what does it look like to be a member of australia’s environmental super force, yume food?


Interview by Emily Matthews

We spoke to Yume Foods Founder, Katy Barfield to find out

Yume Food works with leading food suppliers and farmers to sell surplus stock, that may otherwise have been wasted to hospitality and retail businesses around Australia. Katy Barfield founded Yume in 2014 as a way to help combat the 4.1 million tonnes of food going to waste in the commercial food sector each year.

Katy Barfield, entrepreneur and Yume founder

Katy was full of enthusiasm when she gave me some of her precious time to discuss Yume not just as a great product brand, but as a great employer. I’m very interested in the moves that Yume are making, so it was hard to stay on topic, but read on to find out what goes on behind closed doors and just why you should be working at Yume… Wine at meetings whilst helping to save the environment? Yes please!

What are the top reasons to join Yume?

Every day is an adventure, and everything is colourful. That sounds fluffy, but if you want to work in an environment that is wonderfully unpredictable and that moves and changes shape regularly, then Yume is just that. When I say unpredictable, I mean that we pivot. We fail fast, get up and move on. Fail fast is a motto of ours actually; we aren’t afraid of failure as we see it as something that has to happen in a start up to get you closer to your goal. You don’t learn without mistakes, right?

So, it’s exciting and it’s challenging. And there’s lots of hard work going on. You wouldn’t work here if you wanted a really structured environment where you knew what you were doing every single day. If you like unpredictability and the ability to be as agile as you want and need, then it is a great place to work. We have big hearts, big ambitions, and more energy than the average company!

Did you consciously build Yume to be so fluid, or is that just the nature of a start up?

Look, I think the culture definitely comes from me, as I really push against rigidity; I’ve never liked it and don’t thrive in that environment. I don’t like strict hierarchies. We operate on more of a flat structure, but of course everyone’s not running around going ‘what shall I do today?’ We all have roles that we play and strengths that we work to. Again, this comes from me wanting each day to be exciting, wanting to check in on people, wanting to make sure that people are emotionally well and physically well, and feeling fulfilled in their job environment. Part of my job is making sure people actually look forward to coming to work.

Do Yume employees need to have a passion for, or a background in sustainability prior to working with you?

Short answer is no. We all have different personal ways of this manifesting and actioning sustainability into our lives. We’ve got people that live in apartments that have their own composting bin on their balcony, people that grow their own food in their garden and people that have never worked in this industry before – we have just hired a chef!

All employees must have some care there for the environment, but do you need a worm farm – no and if you came in everyday with a throwaway coffee cup, you would probably get some stick, all in jest of course. I think once you come to an organisation like Yume, it’s almost like an ‘AHA’ moment like ‘OMG I didn’t even know this was happening! I didn’t know that commercial food waste on this scale was happening in Australia every year.’ So, I think you can come on this sustainability journey with us.  

So, what competencies or personalities do you tend to target regardless of the role you are hiring for? Are they just like you?

No, everyone has their own individual personalities, with some being stronger than others – yet no more suited to Yume than others. What they do have in common though is that they all have never worked in an environment quite like Yume. It’s new for them as the majority have worked in more structured corporate environments prior.

Each member of the team are all quite different from myself, which is surprising as you would think you would have the same unconscious bias and employ people quite similar to yourself. But they’re not. Oh, and we are also very inclusive and diverse… we have people from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, UK, Argentina, and South Africa – people from around the globe and all walks of life!

You should do days where people bring in food famous in their country!

We are going to do that! Each month someone will cook a dish from their home country – although I think they’d get jibbed with me from Britain as they would get fish and chips or pie and chips and mushy peas! The Brits love our pies – apple pie or vegetarian pie! Most of our team are veggies.

Same! I wouldn’t do fish and chips though, I’d probably do gammon, eggs, and chips – proper pub style!
Do you hold regular team training sessions to encourage everyone to voice ideas and opinions?

