ANAHEIM, CALIF. — A category besieged by bad health perceptions, frozen entrees hardly seem a profitable entry point for a fledgling food maker. But Atlanta-based Luvo, a brand of better-for-you meals and snacks, thinks it may have found a way to reheat the market for microwave meals.
“We believe the consumer wants and needs convenience, and certainly the frozen aisle really provides great convenience, but there’s this stigma about the products in the frozen category,” said Stephen Sidwell, Luvo’s founder and president, during an exclusive interview with Food Business News at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., held March 7-9. “But what we’ve found is with our technology, we quickly get over all of those perceptions. We can have it truthfully really good for you with all-natural quality ingredients.”
|Luvo's founder and president Stephen Sidwell (left) and chief innovation officer John Mitchell accepted a Best of the West press award March 8 at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif.
With such varieties as kale ricotta ravioli, red-wine braised beef and polenta, and a frittata with sweet potato mango hash, Luvo’s frozen entrees are packaged in parchment paper pouches, which evenly steam-cooks the meal. Using herbs and spices to enhance flavor with minimal salt, sugar and fat, the meals contain about 220 to 500 calories and less than 500 mg of sodium. The en papillote (in paper) preparation results in a fresher presentation than traditional tray products, Mr. Sidwell said, helping Luvo overcome negative stereotypes in the frozen food category. At Expo West, Luvo won a Best of the West press award for its chicken chile verde frozen entree.
“We’re trying to pack in as much nutrient value as we possibly can, and then it’s flash-frozen, as well, which locks in the nutrient value,” Mr. Sidwell said. “And when it’s steam-cooked rather than other methods of cooking, it brings out all of the flavors and integrity of the original ingredients.”
|The brand's top-selling frozen entrée is the Chicken Chile Verde with polenta and black beans.
Breakfast flatbreads feature fruit and ricotta, creating what Mr. Sidwell called “our version of a healthy Pop-Tart.” The crusts contain flaxseed and a hint of honey and are manufactured in Italy.
“We couldn’t find the equipment and manufacturing techniques in North America, so we went to Italy and had it made there,” Mr. Sidwell said. “And, of course, it’s non-G.M.O.”
Frozen Greek yogurt bars, steel-cut oatmeal and burritos round out the product line. Soon to come are such items as small-batch organic soups and chia water beverages.
“We’re crazy that we’re launching in grocery in multiple categories all at the same time,” Mr. Sidwell said. “But we’re far crazier than that; we’re also launching in multiple channels, which is grocery, airlines, airports, education, business and health care. A lot of the products available in the grocery world will be the same ones available in these different formats. There will be food service-specific items and then ones that are only available in grocery.”
Luvo, which began as the retail component of LYFE Kitchen restaurants, launched early last year in 91 California stores. Today, the brand has national distribution in 7,000 retailers, including Safeway, Kroger and Target, as well as Amazon Fresh and Fresh Direct in select areas. With a foundation in the frozen aisle, the company features a range of approximately 25 products and plans to add 50 more this year in new categories, including soups, desserts, snacks and beverages. Additionally, Luvo is expanding into new channels, with bistros and kiosks in airports, universities, hospitals and businesses, and products served on Delta Air Lines flights. Celebrity endorsers include actress Jennifer Garner, Pittsburgh Steelers football player Troy Polamalu and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who became a partner and brand development officer of Luvo with plans to help the company develop a line of active nutrition products.
|The company uses on-trend, better-for-you ingredients, such as flaxseed, chia, Greek yogurt and quinoa.
Mr. Sidwell, who has a background in investment banking, founded LYFE Kitchen in 2011, prompted by a personal proposition to simplify healthy eating. Now focused on growing the Luvo brand, Mr. Sidwell remains an investor in LYFE Kitchen.
“If we can create meals that are truly good for you that taste better than the unhealthy alternatives, we take sacrifice, willpower and discipline out of the equation,” Mr. Sidwell said. “If we make it easier to do the right thing, if we make it affordable, convenient, accessible and, of course, tastes great, it’s an easy choice.”
Overseeing product development is John Mitchell, the company’s executive chef and chief innovation officer. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Mr. Mitchell has more than 20 years of food service experience, which includes 11 years as a director of operations at Whole Foods Market. All of Luvo’s recipes are create by its chefs, with much of the production done in-house. Additionally, the company utilizes a group of co-manufacturing partners.
In January, Luvo announced the addition of its new chief executive officer, Christine Day, who was previously c.e.o. of Lululemon Athletica and an executive at Starbucks for 20 years.
Pegged by Fast Company
as one of the world’s most innovative companies of 2014, Luvo prides itself on its sustainability mission, which includes using recycled packaging with waterless inks, as well as sourcing fair-trade ingredients and animals raised with natural diets and no growth hormones or antibiotics. Additionally, the company has partnered with WhyHunger, an organization that focuses on providing high-quality nutritious meals to food banks.