Fitlife Foods has pulled back from previously announced plans to increase franchising efforts in 2018.
Instead, founder and CEO David Osterweil says the company — which specializes in healthy, made-from-scratch prepared meals and snacks — will focus on growing the production capability of its 100,000-square-foot culinary center in Plant City, as well as providing delivery service to more markets in Florida.
The goal, says Osterweil, is to provide a seamless, consistent experience for the customer, whether the customer is shopping online or offline. This strategy offers multiple touch points for the customer, increasing the chances for sales conversions. But it also makes Fitlife responsible for ensuring it “solves the last mile,” for customers Osterweil says.
That especially includes delivery.
“Delivery has taken off,” Osterweil says. “It's been a phenomenal growth vehicle for the brand. It's what prompted us to focus on the omni-channel growth of our business. We find ourselves at the intersection of retail and subscription delivery.”
Since first opening in 2011, Fitlife has grown to 15 locations in the Tampa, Sarasota, Orlando and Boca Raton-Fort Lauderdale metro areas. Osterweil says Jacksonville, Fort Myers/Naples, Gainesville and Miami are on his radar. But rather than build new stores in those markets, the company, he says, wants to “open up new areas for delivery from our culinary center.”
Adds Osterweil: “As we think about the entire state, we're going to focus on direct distribution. We definitely have our eyes on a bigger footprint within Florida and going into more markets that we're not servicing.”
A lean manufacturing approach to production and distribution is a key component of the company's new outlook for growth, says Osterweil. To that end, Fitlife recently named a new vice president of what it calls of operational excellence. Osterweil hired that executive, Skyler Stice, away from Kroger. Osterweil also recently hired a new CFO, controller and head of product marketing. “These are folks who will elevate our level of talent,” Osterweil says.
Focusing on lean, efficient manufacturing processes will also help keep prices down. “We like to keep our pricing as consistent as possible,” he says. “We never want to try and focus on growth through price increases. We are always going to focus on trying to get a more efficient cost structure for our product, and that's why we're focused on lean manufacturing and trying to do things in a better way.”
Beyond delivery, with its established network of brick-and-mortar stores, Fitlife offers services such as wellness advisers who meet in person with customers and help them figure out a meal plan to fit their health needs and goals. Osterweil says that type of service has helped Fitlife stand out from the competition as it eyes its next moves.
Another move to thwart competition: Osterweil says 10-15% of the menu is overhauled quarterly, so even customers who regularly receive deliveries as part of the company's weekly subscription plan will see variety and new choices.
“There's been a lot of chatter about the meal kit companies, like Blue Apron; they have had their challenges,” he says. “But we seem to have found this special niche. You have the option of coming into the store, but you have the delivery option as well. We offer a concierge-style experience because FitLife is built for success-minded people who want good flavor but also care about their health.”