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Tuesday, Dec 5, 2023

Cooking Up Healthy, Deliverable Food

Sister-and-brother owned, ready-to-eat food-maker and deliverer Fresh n’ Lean in Anaheim is bringing some of the best sales growth of any area food company.

It’s the No. 4 fastest-growing private midsize company on our annual list (see page 40) on two-year growth of 264% to $26.6 million in revenue for the year ended in June.

The Business Journal estimates calendar year 2019 revenue at about $35 million and the company said it will serve about 3.8 million meals this year, a shade short of double last year’s nearly 2 million.

It sells vacuum-sealed ready to heat-and-eat meals to online consumers by mail; a plan to scale has begun:

• In the corporate market, stocking fridges for workers’ meals

• For trucking companies and drivers to eat while on the road

The company also has a Santa Monica storefront.

Sibling Kitchenry

Co-owners Laureen Asseo and Thomas Asseo, 28 and 37 respectively, employ about 200, many of whom were seen chopping broccoli on a recent visit to the company’s 55,000-square-foot facility off the 91 (Riverside) Freeway.

The facility can make about 100,000 meals a week.

The idea was borne of their father’s health struggles; the family is French but had moved to America—two places with very different palates, Lauren said.

“Our father went back to a European-French way of eating and lost 85 pounds,” she said.

She held a home party to offer the same kind of food—chef-made, organic—to others and signed up 20 customers the first night.

They founded the company in 2010.

Break Room

These are not meal kits and it’s not restaurant delivery—two trends of the last several years or so, only one of which seems to have legs. Meal kits flashed up recently, but early players by and large haven’t panned out and the effort, while ongoing, was more of a falling star than a meteor.

Grubhub-type services by freestanding foodie outlets and chains are growing and the restaurant industry is adopting the practice by demand if not design, usually running to about 10% to 15% of sales (see story, page 13).

This is different.

The initial idea: people buy meals online, beyond “kits” because they’re cooked, and healthier than delivered fast food.

“It’s made fresh in-house and shipped direct to subscribers,” Thomas said.

Call it succulence-as-a-service.

Food industry consultant Tony Penn in Costa Mesa said the key is “product quality. ‘Fresh at your fingertips’ is good”—consumers like convenience, companies like a productivity assist—“but it has to taste good.”

Truck Stop

Laureen said they have 110 SKUs, with meal plans for paleo, keto, and vegan eaters, among others; an eight-week rotation is possible.

New efforts involve fridges placed at businesses that act as vending machines, using credit card and radio frequency ID technology; hot meals onsite run $6 to $10, depending on how much employers kick in.

“We want participation,” Thomas said.

One fridge restocked weekly can serve about 50 workers.

Local firms testing the plan include Medterra in Irvine, which makes CBD products.

Fresh n’ Lean is also expanding with retailers such as Whole Foods and Costco.

It’s far from the living room or rented commercial kitchen they started in and on their current growth arc it won’t be long before they’re going to need a bigger bowl.

“We took a tremendous risk,” Laureen said, but “at no point did we think this wouldn’t work.”

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