Long before organic food became a leading trend, California couple Andy and Rachel Berliner is into healthy eating and committed to a healthy vegetarian lifestyle.
When wife Rachel pulled a muscle and can’t stand long enough to cook, husband Andy rushed to the local health food store to buy frozen dinners. What they discovered about frozen foods changed their lives and pushed them into a highly successful entrepreneurial journey.
Today, the Berliners operate Amy’s Kitchen http://www.amys.com, the leading natural frozen food brand with more than 160 natural and organic products such as frozen entrees, pizzas, canned soups and others. From a shoestring operation in their kitchen table, Amy’s Kitchen has grown into a multi-million dollar business with 1,400 employees.
How Amy’s Kitchen Started
Like many families who may not always have the energy or time to cook, Andy bought frozen dinners for his family. It was 1987 and not many frozen meals are being offered for vegetarians. Andy bought several frozen meals, and the verdict was always the same: the frozen food tasted horrible. The food tasted like cardboard.
Andy, having previously run an organic tea company that he sold in 1981, saw the big potential of their discovery. They found an underserved niche of this market poised to grow significantly in the next few years. They knew that there is a big market of consumers who want a convenience meal but still want to eat healthy, tasty and organic foods.
The couple believed that there is a big opportunity for a new entrant that will offer the one thing that the current players in the market are not offering: TASTE.
It didn’t take long for them to decide that they will be that entrant. They’d build their frozen food business on health AND taste. Their goal wasn’t to appeal to the typical TV dinner eater; it was to win over people who normally prepare their own healthy meals but occasionally don’t have time to cook.
They decided to name their business Amy’s Kitchen, after their newborn daughter.
And their timing was right. As the couple writes in their very homey website Amy’s Kitchen
This was in 1987, before the idea of “organic” food had become well known, and when there were very few frozen meals available for vegetarians to eat, either in health food stores or supermarkets. We were, however, very fortunate in being in the right place at the right time. The number of vegetarians had increased dramatically, as had consumer awareness of the harmful effects on their health and the environment of chemicals in the food supply.
With the convenience offered by frozen foods, the report Global Frozen Food Market Analysis By Products Type And By Geography – Trends And Forecasts (2010 – 2015) estimates that the global frozen foods market is worth $218.41 billion in 2010.
From Home-Based to Multi-Million Dollar Business
It all began with a humble pot pie.
With potpies one of the most popular frozen meals, the Berliners decided to create their first product that will blow all the other frozen pot pies in terms of taste. With the help of Rachel’s mom, Eleanor, they tested and tasted various products until they came up with a vegetable and tofu potpie recipe.
The business was a family affair, with Andy doing the overall strategizing and dealing, Rachel designing product packaging and Eleanor creating the right mix of the vegetables.
Their pot pies made their debut in a San Francisco health food show in March 1998. The response was great, with several natural food stores signing up for orders.
The Berliners started Amy’s Kitchen on a shoestring budget of $20,000. Andy sold his gold watch for $4,000 and gold coins, borrowed another couple of thousand from a relative and took out a loan using Rachel’s car as collateral.
And their investment paid off.
To market the business, the couple (and even Rachel’s dad) traveled the country to attend regional health food trade shows and made sales calls to food distributors.
The local organic bakery they approached to help them produce their products couldn’t keep up with the orders. They were already making an average of 2,400 pot pies a day, and the number was growing.
That forced Andy to take over the production itself, a process that he never envisioned he’d took on. Despite some steep learning curve and imaginative stretching of their limited budget, taking on the production itself allowed them to control quality of their products and not compromise on food ingredients.
The trend of organic food then surged, and big chains such as Kroger started carrying Amy’s Kitchen products in the late 1990s. The business that started in their kitchen and operated out of their barn has now grown into a business with revenues in excess of $280 million, and still growing.
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