Math helped Fitlife Foods add up
Fitlife Foods founder David Osterweil spent six years trying to get his freshly prepared meals retail concept ready to franchise—and the effort included a whole lot of math.
One of Fitlife’s biggest hurdles was figuring out how to reduce waste and spoilage from freshly prepared meals, which are made in a central kitchen and then sent to retail stores right away.
David Osterweil, founder of Fitlife Foods, spent six years trying to perfect the business model for his freshly prepared, nutritious meals concept and is now rolling out a franchise program.
“Once it hits the shelf, you’re on a clock and it’s ticking,” he says with only about five days to sell everything. “We really have that down to low single digits in terms of what spoilage and waste looks like.”
But first came trial and error. “We had to apply a lot of math to it. We brought in some great data intelligence folks,” he said, for analysis of the central kitchen’s practices, in Plant City, Florida. “We love problems. You embrace them, you work through them. If you don’t love solving problems you’re probably not in the right business.”
Osterweil and his wife are both into health and wellness and both are marathoners. “Kind of the culmination was in 2007 when we ran Boston in an ice storm. It’s been around me my whole life,” he says.
Their daughter is 9 and “a spitfire” today, he says, but when she was born she had a syndrome that required 10 different surgeries. “We needed an escape in 2009. So we went to a spa in the Northeast,” had delicious and nutritious meals prepared for them and wanted to duplicate the experience back in real life.
“You’re eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack each day. You’re working out all day, getting the right portion size,” at the spa. He got back to his job at Outback Steakhouse as head of business development with a question: “How can I have food like that every day?”
The answer was to create Fitlife Foods, based in Tampa and with a plan rolled out in October to franchise 15 stores across Florida, initially. The franchise fee is $30,000, with an investment from $300,000 to $350,000.
Only as far as kitchen will allow
Osterweil emphasizes an “omni-channel experience” for consumers, meaning the brand is “still about making fresh prepared meals and getting it out to people. But now we have in-store, delivery, our Project U program, which is our health-and-wellness one-to-one coaching.”
They’re doing delivery through UberEats, but also subscription delivery when every Sunday, Monday or Wednesday they’ll deliver a pack of prepared meals to a customer’s home.
Or shoppers can set up a member meal account, kind of like a prepaid college meal plan. Meals come in small, medium and large, ranging from $7 to about $13 for a large salmon-type dish, for example.
“However a customer wants to shop, we wanted to create this omni-channel environment,” he says.
One nut he hasn’t cracked is the central kitchen model. “You are tethered. You can only go as far as your kitchen will take you,” he says, adding that’s why they’re concentrating growth in the Southeast at first, and then will consider stepouts.
He acknowledges multiple players springing up in the prepared meals space since he started, from meal kits to “delivery dudes” to “Whole Foods, healthy-halo fast casual players out there. So I can get a rice bowl, a noodle bowl, heavy calories, heavy sodium, with a lot of fresh and fit in the names, big portion sizes and no caloric information.
“Where we stack up in this, we’re solving the problem,” he says, and for him, problem-solving is part of the entrepreneurial mandate. “There’s a lot of different concepts out there, but people want to try to solve a problem when they go to work every day.”
One more problem is trying to fit in that marathon running, with a young franchise, two kids and his wife with a full-time job in another field. Typically they run half marathons now, not the full 26.2 miles. “We probably have one more in us,” however, he says about a full marathon. “When she turns 40 we’ll go for one more.”