Thinking of Buying a Fast-Casual Franchise? Read this report first.
Web Exclusive
KidFresh Makes Inroads in Grocer Channels
Whole Foods adds KidFresh meals to its offerings. By Mark A. DeSorbo
Kidfresh packaged meals available at Whole Foods.

Ready-made lunches and mini meals from New York City–based fast-casual KidFresh are now available at 70 Whole Foods grocery stores in 13 states. Six varieties of the boxed meals began appearing in prepared food sections of the grocery store chain in late September.

“Being carried by Whole Foods is a stamp of quality and relevance,” says Matt Cohen, founder and CEO of KidFresh. “It is a key player in the industry, and we are planning to become a national brand with distribution nationwide.”

According to Cohen, when KidFresh approached Whole Foods in 2007 about partnering, the grocer was eager to sign on.

“Whole Foods is always looking for innovation and new quality items to offer their customers,” Cohen says. “After testing it into the New York City market, we worked with them to extend it to new regions and more stores. Sales are growing.”

Cohen opened KidFresh on Manhattan’s Upper East Side of Manhattan in January 2007. The concept grew out of Cohen’s need to provide his own son convenient—and wholesome—lunchtime meals. In response, he created KidFresh, where kid-friendly healthy grab-and-go lunchboxes, dinners, and single-serving mini meals sell for $4.49 to $5.99. Cohen’s target market is kids 2 to 8 years old and their parents.

Ironically, the KidFresh store is set up in a fashion similar to the concept’s new partner, Whole Foods. Kid-sized shopping carts are available as shoppers peruse shelves color-coded by age-appropriateness and portion size. The concept’s signature item is the “shapewich,” a crustless sandwich shaped like a bear, hand, or dinosaur and filled with either antibiotic-free chicken or turkey. Lunchboxes are rounded out with an all-natural snack, a dessert item, and KidFresh-branded spring water. Mini meals, like the O'Spaghetti pasta with antibiotic-free ground turkey and mozzarella cheese that sells for $4.49 at New York’s Columbus Circle Whole Foods, are snack-sized, while dinners feature entrees such as KidFresh’s organic and antibiotic-free chicken nuggets come coupled with a side. Larger portions sell for $5.99.

Whole Foods is not KidFresh’s only grocer partner. The brand’s meals are also carried by Balducci’s Food Lovers Markets in Maryland, New Jersey’s Food Town, and the TriState’s Key Foods. And for families traveling through John F. Kennedy International, KidFresh travel packs are available at Cibo Express Gourmet Markets in Terminals 6 (American) and 9 (Jet Blue.) Those packs range in price from $2.99 for a snack-sized portion to $7.69 for a kit that offers a sandwich or pasta salad, a side, and an activity book.

Back at Cohen’s Manhattan store, meals are prepared onsite using preservative-free and organic ingredients whenever possible. There’s also a special bar designed with small hands in mind. There KidFresh patrons can craft their own meals, including shapewiches, smoothies, and sundaes. For those families truly on the go, KidFresh offers online ordering, delivery, and catering.

The idea of a limited-service brand moving into the consumer packaged goods channel is hardly new. But the question, says industry analyst Phil Lempert, a.k.a The Supermarket Guru, is whether such concepts will thrive when consumers are scaling back.

“People of all walks of life are struggling to make mortgage payments, car payments,” Lempert says. “People are being smarter with their money.”

Part of being smarter, according to Lempert, means getting more value for their dollars—and frozen foods rather than prepared meals are the best way to go about that when grocery shopping. In fact, Lempert says, the two areas still seeing growth in the supermarket segment are frozen foods and private-label.

“[Frozen] products are great ways for quick-serves and fast-casuals to stay on the minds and in the stomachs of consumers until the economy improves,” he adds.

Had KidFresh announced its deal with Whole Foods in 2006, Lempert would likely have been more enthusiastic. “Anytime you have a restaurant brand and a retail brand partner it lends credibility to both,” Lempert says. “When it comes to prepared foods and takeout, Whole Foods is one of the experts. And KidFresh might bring people who’ve never been in Whole Foods into the stores.

“Two years ago, I would have said this is wonderful. Now, I question it.”