The ready meals from Fresco Foods, marketed under the “Eat Fresco” brand, are called “Caribbean Style Jerk Chicken”, “Asian Shrimp Noodle Bowl” and “Balsamic Glazed Grilled Salmon”. They are sold in five businesses of the Winn-Dixie retail company in the Jacksonville area, as well as in other businesses in Tampa Bay on the west coast of Florida. The tasty and nutritious meals are prepared with fresh ingredients, such as pork, poultry and seafood, and they aim to make life easier for professional people and busy consumers: these stylish meals are ready to eat after just two minutes in the microwave.
“With our “Eat Fresco” product line we are changing the way in which ready meals are produced,” explains Robert Povolny, President and founder of Fresco Foods Inc. “Instead of ready meals that are industrially produced and frozen many times over, we adopt a fresh and regional approach.” When the company was founded in the summer of 2014, he consciously decided on another path from that of the established food manufacturers: “We prepare our products fresh on a daily basis. We use only natural and biologically grown ingredients. The meals are free of all preservatives. Our aim is to manufacture products, which make life easier for consumers and which make our customers feel good about eating. They should be able to enjoy a healthy and nutritious meal without having to compromise on taste and quality.”
Robert Povolny founded his company on a green-field site. At first he and a handful of employees started by developing the business model, before continuing with developing the products. It was clear from the start, not only carefully selected ingredients, but also an attractive, consumer-friendly presentation at the point of sale would be crucial for the market success of the high-quality ready meals: “When the project started, I said to my chef: Our meals have to taste fantastic. I told my product designer: They must look absolutely irresistible. Both carried out my instructions perfectly, and my designer was able to draw on a fantastic packaging solution, which in my opinion is unique in the market.”
He is, of course, talking about MULTIVAC – Robert Povolny had already worked together with their sales team in a previous job: “I already knew back then, MULTIVAC is one of the market leaders for packaging solutions and is known for its quality and reliability. That is why I contacted my former sales contact at MULTIVAC USA as soon as I founded my company.”
When he first made contact, Robert Povolny was still not sure which packaging technology would be the right one for his product. In cases like this, MULTIVAC offers companies individual packaging advice and provides support with choosing the optimum technology, and with the selection of suitable consumer materials.
“MULTIVAC was very helpful to us in this early phase of the project. I am really impressed by the added value that we obtained through our sales and service contacts. My sales contact not only had extensive knowledge about machines that might prove suitable, but was also highly familiar with all aspects of the American food industry and potential packaging methods. They were a huge help in starting up our production line and optimising the processes,” says Robert Povolny with praise.
After receiving detailed advice from MULTIVAC, Fresco Foods decided to seal the fresh ready meals under vacuum in high-quality white trays with a transparent upper web. The pack is then fitted with a cardboard sleeve, on which the brand name and the particular product are shown. The high-quality vacuum tray packs had two key advantages from the perspective of the start-up company: they present the freshness and natural quality of the meals, as well as ensuring that, thanks to the longest possible shelf life at the point of sale, the meals can be produced without preservatives. The ready meals are delivered fresh every day in refrigerated trucks to grocery stores, which sell them from chill cabinets.
When it came to the machine model, Fresco Foods decided on the smallest fully automatic traysealer model made by MULTIVAC, the T 300. The decisive features were primarily its compact design, its simple and reliable operating principle and its stainless steel construction, which makes it very easy to clean between the individual production batches. The intuitive MULTIVAC HMI 2.0 user interface made training much easier.
Robert Povolny still remembers very well production of the first batches: “We first started preparing the meals in a small kitchen where space was limited. When the traysealer was delivered, we had to remove a glass window temporarily, as the entrance was not large enough. After a few small teething problems, we were able to make a start – and I have to say, the performance of the T 300 is fantastic. We are currently producing around 2,000 portions per week with our four employees. Our aim is to double our production output by the end of the year and to recruit new employees.”
The start-up company is well equipped with the T 300 for the planned growth. The automatic traysealer is not only capable of being integrated in a production line, but thanks to its quick-change system for dies, it can easily be converted to other formats and is able to run a wide range of films.
“Originally we wanted to buy a second-hand T 300,” says Robert Povolny, but he subsequently cancelled the purchase order due to the tight time schedule and ordered a new machine instead. “The change was no problem at all. All my contacts at MULTIVAC were extremely helpful and pleasant in their dealings with me. We value their flexibility very highly.” Fresco Foods signed an agreement with MULTIVAC on instalment payments for the purchase of the new machine, and this made the financing of the investment much easier for the start-up company at this early stage.
“I am very happy, not only with the machine, but with everything on which I worked together with MULTIVAC,” adds Robert Povolny. “With the help of the MULTIVAC team, we thought through all the details of the packaging in full. It was a clever decision to use vacuum packs. The market response to our unique product presentation has been very good.”
The feedback from grocers and consumers has also been unanimously positive: “Whenever I present the product line, the response is enthusiastic. A real bonus point is the fact that the consumer does not have to cut open the film or puncture it, instead only having to place the tray in the microwave. The pack ensures that the meal remains succulent, does not give off cooking smells and that the microwave does not need to be cleaned afterwards. My customers never tire of telling me: It tastes every bit as good as it looks.”
Pack tracks ≤ 3
Tray depth (mm) < 120*
Output (cycles/min) < 6*
Hygiene standard MULTIVAC Hygiene Design™
*Depending on the equipment