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Good Food Delivered

New trends in prepared-meal delivery offer healthy, gourmet options fit for any appetite.

What's for lunch? Whatever it is, for most people, it comes from a to-go box. The same goes for breakfast and dinner; a home-cooked meal is simply a rare luxury for many busy Americans. According to the Restaurant Association, 80 percent of people surveyed agree that going out to a restaurant is a better way to use their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up. Add to the mix the constant diet craze and the fact that 57 percent of consumers would use delivery to their home or office if more restaurants offered it, and you've got the recipe behind the rapidly growing $800 million diet-food, home delivery market.

The market largely has been dominated by giants such as NutriSystem, but many small-business owners have found an edge by offering freshly prepared meals that are delivered locally. People who are looking to kick the unhealthy habit of dashboard dining and cubicle take-out have more options than ever when it comes to prepared meals delivered to their home or office. Here are three of the current trends in food delivery services that are making mouths water--and keeping entrepreneurs satisfied.

Raw Gets Cooking
Raw dishes consist of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that have never been cooked or treated with heat above 115 degrees. Like most diet crazes, the raw food diet was first introduced to the mainstream via celebrity devotees, but it was innovative culinary wizards that turned this fad into a bona fide movement with creative dishes that mimic cooked favorites.

"When you cook food, it destroys about 80 percent of the vitamins and minerals and about 100 percent of the enzymes, so [eating raw] is really about getting the most out of what you eat," says Matt Amsden, 31, founder of RAWvolution, a raw food delivery service based in Santa Monica, California.

Each week Amsden creates a new "box" of prepared, organic, raw foods that includes two savory soups, four gourmet entrées, four side dishes and two desserts that can be delivered anywhere in the country. One look at his website and you can see why people are opting for prepared raw meals that look as delicious as cooked meals. Dishes such as veggie lasagna and the "Big Matt with Cheese"--Amsden's raw, vegan version of a cheeseburger--have made RAWvolution a favorite among new and seasoned raw eaters.

"We do it in such a way that it's very gourmet and very interesting, so people who are sold on the idea [of raw], but aren't very interested in eating carrot sticks and salad for the rest of their life, get a lot of the same interesting flavors and textures and culinary inspiration that's available in any other type of food."

Amsden started RAWvolution in 2001 and opened a second location in New York in October 2006, which doubled its business within six months. At $100 a box, RAWvolution meals are delivered nationally and sales reached more than $500,000 in 2007. Amsden expects a 20 percent increase in sales for 2008.

Bye-Bye, Lunch Lady
School cafeteria food has always gotten a bad rap--first from kids forced to eat the "mystery meat," and now from parents who've wised up to the lack of healthy, nutritional food options hitting their child's plastic tray.

Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled for children aged 6 to 11 years and doubled for adolescents 12 to 19 years. Husband and wife Alan Razzaghi and Winnie Tong are hoping to combat those numbers with Freshlunches, a food delivery service that lets busy parents plan up to a month's worth of lunches and have them delivered to their child's school every day. Freshlunches only uses organic fruits and veggies, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, and offers meals that are low in fat, sugar and salt.

"Our philosophy is to use high-quality products, but use them in a way that's really fun for children," says Tong, 34. Favorites include finger sandwiches in fun shapes such as hearts and banana splits made from organic yogurt, banana bits and organic granola. "At the end of the day, kids have to love it and parents have to be able to want to pay for it."

Lunches range from $4 to $7 and are delivered to the greater Los Angeles area. Since launching the pilot program at the end of 2007, Freshlunches sales have reached nearly $180,000. Plans to start a pilot program in San Diego and Boston are currently in the works.

Seeing Green
If the two companies above are any indication, many food delivery services are turning to all-natural, organic ingredients. San Francisco Bay-based Three Potato Four takes it a step further with a delivery service that's completely green.

"The health of the planet is really a top priority for me," says Toni Gerard, who founded Three Potato Four in 2005. "The use of pesticides on our products and the use of hormones and antibiotics in meat and poultry is not only detrimental to the health of the planet, it's also detrimental to the people--those who are consuming it and the growers of the food."

Gerard, 31, uses local vendors to cut down on driving and delivers her weekly meals in reusable glassware and containers to reduce waste. Even her website is powered by an ecologically focused company that uses wind-powered energy.

"We're trying to get it at a green business from all different levels," she says.

Meal packages range from $85 to $275, and include vegan options and a kid's menu. Gerard expects her 2007 sales of $75,000 to more than double in 2008.

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