Yes, we do that organically. Everything is in a consultative way. There’s no, ‘I’ve decided that this is what we are doing’ and ‘it’s my way or the highway. I say this is what I see as the right direction, can anyone see any holes in that? You’d be surprised at our team’s thoughts and ability to find the yeses and the no’s in any idea.

As we have different type of personalities, some more dominant than others, I will go to them personally and ask what their view is, so everyone has equal airtime.

So, we run the company in 3-month sprints and have just done July, August, September, and are now planning the October, November, December sprint. This sets the strategy for that period, and everyone has a voice in how that goes as well. Obviously beforehand, I look at the business more holistically than everyone else and then lay down what’s working or what’s not working, what we need to change or move and then take it to the team and discuss this at the monthly team meeting.

What are Yume’s values and how have they changed throughout the years?

I was thinking about this, and we did a value workshop recently and realised they’ve stayed relatively the same since the beginning of Yume. So, we have grit, curiosity, and adaptability, but also have two we need to work on. We have integrity, but I think we are more original than that and also boldness. These all still ring true as the beating heart of Yume hasn’t changed seven years on. It’s really important that these values are fully embedded into the company as when new people come in and people move on, I want these to stand strong and carry weight with the new team.

Do you prioritise team bonding exercises or staff meals? If so, why do you think this is important?

Yes, regularly! Yesterday it was us eating a lot of food and drinking wine at the same time. We ate arancini and pizza and held a productive meeting. Recently we all went and did a wine tasting event for fun. I like to take the time to celebrate the wins, but these staff events are not compulsory – everyone has their own lives to live as well.

Lockdown in Victoria is where I really saw the strength of the culture at Yume. At first, we were having video meetings every morning so that we could see each other’s faces which is really important – I have members of the team who live on their own and that can be really challenging. I made sure I sent out hampers and care kits when they weren’t expecting it and checked in on them just to ask how they’re going. They really appreciated it and it was a special connection that I’m glad we all made the effort to hold on to throughout that period. Strangely, I believe it made us stronger as a team.

Do you ever see yourself hiring again interstate?

Yes, I don’t want to exclude anyone, but it would definitely depend on the person and their working style. They have to be very self-managed and able to carry momentum alone. We’re based in Melbourne and our Head of Marketing is based in Sydney and that works well for her. We are pretty flexible here; at the moment I do three days in the office and two at home.

When we look to fill roles for our clients, we take the time to understand the competencies that they are after and the non-negotiables.
With Yume, we look for someone with intellectual agility and a curiosity for learning. They must want to join an environment which is growing and where things might not always go to plan. They must want to make a change. Can you add anything to this?

That’s a great and very true list. I would also add to that emotional intelligence and communication skills. Oh, and someone who has great resilience and takes failure in their stride. You need the ability to focus in a vibrant environment as well. Our team have different ways of doing this; they put headphones in, play music or go to one of rooms in the office upstairs to concentrate.

Are you guys working on some big projects at the moment?

Yes – we are working on a huge product at the moment and it’s the most excited I’ve been in a long time. I’m always excited of course, but this is big! I think we are on the right track to change the system because that is ultimately what you want to do. You can mop up the (surplus food) problem, and that’s what we have done up until now, but this project will actually prevent and fix a lot of the problems. This could provide an absolute seismic shift in how the end-to-end food process works, so that no food gets lost in the system. Watch this space.

I loved how honest Katy was with the fact that she and the team do face challenges and failures daily, but that it is all part of the learning journey. The takeaways from this chat is that Yume is collaborative, fun, rewarding and challenging. What’s better than helping the environment whilst having a fun!?

We are helping Yume to grow their team, improve on their employer brand and streamline their hiring and employee onboarding processes. If you want us to help you and your business, reach out to us today!  

Watch Yume on an episode of Channel 10’s new series, Advancing Australia!

Yume are always on the lookout for highly engaged, ethical and mission-driven people to join them. Think you’re up for the challenge in creating a World Without Waste? Email your CV and a cover letter to eat@yumefood.com.au