Key stats

95% of all vouchers issued by Tillo

22,500 schools enrolled (92% of schools in England)

1.3 million families needing support

128 million meal allowances

£385m worth of vouchers issued

20 meals purchased every 20 seconds, seven days a week over five months


As the global COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world and the UK went into lockdown on 23rd March, millions of parents whose children, under normal circumstances, would receive a free school meal, faced the very real prospect of going hungry at home over lockdown. The government needed to act.

Child eating at home

A trusted partner

Edenred has a longstanding relationship with the government, and were approached by the DfE to deliver the nationwide scheme. Edenred knew they had only a few weeks to create a bespoke platform and interface which could manage the activity between all relevant parties; from the schools to the retailers to the parents themselves.

The objectives of the scheme were to:

  • Rapidly provide vital support to children after the school closures
  • Be robust enough to work at scale for the 22,500 schools and 1.3m families in England
  • Deal with the unique and complex interface between the DfE, schools, families and retailers
  • Be inclusive: ensuring those who might have low levels of literacy or access to technology could use the scheme
  • Provide access to widest possible network of grocery retailers in the UK
  • Ensure that all public funds allocated to free school meals went to the families and carers who needed them.

Edenred set about putting into place the widest possible network of grocery retailers with eGift card schemes to ensure the process was as simple as possible for all involved. Edenred Sales and Marketing Director, Andy Philpott, comments:

“It was at this point I picked up the phone to Gareth at Tillo. Timescales were tight and I knew we had to move as quickly as possible but equally, but we also knew that using the right technology to underpin the work was critical and getting as many of the main supermarkets onboard as possible was absolutely crucial.”
Family shopping in the supermarket Kid helping prepare dinner at home

The technology at the heart of the project

Tillo CEO, Gareth Gillatt, explains:

“As soon as I heard from Andy I knew we would help deliver the vouchers and we already had the supermarkets onboard to be able to support this but I also knew we would have to work incredibly quickly, we had 10-14 days to get it up and running. The initiative went live on the 29th of March and as Edenred worked on the front end, we quickly assembled dedicated teams to work on the backend of our platform to power Edenred’s work.”

Tillo set up dedicated teams to work on the backend of their delivery platform to power Edenred’s work: Onboarding Team consisting of commercial and technology reps to ensure new supermarkets were onboarded as efficiently as possible and within days.

Operations Team consisting of operations and finance reps to manage the day to day running of the project. For supermarkets such as ASDA, Morrisons, McColls and M&S that didn’t have an API available Tillo managed huge volumes of stock and corresponding cash flow from Edenred.

The Data Team created a bespoke dashboard for the project to perform continual trend analysis on stock levels. This was essential as orders were being placed multiple times a day and stock needed to be continually monitored.

Tillo COO, Alex Preece, continues:

“Given that we were ourselves as a business adapting to lockdown, remote working and our own personal challenges, I am hugely proud of the team and what we achieved. To put it into perspective, we issued more gift cards in April than we did in the whole of 2019.”

As the initiative began to gain traction and media coverage a number of new retailers; Aldi, McColls and Iceland, approached Tillo to become part of the scheme, none of these retailers had completed B2B voucher distribution before.

It was great to see the additional supermarkets wanting to become a part of the initiative, for all parties involved, but it also meant that these brands needed to be onboarded which was in itself a challenge, as this process normally takes 3-6 months; this time round they were onboarded in days.

Tillo’s powerful API ensured that as soon as Edenred’s system called a voucher from a given supermarket, Tillo could take the funds from the brand in real time. For supermarkets such as ASDA, Morrisons, McColls and M&S that didn’t have an API available Tillo managed huge volumes of stock and corresponding cash flow from Edenred.

The results

Research conducted among schools, parents and carers at the end of the summer term found overwhelming support for a scheme from families and the majority of schools.

  • 94% of parents and carers said they were satisfied with the scheme
  • 86% of parents and carers had no problems redeeming gift cards online or instore
  • 93% of schools said vouchers were a good alternative for delivering food support to families
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Doing our bit

There is no doubt that the free school meals vouchers have transformed Tillo as business; the company has experienced growth, cemented our position as market leader, challenged it to deliver a substantial project on short time frames, and, just as importantly, the team has bonded hugely over the initiative. As a result, Tillo wanted to give something back to those most in need within their local community.

The Tillo team set about finding a local initiative they could support. Alex explains:

“As children, Gareth and I both grew up on council estates and we used to receive free school meals, so we genuinely understand why these meals matter so much; these aren’t free school meal vouchers, these are food vouchers so people can feed their families. I knew that from all of us within Tillo the appetite was there and we all wanted to do our bit to help, so, when one of the team recommended Chomp, it was the perfect opportunity to give something back.”

During lockdown Tillo donated their time and money to the local Brighton based charity as Chomp as they provided food boxes to those most in need across the city. Chomp are now Tillo’s chosen charity and the business continues to support them in their initiatives as they seek to empower some of Brighton’s poorest families.

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Tillo team helping organise food bank donations with Brighton based charity Chomp

The future

With regards to the sector, the initiative has been a great way of showing people that there are other ways gift cards can be used. Gareth explains:

“The initiative opens the doors for using gift cards in ways people had never thought possible before and at Tillo we have the technology and infrastructure to scale quickly. I’m sure if there are future lockdowns the vouchers will be used again if they are needed.”

“From a personal perspective, I am really proud; what a great thing for a Brighton business to be at the centre of, we’ve delivered a nationwide campaign which has helped change society.”