IRWINDALE, CALIF. — Tony Sarsam, chief executive officer of Ready Pac Foods, is in an enviable position. He is overseeing a company that is almost perfectly on trend and that manufactures and markets a product portfolio that is perceived as “clean,” features fresh ingredients, is flavorful, affordable and is convenient. But for Mr. Sarsam, the challenge he faces is capitalizing on Ready Pac’s market position and further growing the company.
“Consumers are demanding more fresh and healthy products,” he said in an interview with Food Business News. “They want convenience, but they are becoming more experimental and seeking indulgent flavors. All of those trends are occasions we can tap into. Like the demand for fresh, healthy and indulgent flavors."
Indulgence is not a term used often to describe fruit- or vegetable-based products, but Mr. Sarsam noted there may be different definitions of the term.
“There are different types of indulgences,” he said. “It’s more than about high-fat snacks like chips or ice cream. It’s about spending energy, time and money to tantalize the emotive parts of the eating experience. We do indulgence through recipes with fresh ingredients, and a variety of flavors that, broadly speaking, tantalize the consumer.”
To the average observer, Ready Pac Foods may stand out as an innovative processor of value-added fresh produce, but Mr. Sarsam makes the argument Ready Pack is a flavor company, too.
“People are coming into the category for health and flavors,” he said. “Flavor seekers in salad will continue to accelerate. On average we introduce one new Bistro Bowl recipe every six weeks or so.”
The company’s Bistro Bowl line may be considered Ready Pac’s flagship brand. The line features three product formats, including Wrap Kits, Organic Bowl Salads and Chopped Salads. The products feature a variety of flavors, including such traditional flavors as chicken Caesar and Santa Fe style to more cutting-edge varieties as Thai peanut and sesame miso.
Ingredients play a role in product development as well. On April 20, the company introduced a Jamaican Style Jerk Hemp Seed Salad under the company’s Bistro Bowl brand. The item features Romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, red cabbage, chicken, red rice with a Jamaican jerk hemp dressing and hemp seeds. Other products feature kale, quinoa and wheat berries.
“Providing variety is what matters,” Mr. Sarsam said. “It’s about health, but it’s also about taste. If you have both you’re going to win big.”
With sales in excess of $600 million, Ready Pac Foods manufactures its Bistro Bowl and Simply Snacks brands as well as its bagged salads, fresh-cut fruit and fresh cut vegetables from four plants, one in California, one in Georgia and two in New Jersey.
Mr. Sarsam joined the company in 2013 from Nestle USA, where he was president of that company’s Direct Store Delivery Co. His directive when he joined Ready Pac Foods was simple: return the company to growth.
“When I came on board the company was struggling a little bit,” he said. “My focus was on selling more and generating more profit.”
He achieved his goal, noting the company grew 4% in 2013 and grew 10% in 2014.
“I wanted to work quickly to get back on the right track,” he said. “I spent a fair amount of time out of the gate developing a company identity. This is something I did at Nestle when I had the opportunity to shepherd an acquisition of some pizza brands into the company. We merged a pizza and an ice cream business, and what I needed to do was create a road map with better clarity to what we were going to do.”
Mr. Sarsam succinctly defines Ready Pac’s mission as giving people the freedom to eat healthier. But as with all mission statements there is quite a bit of complexity embedded in the statement.
For starters, as a purveyor of fresh products with a limited shelf life supply chain management is critical.
“I understand the details of having a supply chain that is a competitive weapon,” Mr. Sarsam said. “Ready Pac’s supply chain was not bad to begin with, but we found opportunities to bring excitement to networks and create new ideas on how to develop that network.
“There are in the fresh state significant challenges. The temperature range is real small so tight cold-chain constraints are actually what I think are the big challenge here.”
Supply chain comes into play as Mr. Sarsam looks for new avenues of growth for Ready Pac. The company currently has national distribution in traditional supermarkets and club stores, and Mr. Sarsam views the small format retailers that have emerged in the past five years as an area of opportunity.
“We sell right now into some small formats, but it’s very limited,” he said. “The limitation is around supply chain. Between us and our retail partners we have to figure out how to get the types of products they want into the stores. It’s something we are working on, because there is a lot of opportunity to grow there.”
Shifting consumer purchasing patterns to the perimeter of supermarkets also is generating growth for the company.“Our fresh product has a halo over it,” Mr. Sarsam said. “We’ve invested a lot of energy into our single-serve Bistro salads. They’re fresh, they’re healthy, they’re indulgent, have a great price point of $3.50 and most are only 300 calories. The perimeter is flying high and we are in a nice position to take advantage of the situation.”