Most of us know how prepared meal delivery services work even if we've never used one: Someone puts together a well-balanced meal of your choice. Someone else delivers it. All you have to do is store it and heat it up, if it requires cooking, and dispose of the container.
In normal times, if restaurant dining, delivery, and home cooking were a Venn diagram, then prepared meal delivery services would be one of those wedges where the circles meet. But these are quarantine times. Could home meal replacement delivery grow so fast that it won't exist between the spaces any longer, but become the spaces?
Randazzo Italiano is one company stepping into the ever-widening gap where dining out and cooking at home used to be. In fact, the prepared-meals provider has seen “a sharp spike in business for sure due to current events,” according to proprietor Frank Randazzo.
Randazzo Italiano is owned by Randazzo and wife Andrea Curto-Randazzo, both renowned Miami chefs who have run several popular restaurants and a catering company through the years. But despite their combined pedigrees, their prepped meal delivery service, comprising flash-chilled Italian-American specialties culled from family recipes, was a gamble when it began in 2017. They counted on longtime clients and fans and those in their local community to help them get off the ground.
Fortunately, the wager paid off. As word about their product spread, their client base expanded, and so did their offerings. Now they deliver all over Miami to patrons without the time or desire to cook. The couple also started supplying their tiramisu to local pizzerias, added offshoot dishes for holidays — such as corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day — and listed wines for delivery that go with their fare.
Randazzo credits the coronavirus-related surge to those loyal patrons: “Because we are an established online delivery service and offer excellent price points, our regulars knew where to go and didn't hesitate. Referrals are strong right now, and everyone is helping each other find delivery that is reasonably priced.”
Longtime South Florida resident Nancy Smith is one of those customers who came to Randazzo Italiano after seeing a promotion on Facebook. She’d always loved the Randazzos’ restaurant food and decided she’d try it. While her family enjoys cooking together, she notes that limited supplies have taken away some of the joy. “After a long day of working from home, it is nice to know that a delicious, healthy meal is on its way,” she says. “This is a great way to help our economy during this pandemic,” she says.
Similar to Randazzo Italiano but on a larger scale, DeliverLean, a national health-focused company that started in South Florida in 2011, has seen phenomenal growth. “Each day we are seeing our order volume increase and so far the lift over the last week [of March 16-21] has been 30 percent,” founder and CEO Scott Harris says.
What has helped DeliverLean is both visibility and capability. Harris says, “We have evolved over the years into a large-scale food manufacturing facility, producing thousands of meals per day for individuals, corporations, hospitals, airports, hotels, schools, and health insurance companies.” Indeed, the company’s USDA-approved commercial kitchen, located in South Florida, can produce 65,000 meals per day.
Now Harris is taking advantage of that potential with his program DeliverLean Care, which focuses on what he calls the “underserved and vulnerable” senior market. “In January of this year and after several years of hard work, Humana and CarePlus Health Plans chose DeliverLean to provide meals as a health insurance benefit for their senior members with chronic conditions or that have been discharged from hospitals or long-term care facilities to help enhance recovery and improve overall health and well-being,” he says. “Now, in partnership with Miami-Dade County, we have come together to feed our most at-risk seniors and those in need.”
To that end, this past week DeliverLean produced more than 20,000 meals. The company delivered ten meals to the doors — without making contact — of more than 2,000 local seniors. The meals themselves are vacuum-packed and have a shelf-life of 14 days. “Thousands of seniors a week will benefit from this program,” Harris says.
Not all meal delivery services are seeing the advantage of the situation, although they’re trying to. Michi's also opened in 2017 as a hybrid restaurant/meal delivery system. Like the Randazzos, founder and owner Michelle Posada wanted to create home-cooked, reasonably priced healthy meals, both on-site and off, for consumers too busy to do for themselves. Her dishes have a Latin American flavor, but also include cauliflower-crust pizza, pasta, and more.
Because half her business is dine-in, though, she has seen her average of 1,600 meals per week cut in half literally overnight. Still, Posada is cheerful about her resources and supply stock, as well as her ability to bounce back. “We are working on some creative ways to increase our revenue again and keep as many people employed through this crisis, such as offering free delivery, family dinners that are healthy and affordable, and selling products like our famous cauliflower pizza crust to bake at home,” she says.
She adds that it’s important to build up immune systems during a pandemic, and much of that depends on a steady, healthy diet, which is what she provides. She also believes trials like this can make a business stronger as they test initiative. “It's a very difficult time for everyone, but I'm confident that we will make it to the other end through creativity and hard work,” she says. “Once things are back to normal, we will not only have our customers back dining with us again, but we will also be able to offer them new products and options such as curbside pickup.”
Pamela Gonzalez, CEO of Healthy Xpress, has likewise seen losses in some areas but is picking up gains in other categories. Before the pandemic, Healthy Xpress was serving roughly 7,000 to 10,000 meals per week to what she describes as “many clients in many different industries.” These include finance, law, health, and education, as well as the retirement sector.
Temporary school closures have cost the business about 2,500 meals per week. But meal delivery to white-collar professionals, she says, is holding steady, even if they are no longer in their offices — or in their jobs at all. “While we are losing some clients due to the worry of their future disposable income, we are getting new clients daily due to needing to work from home or children ordering meals for their elderly parents,” she says.
And as long as her supply chain holds up and she is able to obtain sanitation products, she anticipates business will go on as usual. “I am hoping we can keep operating and delivering healthy meals to our customers,” she says. “During this time, it is important that people remain calm and eating healthy so their immune systems can resist any risk of this virus.”
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Health is one of the very valid reasons for using a prepared food service, both previously and now, when specific pantry items are not as easy to come by. Puja Naik, a Miami neurologist who suffers from ulcerative colitis, is actually increasing her use of Epicured. A subscription service that offers low fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols (FODMAP) and gluten-free meals, Epicured is guided by physicians, nutritionists, and chefs who have worked at Michelin-starred restaurants. At a time when stress can make inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD) and other chronic conditions worse, Naik feels comfortable relying on the company.
Plus, she’s confident about their cleanliness. “They did send a message regarding how they are prepared for COVID-19 and making sure their workers are safe and healthy. They also have offered freezer-friendly bundles to make ready-made meals more accessible to their customers,” she says.
Miami media relations professional Paulina Naranjo also made sure that employees of the company she utilizes, Hyperfit Nutrition/Kitchen, wear gloves and masks during food preparation and delivery. She’s continuing on her plan for reasons of stability and sanity. She says, “It’s amazing to have lunches taken care of when all else feels like it’s fallen out of place. It was a decision based on making sure that I could stay on track and care for my family and home chores and not worry about cooking."
Still, while nearly every meal delivery, meal replacement, and meal kit service has some sort of reassuring health disclaimer on its site, or has sent a message to existing customers, not everyone is a believer. At least one local source, who wants to remain anonymous, is about to cancel her subscription to a meal delivery service. “I'm scared that sick people will deliver the food or handle it because they don't have enough money not to,” she says.