How we food sources– start an in­dus­try

Inc. (USA) - - LAUNCH - Rachel and Andy Ber­liner Amy’s Kitchen → Or­ganic frozen-food en­trées

In 1987, Rachel and Andy Ber­liner launched their or­ganic veg­e­tar­ian frozen-food em­pire with a sin­gle pot pie out of their Pe­taluma, Cal­i­for­nia, kitchen. Rachel, then preg­nant with their daugh­ter, Amy, was told to stay off her feet–and out of the kitchen. Af­ter be­ing dis­ap­pointed by the frozen din­ners Andy brought home, the cou­ple re­al­ized they could do much bet­ter. Amy’s Kitchen pi­o­neered the mar­ket for or­ganic veg­e­tar­ian frozen meals. To­day, it gen­er­ates $500 mil­lion in rev­enue in the U.S., the U.K., and France, and is ex­pand­ing into Asia and Aus­tralia. Now grand­par­ents, the Ber­lin­ers are de­ter­mined to keep Amy’s a fam­ily busi­ness, and to pro­tect its core val­ues while de­vel­op­ing a chain of drive-thru out­lets. –As told to Stacy Per­man

our goal was $2.5 mil­lion in sales. We thought we’d have enough in­come to live on and maybe help pay for Amy’s col­lege ed­u­ca­tion. We didn’t plan this whole thing out. It wasn’t un­til our fourth year, 1991, that we be­gan turn­ing a profit. We didn’t en­vi­sion build­ing a half-bil­lion- dol­lar busi­ness. We just thought there was a niche to be filled. At first, Rachel’s mother helped us, and friends helped with the recipes. We went to nat­u­ral-food shows; peo­ple thought our pot pies were de­li­cious, and there was noth­ing like them in their stores. That’s how we got dis­tri­bu­tion. In the be­gin­ning, the big­gest prob­lem was sourc­ing qual­ity in­gre­di­ents. No­body was do­ing or­gan­ics. When we started, we worked with small farm­ers, and they grew with us. To­day we have con­tracts with farm­ers who cover 20,000 acres.

We still make our food like we’re in our per­sonal kitchen—it’s just on a big­ger scale. Our chef still comes to our house to try out new recipes.

All the big food com­pa­nies at one time or an­other have made an of­fer or shown in­ter­est. But we al­ways knew we wanted to stay pri­vate and fam­ily owned. Andy had pre­vi­ously owned an herbal

tea com­pany and sold it early. We saw that ev­ery­thing we had worked for was pretty quickly de­stroyed, and that mo­ti­vated our de­sire to keep this un­der our con­trol. We don’t have pres­sure from in­vestors, and this al­lows us to stay true to our core mis­sion.

Our other main chal­lenge has been the su­per­mar­kets. We don’t have a mar­ket­ing bud­get. The gro­cery chains want us to do pro­mo­tions and dis­counts. But our prod­ucts sell very well with­out them. It’s a bit of a fight. We say we’re grow­ing by dou­ble dig­its and the com­pa­nies that spend money on mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tions are de­clin­ing; we’re do­ing some­thing right.

We’re a small fam­ily. We’ve heard sto­ries of large fam­i­lies, and it gets very com­plex re­gard­ing the next gen­er­a­tion.

IN 2015, WE OPENED AMY’S DRIVE THRU,

in Rohn­ert Park, Cal­i­for­nia. For years, peo­ple had asked us to start one. An em­ployee first sug­gested it 20 years ago. And the let­ters just kept com­ing in from cus­tomers. They would tell us there’s nowhere to bring their kids af­ter school. They didn’t want to feed them junk. Our menu is veg­gie burg­ers, bur­ri­tos, pizza, mac ‘n’ cheese, milk­shakes, lemon­ade, sal­ads, and break­fast—it’s all or­ganic, there are no GMOs, and there are gluten-free and ve­gan op­tions. We were able to do this be­cause we’d al­ready de­vel­oped a net­work of sup­pli­ers.

WHEN WE OPENED,

we re­ally didn’t know if the con­cept would work, but there was a line around the block. We just signed a lease for our sec­ond lo­ca­tion, in Marin County, and ex­pect it will open in 2018. We’ve had re­quests in every state in Amer­ica for an Amy’s Drive Thru. We’ve been ex­pand­ing Amy’s Kitchen in­ter­na­tion­ally and it’s been suc­cess­ful, but when you con­sider what the po­ten­tial for the drive-thru is, it’s prob­a­bly larger than our re­tail busi­ness. We just hit a sweet spot.

THE QUESTION IS HOW TO DO THIS.

We are fig­ur­ing out the busi­ness model. We don’t think we’ll go the tra­di­tional fran­chise route. There’s a lot of dif­fer­ent ways to do this, and it may be ben­e­fi­cial to have that own­er­ship as long as we do it a lit­tle dif­fer­ently from the tra­di­tional for­mat. And we’re putting to­gether a great team. But the thing is, open­ing a sec­ond restau­rant is like open­ing 20. It’s so much work, and we’re not young any­more. Amy is very in­volved in the sus­tain­abil­ity of the com­pany and its cul­ture. She and her hus­band, both board mem­bers, are ded­i­cated to see­ing Amy’s carry on. How­ever, nei­ther of them as­pires to be a CEO or to run the busi­ness right now. They are in­ter­ested in en­sur­ing the cul­ture, the val­ues, and the mis­sion. We can’t bear the thought of do­ing things dif­fer­ently.

NICHE PEO­PLE Rachel and Andy Ber­liner didn’t set out to es­tab­lish the mar­ket for or­ganic frozen foods. But when they couldn’t find any­thing good to eat, they re­al­ized they could cre­ate it.

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