There's a new food manufacturer out there, which thinks it can save the world, or, at least, make the world a healthier place.
Luvo's mission is to produce food that is delicious, accessible, and good for you. “Good food changes everything,” is their motto. Says Christine Day, CEO, “We're developing healthy products for our foodservice partners and their guests. We spent 2 ½ yrs developing products, recipes, packaging, and getting the nutrition right. Our meals have protein and fiber and are low in sodium and sugar and, best of all, still taste good. We're teaching people that healthy food tastes great. We believe if you can change the way you eat, you can change your life.”
Originally, nine entrees were developed; then nine more were added. “Now we have 18 entrees and 33 skews in the marketplace,” she says.
First for Luvo came restaurants in Palo Alto, in the farm-to-table concept but offering perfect nutrition. Then the company moved into foodservice in a big way. Luvo prepares the meals for Delta Airlines. “It's a fresh product – our own products plus recipes we've created,” she says. “We act as Delta's strategic adviser and consultant and that's how we earn revenue, plus get product margin on some products. We've redone all the menu items for Delta, which allows them to fit within perfect nutrition and appropriate sugar and sodium guidelines.”
Day says that everything the company is testing is part of its product line or taste profile that will ultimately go on a Delta flight. “We created a honey ricotta dip for apples that passengers love,” she says. But that's not all. Luvo is getting ready for its own bistro concept. “A combination of frozen food and fresh prepared food,” says Day. “We also do small urban markets. Our vision is to have a 7-11-size footprint where we're selling our products, a little place for people to eat with all our products, grab-and go and some prepared there, but not a full restaurant. We envision a little market where you grab something and take it back home, or have something prepared for you right there.” Another sector Luvo serves is office vending. “We offer a freezer-based program that can be in offices or micro-stations, a bank of freezers, microwaves or Turbo Chef ovens, a cash register, all you need for a successful vending operation. We have fresh product we sell into office buildings. That way you can get it right there, at work. The consumer is changing,” she notes. “Unless you have kids, most people don't eat breakfast at home. You eat on the way back from the gym or when you get to the office. A lot want that option at the office so our breakfast and entrees make it super easy for people to eat healthy at the office. A lot of companies can't afford big canteens but can afford small vending machines.” Day points out that some big tech companies have great campus environments but when the cafeteria closes for the night, employees have no food options, so this set-up would be ideal for them.
Luvo was born out Lyfe (short for “love your food everyday”) Kitchens. Lyfe was started by Steve Sidwell, an investment banker who'd gained weight from late-night dinners and travel, and decided to make a personal change. “He tried regular diet food, and it didn't work. He tried cooking at home, and that didn't work. So he hired an executive chef and thought he'd be eating endless salads and it turned out he could eat really great meals with perfect nutrition, and he became inspired,” says Day. “He thought, this is something we could make a business of. Meals like this aren't available in the marketplace. He ran into Mike Roberts, the former COO of McDonald's and they created Lyfe Kitchens.”
Roberts went on to become CEO of that company and Sidwell formed the foodservice and retail arm, according to Day, which became Luvo. Luvo currently targets the frozen food aisle in groceries, but the company is developing products that will cross over to the other aisles, like spreads and marinades that already exist in its meals. “We're also in the club business,” says Day. “For Costco, we do convenience packs of bundled frozen food but we're also launching a ready-to-eat line soon. “What's most important for us is that each meal is nutritious, with fiber, all the vitamins you need throughout the day, all under 500 calories and under 500 mg of sodium. That's our real commitment, because, in order to change health, that's where we have to be. It's not going to save our children to have organic cupcakes. Organic products, like organic macaroni and cheese, are sugar and salt-laden foods. We're creating real food for people that's healthy.” And since people are cooking more at home, especially if you have families, convenience has to be a factor, says Day. “There are a lot of empty nesters who don't want to cook just for two every night. The portions at grocery stores are too big and there's a lot of waste. Having other options, having your dollar go farther and having it taste good, is all number one.” For families with teens and older children, Luvo products can go straight into the microwave. “If you have teenage boys like I do, you can put the pouches in the oven or microwave because everything is steam-cooked,” Day says.
“You can have an individual portion or put five pouches on a cookie sheet and in 30 minutes, there's dinner.” Another selling point is that the food comes in familiar forms. “Like turkey meatloaf with polenta, a healthy way of having meatloaf. That's familiar to people, it's healthy, and it tastes good,” she adds. But probably what's most exciting of all is Luvo's partnership with the Yankees' Derek Jeter, who has invested in the company. “He's working with us to develop meals,” says Day. “What he sees is young athletes coming in who only eat fast food and they're at their peak, but after a few years of being in the Major Leagues, it's really taxing – night games, training, travel. If they don't learn how to eat right, then it becomes tempting to go on steroids. Derek wants to inspire youth to eat healthy, so he's putting his name to Luvo. He wants to affect young athletes, inspiring them to eat in a more healthy way.” Luvo uses a food truck for research and development. “Recently we tested garden burger prototypes,” she says, “patties with healthy options, unlike anything else on the market. We created the food truck to get feedback and these products will be bistro market and grocery store items. For example, our penne pasta with turkey meatballs entree we're testing for kids' meals. It has oatmeal, which is good for fiber and cholesterol. It's direct customer feedback. So when we go to market with it, we already know we have a successful product.” The truck isn't just for R&D. It travels around Manhattan, too.
It will be in Columbus Circle, Bryant Park and Union Square soon on weekends, as well as at grocery markets promoting Jeter and giving out tickets to Yankees games. “Also inside Shoprites and Stop&Shops, the door with our products will be decorated with his memorabilia to create that association, and next April we will be launching his signature chicken Parmesan dish,” Day says. More trucks will be added in other markets as well. What's coming? Fit clubs that are being developed by Jeter to host groups of young athletes, inspiring them based on the contract the super athlete has with his own parents. “Respect, nutrition, academics and athletics,” says Day.
“It's a way for kids to get involved, and there will be prizes, like funding for uniforms and fees to participate, the biggest barriers for kids who want to be involved in athletics. They can win all that through the fit clubs.” Day says food is the problem, and also the solution. “Diabetes. Hypertension. Heart disease. They can all be beaten back by controlling sodium and sugar and calories, eating moderately, getting exercise. That's what we're inspiring. We're a purpose-led brand. We want to change the way people eat and inspire them to live a healthy life. Good business can be built around solving this problem. We're inspiring people to live better.”