Sales are down, but with a focus on fresh meals for pickup and delivery, Fitlife Foods hasn't had to lay anyone off.
No one in the foodservice industry could have been fully prepared for the losses inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But if there’s one Gulf Coast business well positioned for survival, it’s Tampa-based Fitlife Foods, with 13 statewide locations.
Fitlife sells and delivers healthy, premade meals prepared at its culinary center in Plant City. Customers can pick up meals at one of the company’s retail stores or have them brought to the doorstep in an insulated, reusable cooler bag.
“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, our priority has been safe food and safe jobs,” Fitlife founder and CEO David Osterweil tells Coffee Talk. “We’re stepping up our already high standards.”
Osterweil says culinary center employees must don personal protective equipment (PPE) every time they enter a production area, while the facility itself is being tested for microbial contaminants more often. A strict social distancing policy is also in effect.
Fitlife hasn’t laid off any of its 200 employees and has maintained the same number of shifts. But Osterweil acknowledges the pandemic has inflicted damage on sales. He tells Coffee Talk he “absolutely” intends to make use of emergency funding made available by the CARES Act.
“We’re working with our banking partners right now to get that in place,” Osterweil says, “because it’s a critical need. It’s 100% imperative on us to make use of these funds to protect the business and protect our team members.”
To keep employee morale up and help the community, Fitlife regularly donates meals to a nonprofit, Feeding Tampa Bay, which has been distributing the food to overworked nurses and emergency room doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa — men and women on the front lines of the coronavirus fight. Osterweil says the company donated about 1,000 meals in March and plans to continue the practice.
Osterweil says he’s otherwise making the most of the sales slowdown. “We’re making sure we continue to innovate. We just launched an eggplant parmesan dish. We’re about to launch a new sesame chicken dish. We believe that through crisis comes opportunity … you have to take that approach when it comes to business.”