That’s the mission of Custom Made Meals, whose focus on quality, freshness, and customer appeal is manifesting in delicious revenue gains
There’s a running joke in Dale Easdon’s workplace about guys who turn into chefs the moment they light up the barbecue. That workplace — Custom Made Meals — just happens to be 2019’s top workplace in Colorado, and the joke teller happens to be its president and CEO.
The craveable creations made by CMM cause deep murmurs of full-bellied satisfaction from diners, whether over the grill or at the stove. The company’s ready-to-cook, center-of-the-plate entrees and accompanying appetizers are bringing whoops of joy from the C-suite to the manufacturing floor: industry-wide, revenue norms hover between 5 and 7%; CMM revenues are increasing 35% year over year, and over 15,000 of the nation’s top retailers carry CMM products.
As the market for chilled ready-to-cook main meals using fresh meat and produce steadily strengthens, CMM is forecasting that growth to continue in 2020. The CEO is tasked with meeting revenue projections of $200 million.
We recently spoke to Easdon (late of industry power players LSG Sky Chefs, Taylor Farms, and Snap Kitchen) about the creativity and commitment to excellence that is keeping CMM — chosen as one of the top workplaces in Denver — front and center on consumer plates and retail shelves.
“Firstly, we are really honored to have some of the top retail customers in the United States. We're in almost all of them, and that's something we do not take for granted. We’re proud and delighted to have them. Secondly, our customers are growing either behind the glass or in that fresh meat space. It continually grows, and by getting us to provide some of the high cost labor in that space, they gain consistency. Butchers from one store to another may do something slightly different, so when you're getting a fresh chilled product with a great shelf life from a provider who’s mastered high volume manufacturing it's a wonderful thing,” he said.
“We work together with retailers and offer them creative solutions. We visit often, we do tastings, they share creative ideas with us, and our challenge is to come up with new initiatives. I can tell you that it's a very strong partnership. Most of those customers have been with us since we opened the door. They've been with us for a very, very long time. We truly believe that we are partners, and it's an exciting space.”
Quality From Start to Finish
CMM demands that its suppliers have a demonstrated commitment to safety, followed by the need to innovate and continually seek ways to improve efficiency and consistency. “We treat our supplier supply chain the same way we treat the customer. We never look down to them, we never treat them with disrespect, we always treat them the same way we treat customers. For us to be successful, we have to be creative, and our suppliers also have to be and provide us with the freshest products,” Easdon said. “They need to invest capex in automation and in all of the standards that we need to have the highest food safety and quality standards. From their side, they need to know that they're investing in a partner that has equal standards.”
That supplier bond comes through in the cold case. “When you pick up our product, you can be assured it's the freshest product: never frozen, always fresh, with a fresh supply chain, and we're manufacturing everyday in a chilled facility. Our end user doesn't have to worry about quality. When you pick up our products and grill or cook them, you can bet that what you are putting on the center of the plate is going to be the best product you can possibly get. That's what we focus on. We try to take away as much handling is possible, so when you follow the cooking instructions it's going to be perfect for you.”
What also comes through on the plate is CMM’s dedication to its workforce, and creating a culture of real care — especially given the challenge of convincing job seekers to choose to work full shifts in a 35-degree refrigerated environment. In just one year, Easdon has shifted the worker mix from 100% agency staffing to over 75% CMM employees.
In a sector where the average turnover rate is 20 to 25%, CCM’s is about 10%, and rather than tracking turnover they now track retention rates. “That normally takes three to five years to do,” he said. “(We did it by) employing leadership who must understand dignity and respect and morale boosting techniques. We treat our employees the right way.
“I am very serious as I say this: I am more upset if an employee is not treated correctly than I would be if we missed our financial target. It's so important to me because if we treat our workers with dignity, respect, and love you will taste it in the food.”
Custom Made Meals is a Denver-based leading manufacturer of fresh, oven-ready, value-added entrees and appetizers sold through more than 15,000 retail grocery locations nationwide.