For most of 2020, nearly every small business in the country was forced to deal with the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the disruptions that followed. While countless businesses were forced to close their doors – many for good – others, like home meal delivery service Fresh n' Lean, adapted their operations to stay in the game.
"We decided to respond immediately, both internally and with meaningful customer communications," said Thomas Asseo, co-CEO of Fresh n' Lean. "With so many people staying home during the pandemic, we recognized a deep need for our meals – a way we could make life a little bit easier for people."
Fresh n' Lean's pre-pandemic outlook
Since its inception in 2010, Fresh n' Lean has provided its customers with prepped organic meals that only need to be reheated to be enjoyed. Unlike other meal kits, like HelloFresh and Blue Apron, Fresh n' Lean doesn't require its subscribers to cut, season or cook their meals at all. Thanks in part to that approach, Asseo said the company's year-to-year growth had been "steady and really started to take off in recent years."
Things had been going so well, he said, that 2019 showed record revenues, with the company trending to reach 110% year-over-year growth just prior to the shutdowns in March. As the novel coronavirus spread, Asseo said, it was apparent that the company needed to make certain changes, because "the pandemic boosted demand for direct-to-consumer meals further."
How Fresh n' Lean reacted to the pandemic
Since the company was considered an essential business, it was allowed to remain open despite mandated restrictions. As was the case for most small businesses, the economic downturn and forced shutdowns meant Fresh n' Lean had to adjust its processes.
"We've always had strict food safety guidelines, but the pandemic has pushed us to be especially vigilant," Asseo said. "[We strive] to stay in close communication with our suppliers in case an issue emerges."
In addition to keeping up with its supply chain, the company focused on employee safety. Given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, Fresh n' Lean created more stringent quality control measures and took extra steps to ensure that the people preparing the meals weren't sick. That meant scanning staff temperatures at the door, disinfecting surfaces multiple times a day, requiring employees to wear masks all day, and enforcing social distancing guidelines. To encourage employees to stay home if they weren't feeling well, the company expanded the options for emergency sick time. [Read related article: The COVID-19 Return-to-Work Guide for Small Businesses]
While addressing internal safety precautions, Asseo said, it was also important for Fresh n' Lean to keep open lines of communication with customers. The company sent out updates by email and social media and created a food safety page on its website, which included a video on the company's sanitation and safety standards.
"We want people to really see where their food comes from," Asseo said. "We also recognized it was crucial to make guaranteed delivery times easily visible. With all the uncertainty at that time, we wanted our clients to know they could count on Fresh n' Lean deliveries – one less thing for them to worry about."
Looking forward to a post-pandemic reality
As the country moves into yet another wave of COVID-19 infections and faces the potential for additional shutdowns, Asseo said he feels Fresh n' Lean has "positioned itself to cope with anything that comes our way." By monitoring the situation, the company is "constantly considering if our processes can be updated or improved."
Asseo said he knows change is inevitable, and that a good business can roll with the punches.
"We were all thrown in the deep end when COVID first hit. We implemented as many redundancies and safety procedures as we could. 2020 showed us how much we don't control. But it also showed us the importance of being prepared for anything, of doing our best to position ourselves and our companies to succeed no matter what gets thrown our way."
With the focus now on 2021 and the years following such a disruptive event as the COVID-19 pandemic, Asseo said his company's mission of providing access to healthy eating has only become more important.
"It's sad to recognize suffering experienced by so many in the past year and how much our lives have changed," he said. "A lot of people are becoming accustomed to a reliable healthy food source that doesn't require a trip to the grocery store, prepping or cleaning. I think that behavior is likely to stick for many. I see Fresh n' Lean continuing to provide an essential service in 2021 and beyond – a chance for people to live healthier, more efficient lives."
Read about more small businesses that made changes that allowed them to succeed despite the pandemic in our article "What We Learned in 2020: Businesses That Did Well and Why."