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Published: Wednesday, 3/12/2008

Meal prep franchises aim to tempt customers' tastebuds and wallets

BY TED FACKLER
BLADE BUSINESS REPORTER
Sheri VanHoosear, of Maumee, makes lasagna at Super Suppers, one of two meal prep firms. Sheri VanHoosear, of Maumee, makes lasagna at Super Suppers, one of two meal prep firms.
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The meal assembly industry is growing in the Toledo area.

Both Super Suppers and Dinner by Design have opened franchises in the past year and both say business has been good.

The franchises, offering in-house food assembly and take-out, are part of a meal assembly industry that is one of the fastest-growing segments of the $1 trillion retail food industry.

The new firms, in Perrysburg and Holland, follow just a few years after similar businesses, Dream Dinners and Let's Dish in the metro Toledo, closed. Those, say the owners of the current businesses, weren't open every day and had no pre-made foods.

Virtually obsolete in 1999, the food assembly industry is projecting $410 million in revenue and 1,400 outlets this year, according to the Easy Meal Prep Association, a trade group.

A pan of fresh lasagna made by a customer at Super Suppers will be sealed, taken home, frozen, then eaten at a later date.
A pan of fresh lasagna made by a customer at Super Suppers will be sealed, taken home, frozen, then eaten at a later date.
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"Meal prep fulfills a need that many people have," said Bert Vermuelen, founder of the association. "It provides a home cooked meal and the luxury of a family dinner [for people] that don't have the time, the energy, or the interest to do it the traditional way."

Store clientele, mainly professional, includes stay-at-home parents, the elderly, and others. They also market themselves to health club members, clients with dietary needs, and young single populations.

Super Suppers and Dinner by Design are happy, reporting 50 to 100 customers a week. Word of mouth typically drives business, they said.

Each business, which are not connected, sell one to two-hour meal-planning sessions. With recipes, ingredients, and assistance provided, customers craft custom made meals to be taken home, frozen, and enjoyed later.

Often, customers prepare anything from a week to a months worth of meals, said Rachel Grub, owner of Dinner by Design.

On average, 12 entrees, enough to serve six people, costs $210 to $235. Packages with smaller size are cheaper. The per person costs typically is $3.50, the owners said.

Another option is the walk-in, and often is used by someone who wants to create just one meal.

Most popular, however, is the Grab n' Go as Super Suppers calls it, or the Take n' Bake by Dinner by Designs. This allows customers to purchase pre-made foods in store. It's the quickest option, and the closest either of these stores gets to being "fast food."

"It's easy, it's fast, and the food is delicious," said Super Suppers' customer Rebecca Booth. She uses the meals to care for her elderly mother and step-dad.

Barb Smith, who juggles three jobs, couldn't imagine living without the Grab n' Go. "It's the best thing that ever happened to my family," she said. "For the first time my husband could actually fix and eat a nutritious meal."

The meal menu, which changes monthly, includes favorites such as baked salmon and compound butter, chicken marsala, and Calypso pork tenderloin. Asian, Italian, and southwest flavors, as well as vegetarian dishes, appear on the menus as well.

Super Suppers is at 7015 Lighthouse Way in Perrysburg (419-872-6325 or on the Web at ssperrysburg.com). Dinner by Design is at 1100 N. McCord in Holland and 429 W. Dussel Drive in Maumee (419-725-5557 and 419-794-4699 or on the Web at dinnerbydesignkitchen.com).

Contact Ted Fackler at:

tfackler@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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