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What's Hot: Do-It-Yourself Meal Preparation Businesses The kitchen is where all the action's at with these deliciously simple do-it-yourself meal preparation businesses.

By Sara Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

These days, the majority of Americans are hard at work, sometimes hard at play, but rarely ever slaving away in the kitchen. According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans are expected to spend more than half their food dollars at an anticipated 1 million eating-and-drinking places by 2010. It seems that, in this day and age, Americans enjoy watching chefs battle it out on the popular TV show Iron Chef or drooling over glossy, tantalizing photos in cookbooks, but when it comes to actually mixing up their own concoctions, their passion fizzles quickly.

According to a 2005 national survey commissioned by ConAgra Foods, more than 70 percent of parents experience some type of stress associated with dinnertime. The survey reveals that 47 percent of the stress comes from deciding what to make, 23 percent from preparing and cooking the meal, and 8 percent from worrying about having the right ingredients.

Americans certainly need a helping hand in the kitchen, and do-it-yourself meal preparation businesses are coming to their rescue. In fact, franchises are popping up left and right as they all rush to fill a basic need and provide a fun environment to put the spice back into cooking. Customers, regardless of culinary talent, arrive. They assemble the meals themselves and, within one and a half to two hours, they leave with enough entrees to feed a family of four to six members for a month. All the customers have to do is heat up the meals later. There's no grocery shopping, no prep work, no clean up. In other words, it's just what Americans ordered.

Judie Byrd, the woman behind Super Suppers, estimates that 85 percent of moms hate to cook. A well-trained cook herself, she started noticing a demand for no-sweat cooking while teaching her class, titled "20 Minutes from Grocery Bag to Dinner Table." Students loved the class but wanted something even simpler. So she took out the shopping element and started offering a class where everything except the meal assembly was done. Class after class filled with eager participants. "That first month, we filled 12 classes," recalls Judie.

Answering the demand, Judie started Super Suppers in 2003 and, later that same year, her husband, Bill, joined on to help her franchise the business.

And although business is great--Bill estimates they'll have 350 franchises by the end of 2006--Judie questions whether the same concept would have been popular a decade ago. "[Back then], moms and empty nesters weren't sick and tired of eating out yet, we didn't have the child obesity problem we have now, and it seems with every generation, there's more and more of a need to bring the family back around the table," she says. One thing is for sure: The timing certainly couldn't have been better--for hungry consumers and potential franchisees alike.

Second Helping
It's just the beginning of the wave for this simple concept of do-it-yourself meal preparation. Catching on big, franchising is spurring the growth ever quicker.

Another up-and-coming player in the do-it-yourself meal preparation market is Dinner By Design, founded in 2003 and franchising since early 2005. According to Robin Perry, Dinner By Design's national director of franchise sales, the franchise expects to sell 300 franchises by the end of 2006 and 3,000 in the next five years.

Success of these franchises come from more prospective franchisees checking out the trend, like Debra Spedale, 43, who purchased her Dinner By Design franchise in February 2005. After researching four do-it-yourself meal preparation businesses in the Chicago area--and even contemplating starting her own--Spedale decided to go the franchising route for the additional guidance and assistance. At Dinner By Design, menus are created by founder Julie Duffy and the company's executive chef, Kari Bereczky. Meanwhile, franchisees have the luxury of ordering the food from a distributor via the internet.

Since opening her doors in June, Spedale has successfully gotten the word out about her business and averages 25 customers a week, with a goal of reaching 60 within the next few months.

Dinner By Design charges an average of $200 for 12 dinners feeding up to six people. They also offer pre-made entrees for $19.99 available for immediate purchase, so the customer doesn't have to prepare anything. Meanwhile, Super Suppers offers customers two different options: 12 entrees, serving four to six people, for $188 or six entrees price at $102.

"We can be wildly successfully with only 500 customers a month," Perry of Dinner By Design concurs. "We have territories of 70,000 people."

This is one concept that just seems to have the perfect ingredients for success. It's logical, simple and takes the hassle out of cooking. "This makes so much sense," says Perry. "And I think that's the best close in the history of the sales industry--it just makes sense."

And while competition looms inevitably ahead, the key players don't seem phased. Even the Byrds, who have stood witness as six former customers took the concept and tried it on their own, are confident the competition won't take away from Super Supper's glory.

"There's room for everybody," says Bill. "You can't grab the whole market."

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