FreshOne has been an innovative fresh food partner and national provider of ready-to-eat fresh food programs since its 2006 founding. The Dallas-based company specializes in sandwiches, snacks, salads, breakfast items, bakery, wraps, whole fruit and custom solutions, but a changing shift in how consumers are shopping for meals has led FreshOne to a new line.
It’s all perfectly illustrated by FreshOne President Donald Janacek’s family.
“I was watching my wife and her buying habits and I saw her going to Whole Foods or Central Market and picking up the prepared meals they had made in-store,” Janacek says. “To be honest, I thought ‘Well these are good and high-quality, but my kids aren’t eating them and the flavor profile is bland.’ I thought we could do it better.”
So FreshOne embarked on the development of FreshTake, a line of restaurant-quality prepared meals for two to four people that range from classic American comfort foods to Asian, Mexican and Italian cuisine.
Convenience, help for an on-the-go lifestyle, healthy (or at least healthier) and reasonably priced options — those all comprise the “why” of FreshOne’s development of the FreshTake line.
“We realized a result of us being on-the-go all the time and rushing around, we were deciding what we were going to eat at 6:30 at night,” Janacek says. “It wasn’t mapped out in advance. We’d end up just stopping at whatever restaurant was nearby. And it’s easy to eat 1,200 or 1,400 calories in a meal and it’s expensive.”
While Janacek says FreshTake isn’t trying to be “uber healthy,” the line is full of options that consumers won’t feel bad about eating. “We want to be in the middle of the road for everyday Americans to be able to grab these and eat them whenever they want and feel good about it,” he says.
Another key driver was to help families find the time to once again sit down at the table for a meal, specifically one that didn’t come from a fast-food drive-thru. FreshTake provides the tools and resources to make coming back to the dinner table easier.
“At the end of the day, that was the driver,” Janacek says. “This is what we are trying to accomplish. That said, we knew the food had to be great. If it wasn’t, people wouldn’t buy it a second time. We came up with the concept and then laid out the idea. If the food isn’t good, the ‘why’ is going to go out the door.”
FreshOne has long prided itself on going the extra mile in product development. The company’s vice-president, Matt Yost, told Commissary Insider in 2015 that “unless we are completely confident (after testing) that a new item or limited-time-only will stick, we work with our retailer partners on limiting the distribution until we can monitor each new item’s success. If we have an item that appears to have slower movement than expected, we live by the ‘fail fast mantra, and just move on.”
Naturally, the R&D stage of the FreshTake line was important. In fact, Janacek says it’s a process that never ends and that has been perfected by the company’s traditional fresh side with the development with sandwiches and salads on-trend.
“We want to be relevant and we want it to last through the cold chain and have a decent shelf life,” he says. “You have to keep looking at coming up with better ways.”
The company took what it had learned with its traditional lines and applied it to FreshTake. The food had to taste good, hold up in distribution and have a decent shelf life. A number of proteins were tested, along with a high number of starches. When it came time to test sauces, FreshOne decided to create its own.
“They are kind of a unique factor in all of this,” Janacek says. “We came up with some pretty cool, authentic sauces. We wanted to create flavors that are harder to replicate at home.”
This led to a diverse line of foods, from Asian to Indian and more, a decision that was also spurred by discussions with retailers, who made it clear they wanted new and exciting options.
“They said ‘Look, if you just do another spaghetti and meatball, that doesn’t differentiate. We’ve got that under the glass and we’ve got 14 varieties in the freezer section,’” Janacek says. “We had to do something that is going to make it where families can have meals they can trust but that also might be too complicated to prepare at home.”
FreshTake meals are produced in one of FreshOne’s SQF-certified facilities and then sent to distribution centers. From there they are shipped to retailers where they slack overnight and prepare for their shelf life, which can be up to five days.
“We’ve learned along the way about things to watch when the product is slacking,” Janacek says. “We have to make sure that when the product is done slacking and is sitting on the shelf, it looks great and has color and the vegetables have crunch. We’ve been real selective with the ingredients we brought in, as well as making sure the process is one that yields those results.”
The simplicity and relatively long shelf life, Janacek says, makes it easy for retailers to use FreshTake as their first meal solution offering.
“A lot of our customers don’t have anything like this in their offerings,” he says. “They don’t have a real prepared meals section that is grab-and-go. A lot of them have stuff under the glass and you have to wait in line and get to choose everything you want, but it’s not that stuff that you can grab, throw it in the refrigerator and eat when you want to. For a lot of our customers, it’s simply a new offer. We’re giving them a greater selection to compete with all the other choices that are out there today.”
Other retailers, meanwhile, have chosen to take their previous in-house prepared foods operations and move them to FreshOne. “The benefit for them is, if you have 200 stores, you’ve basically got 200 production units you have to manage. With us, they’ve got one or two,” Janacek says.
That’s huge when it comes to food safety, labor and label management. The labor — which can sometimes be unstable for retailers — that was previously dedicated to production of prepared meals can be reassigned elsewhere.
Packaging also plays a key role with FreshTake. The line utilizes what the company says is a unique tray that is both oven safe and microwaveable. This cuts out the need for any additional pots, pans or dishes for the consumer.
“We wanted to make it simple and we need it to be easy for the retailer and for the consumer,” Janacek says. “You can take the lid off and pop the same package into the oven or the microwave.”
The packaging is simple aesthetically as FreshOne eschewed image-heavy cardboard for a container that shows off what the product looks like at that moment.
It all adds up to a product that Janacek says is finding success. FreshTake, he says, is skewing well with millennials, indexing extremely high with the age group according to one retailer. It has also helped some c-stores — which traditionally have strong breakfast and lunch foodservice sales — improve their dinner traffic.
“We’ve put together this whole package with the brand, the product, the packaging. It’s easy for the retailer,” Janacek says. “They can really minimize waste with this program and can make a good margin with it. At the end of the day that peripheral at the store is a big deal. No matter if you’re talking about a c-store or supermarket or whatever, the fresh case is an important piece.”