KANSAS CITY - During a pandemic, there is no more critical a time to have items in stock when consumers need them the most, pointed out Troy Johnson, vice president of sales east, for Ontario, California-based FiveStar Gourmet Foods.

“Using a third party [kitchen] instantly solves that issue by increasing the in-stock position,” said Johnson. “The explosive growth in demand is staggering for all grab-and-go items and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. The key to continued sales growth is keeping the shelves stocked with exciting restaurant-quality options along with timely replenishment.”

With a variety of meal entrée solutions, FiveStar helps its retail partners provide grab-and-go meals and shift labor from producing made-to-order meals to simply filling shelves and improving the overall consumer experience.

While food safety remains top of mind, consumers still crave quick and easy convenience. FiveStar offers high quality, extended shelf life, and delicious solutions produced in facilities that are SQF Level 3 and USDA certified. 

Before the pandemic hit, FreshOne Holdings, a Dallas-based fresh food company primarily know for it distribution services and cold storage facilities in the South, conducted consumer research in 2018 which showed that even then, families aimed to eat together at least three times a week, with the number one goal being family conversation time. Since COVID-19 entered the scene, family meals have increased rapidly.

FreshOne based its FreshTake brand of restaurant-quality heat-and-eat meals around the idea of getting families back to the table with good conversation. In fact, each FreshTake product includes a conversation starter such as, ‘If you could make a wish right now, what would it be?’, right on the package. 

“We wanted to help parents try to carry on a conversation with their kids, and so many parents really don’t know how to do that,” said Bill Ford, FreshOne’s vice president of sales and marketing. “So we created a brand of restaurant-quality food and give parents the opportunity to ask questions and unite the family on conversation.”

Ford pointed out that with many grocery retailers having self-serve and behind-the-glass options closed or limited due to the pandemic, using a third-party kitchen is the perfect solution that allows grocers to offer customers a variety of meal entrées that taste as if they were prepared right in the store.

Entrées consumers are looking for

In the times of COVID-19, consumers are on the lookout for high-quality comfort foods with both new and familiar flavors. Both FiveStar and FreshOne have plenty to offer retailers in that area.

Through FiveStar’s Simply Fresh brand, retailers can offer customers pre-packaged grab-and-go items or they can go through FiveStar’s private label program where strategy, volume and timing align. Simply Fresh entrées come in single-serve sizes ranging from 13- to 14-ounces that can be prepared at home in five minutes and taste as if they were prepared instore.

Currently, FiveStar has hundreds of recipes in the company catalogue, but customer favorites include:

  • Caprese Chicken with Pesto Marinara Sauce
  • Mediterranean Rigatoni with Asiago Pesto Sauce
  • Baja Chicken with Rojo Sauce
  • Thai Beef with Sweet Chili Sauce
  • Orange Chicken with Orange Sesame Sauce
  • Mojo Pulled Beef with Chimichurri Sauce
  • Cajun Chicken with Creamy Alfredo Sauce

“Our R&D team has an appetite for excellence,” said Johnson. “Our CEO leads the charge, as a classically trained and certified chef, and guides our culinary team who have a relentless passion and pursuit of perfection. Every detail is carefully planned so that fresh, restaurant-quality outcomes are achieved every single time.”

FiveStar also helps its retail partners avoid “menu fatigue” with Limited Time Offers (LTOs) and in-and-out menu rotations that are much easier to manage, while being executed correctly with central production providing food safety, quality, consistency and labor savings.

To help retailers promote the heat-and-eat meals to shoppers, FiveStar offers free merchandising consultations to their customers. Net benefits include immediate improvements to the assortment, merchandising with an organized shelf presentation, and assistance telling powerful stories instore or on social media to drive sales. FiveStar designs winning sales promotions, merchandising strategies and provides merchandising layout assistance. 

Through FreshOne’s FreshTake brand, retailers can offer customers six different 13-ounce single-serve options and four different 44-ounce family-size entrées. Listed in order of popularity, FreshTake’s single-serve offerings — which contain a protein, starch and vegetable for a full meal — include:

  • Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas
  • Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs
  • Chicken Parmesan over Penne Pasta
  • General Tso’s Chicken
  • Grilled Chicken Pie

All those options except for the spaghetti and meatballs and grilled chicken pie entrées are also sold as a family size meal. The FreshTake meals have instructions on the package for customers to follow and prepare in either the oven or the microwave.

FreshTake also has regional options retailers can request that include Asian varieties and seafood choices including Sweet Chili Glazed salmon. Retailers can learn more about all the company’s offerings at www.fresh-one.com.  

“They’re good, restaurant-quality products,” said Ford. “As you can tell by the products, a lot of them are really just comfort foods with the type of quality and tastes that consumers are looking for.”

Freshness and food safety a priority

Transparency is a trait consumers are increasingly looking for in their food amid COVID-19. Consumers want to be assured that the products they are picking up at the grocery store are fresh and safe.

Attention to food safety is a point FreshOne takes pride in, and it starts with the process of developing each product. “Through the process of developing each product our chef went through a process of procurement of cooking, mixing in the right ingredients, tasting, focus groups and making sure there wasn’t a lot of preservatives or salt,” Ford noted.

The FreshTake brand entrées are made fresh and immediately frozen to retain that freshness, so when customers reheat the meal at home, it tastes as if it was made fresh.

FreshOne pays close attention to detail in the process of getting the finished entrée from FreshOne’s facility to the company’s retail partner. The company uses a fleet of trucks that ensure the right product stays the right temperature for the right amount of time. The company recently opened a distribution center in Dallas that has food safety at its center. FreshOne is preparing to open additional distribution centers in Florida, Houston and North Carolina.

“We use state-of the art technology that gives all of the retailers we serve visibility into where their products are, what the temperatures are, arrival windows and all the information they need to know to run their business,” Ford said.

This story was featured in the October edition of Supermarket Perimeter. Click here to view the whole issue.