Launched in 2013, FreshRealm fulfils orders from facilities in Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and New Jersey co-located with Renaissance Food Group, a supplier of fresh prepared fruits and vegetables, and prepared foods from pastas to entrée salads.
“We’ve spent a lot of time building really high-quality products that require 10 minutes or less of effort on consumers’ part, whether it’s oven cooking, stovetop, microwave, or sheet pan meals,” said founder Michael Lippold, who previously worked as director of strategic development at fresh produce supplier Calavo Growers, which has a minority stake in FreshRealm.
“Consumers want to buy meal solutions across different channels, and we’re now playing in four different channels. Grocery and club- which is our biggest channel now; convenience and gas stations; restaurants and QSR; and direct to consumer, so for example we’re launching a couple of programs next month with DoorDash and GrubHub.”
Restaurants exploring ready-to-cook meals
While many restaurants offer takeout services for collection or for delivery (ie. hot meals designed for immediate consumption), some chains are now working with FreshRealm to develop new ‘cook-at-home’ restaurant-quality two- or four-person meal offerings that enable customers to cook their signature dishes at home, said Lippold.
“You don’t have to eat it right away, so you could buy it on the Friday and cook it on Saturday or Sunday in less than 10-minutes. Or maybe you buy lunch at your favorite restaurant and then buy dinner for the next day, so we’re really excited about that. Think things like take-and-bake pizza or heat-and-eat cooked proteins. More traditional sit-down restaurants might want to do raw proteins that require a bit more cook time, but it's still low effort.
“So we’re talking to development chefs at the big national tier-one type restaurants with hundreds or thousands of locations across the country. In some cases, we might be manufacturing the entire meal or we might just be making a meal component that doesn’t make sense for them to make in the restaurant.”
Oven-ready premium ready-to-cook meals launching at Giant Eagle in July
For gas stations and convenience stores, FreshRealm has developed fresh or 'frozen slack to fresh' one-person microwaveable bowls with carbs, proteins and sauces that can be produced with the brand of the convenience store chain or under FreshRealm’s Cookery Complete brand, said Lippold.
For grocery and club stores, FreshRealm is launching a new ‘oven-ready’ ready-to-cook product line at Giant Eagle in July under the Cookery Complete brand featuring value-added raw proteins and sauce (eg. dill mustard glazed salmon; apricot Dijon-glazed pork; honey garlic butter shrimp) in two-person servings (consumers can then add veggies, salad, carbs or other accompaniments); and one-person complete meals including raw proteins/sauce, veg and carbs (eg. asiago rosemary chicken with mash and green beans).
Price points will vary from around $7-9/serving – which is more than you’d typically pay for a frozen ready meal, but less than you’d pay for takeout or a sit-down meal at a restaurant, said Lippold. “Plus there’s no clean up afterwards.
“We also have a line called Simple Bake where you can buy a really high-quality four-person meal for less than $5 a serving.”
As to whether there will be a market for more premium fresh meal options as budgets tighten, Lippold noted that there is a segment of the consumer base that will spend more for restaurant-quality meals that they can prepare at home with minimal effort, especially if they are spending less on eating out, travel, and other consumer goods.