 2019

“Mums are expected to work as though they have no children and, in the new age of helicopter parenting, raise children as though they have no jobs.”

This astute observation by former finance professional, Lavi Chandra, was the seed of an idea for a company that would support busy parents by not only providing children with healthy, fresh, natural meals, but also educating clients to make good nutritional choices across all aspects of their lives.

“I wanted there to be no trade-off between nutrition and convenience for parents of little children,” says Chandra, “and that’s how Leela’s Lunches was formed.”

The catering company, co-founded by Chandra in 2016 has gone from serving just seven children in its first month, to providing lunches for 1000 children daily, with an annual growth of over 100 per cent.

The key to success was understanding that the main focus of the business should be on the consumer, the child. The caterers give young people the flavours and textures they like, with customised menus based on an organisation’s demographic and flavour preferences. A family-style presentation helps fussy eaters by making mealtime more community-centric and interactive.

But each child is also influenced by the adults around them. “We must take a holistic approach to serving all of them in order to succeed,” Chandra explains. Parents are given the opportunity to discuss their child’s specific needs, enabling Leela’s Lunches to cater for allergies and other personalised dietary requirements. Access to nutritionists, regular newsletters and nutritional and ingredient sourcing information all help to bring carers on board. The company also works closely with nurseries and teachers on important issues such as portion sizing, and strategies for fussy eaters.

“Our biggest strength is our ability to work with all important caretakers in a child’s life (parents, teachers, even nannies) to ensure that their nutritional needs are met in a fun interactive way,” says Chandra.

This client-centric approach saw Leela’s Lunches winning ‘Customer Focus of the Year’ in the Gulf Capital SME Awards 2019.

Despite the failure of several local catering start-ups, Chandra feels that there is still plenty of space in the sector. “Ironically, our biggest competitors are not really other catering companies (the market is large enough to absorb a few of them) but actually parents themselves. Our clients are parents of extremely young children (6 months to 6 years) and it is sometimes hard for them to let go of things without there being a guilt element attached to it.”

With UAE’s drive to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the country from 19 per cent to 16.4 per cent of the population by 2021, healthy eating will remain high on the agenda for some time to come. While the government has introduced initiatives to promote sport and activity, Leela’s Lunches sees an important role in improving the nation’s diet.  “We are trying to play our part on the nutrition side of things and ensure that convenient / fast foods so prevalent in the country are not featuring on children’s plates,” says Chandra.


The Gulf Capital SME Awards is an annual platform that is dedicated to celebrating and recognising the outstanding contributions of SMEs like The Camel Soap Factory in helping to build and grow the regional economy.

If you would like to share your incredible SME journey, then register for the Gulf Capital SME Awards 2020 today and submit your entry!