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Friday, February 1, 2013
filed under: Utilization/Trade

Fast-paced lifestyles leave us on the go and in a hurry all the time. When we’re hungry, too often it involves a quick trip through the fast food drive-thru lane. But thanks to GoPicnic® and their line of ready-to-eat meals, there are more choices than ever before when eating on the run.

It’s hard to believe that a meal can be nutritious, delicious and compact at the same time. But GoPicnic meals boast that they are small enough to fit in a briefcase, backpack or purse. Every nutritionally balanced, shelf-stable meal combines a mix of protein, fiber and fruit, plus there’s no trans fats, no high-fructose corn syrup, no added monosodium glutamate (MSG) and no artificial flavors and colors. It’s a lot to ask of a complete meal, but GoPicnic delivers.

In 2011, the Chicago-based company added a new meal featuring SunButter and crackers. The all-natural, gluten-free, vegan, kosher meal also includes seed and fruit trail mix, dried fruit bar and a chocolate cookie for dessert. The meal was created from demand from customers looking for an allergen-free alternative.

The SunButter + Crackers meal is the sixth gluten-free meal in the GoPicnic line-up of meals — all under 500 calories. The company’s goal was to improve the accessibility of healthier allergen-free products that are ideal for on-the-go lifestyles while making it easy for people with allergen sensitivities.

Not only are the meals portable, compact and nutritious while avoiding the seven common allergens; they are also shelf-stable. As long as an individual food item is unopened and kept at room temperature, it's good until its individual expiration date. GoPicnic offers excellent ingredients and high-performance packaging methods, not chemicals and artificial preservatives, to keep products fresh for an extended period of time without refrigeration. They claim to offer the closest thing you can get to fresh food in a box.

One might think that packaging up all these attributes into one tiny box is a tall order. But Julia Stamberger, CEO and president of GoPicnic, offers some insight into how her company does it so well.

— Sonia Mullally

How did GoPicnic get its start?

In 2003, I was brought into United Airlines as business development manager, ancillary revenue programs. This is where I conceived the entire ready-to-eat meal snackbox solution now adopted by airlines worldwide. These new onboard retail programs enabled airlines to provide passengers food options with consistent quality and availability inflight, increasing both operational efficiency and passenger satisfaction.

In 2006, at the age of 31, I left United Airlines and founded GoPicnic to bring the concept of nutritionally balanced, shelf-stable, ready-to-eat meals to new markets.

Within a couple years, interest began growing rapidly beyond airlines. In May 2010, we debuted GoPicnic’s care packages to allow consumers to send flavorful food boxes to far-away family and friends. In January 2011, GoPicnic introduced eight new ready-to-eat boxed meals for the retail market, which are available at nationwide grocery, specialty, and mass merchandise stores, as well as online.

GoPicnic today offers five classic deli meals and nine all-natural meals, including four new premium meals under the new all-natural Gold line. Nine of the 14 meals are gluten-free meals, making them easy, quick and safe on-the-go meal options for consumers with gluten sensitivity or for those following a gluten-free diet. We also offer meal solutions for consumers requiring special diets like vegetarian, kosher or vegan.

Our footprint continues to expand into several major retailers such as Target, 7-Eleven, Costco, Whole Foods, Roundy’s, and into many airport stores, newsstands, hotels and hundreds of colleges and universities.

Explain the idea behind creating ready-to-eat meals?

The idea originally began as an onboard revenue program for the airlines that reduced waste and required zero prep time. The airlines were also able to increase efficiency and improve customer satisfaction with GoPicnic boxed meals.

As GoPicnic evolved, we realized that there was a gap in the marketplace. While there were ready-to-eat meals, they were expensive and not very good. None of the meals were packed with wholesome, high-quality ingredients. GoPicnic wanted to change that by creating a ready-to-eat option that was healthy and nutritious rather than high in fat or sodium and overall unsatisfying to the consumer. We worked endlessly to revolutionize the concept of boxed meals that were nutritionally balanced, shelf-stable and require no refrigeration, heating or preparation. No bigger than a hardcover novel, GoPicnic boxed meals are easy to transport in a laptop bag, backpack or handbag, and are meant to be enjoyed anywhere, anytime.

All GoPicnic meals are fewer than 500 calories each, completely free of artificial colors and flavors, and contain no trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup or added MSG. GoPicnic all-natural meals additionally contain no artificial preservatives. Each GoPicnic meal comes with five individually wrapped products: a protein, fruit, whole grain and sweet treat for dessert. GoPicnic can be eaten as an entire well-balanced meal or piece by piece.

SunButter® was launched as part of a GoPicnic meal in 2011. Why SunButter?

We understand the challenges people with food allergies and intolerances face, which is why GoPicnic and Enjoy Life Foods went to great lengths to create a meal that is not only convenient for people requiring special diets, but tastes great. We created SunButter® + Crackers on popular demand from customers who rely on us for delicious, wholesome meals that are safe for people with multiple allergies.

SunButter + Crackers is a no-refrigeration, no-preparation meal that is also vegan, gluten-free and free of seven common allergens: wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, fish and shellfish. SunButter + Crackers includes individually packaged portions of SunButter Creamy Sunflower Seed Spread, Crunchmaster® Multi-Grain Crackers, Enjoy Life® Mountain Mambo® Seed & Fruit Trail Mix, Niagara Natural™ Simply Fruit Tropical Bites and Enjoy Life® Double Chocolate Crunchy Cookie. An excellent balanced meal option for lunch, dinner or anytime, SunButter + Crackers has only 490 calories, with 9g fiber and 12g protein.

Your meals present interesting combinations. How do you come up with the ideas for each different component of the convenient self-contained meal?

We carefully listen to the consumer. We also speak with brands, industry experts, attend trade shows and conduct our own research. Based on their feedback and years of industry knowledge, we carefully design each meal with the right mix of products to make it nutritionally balanced, delicious and satisfying.

GoPicnic only partners with top-quality manufacturers to develop products featured in GoPicnic meals, including Crunchmaster, Old Wisconsin and popchips. GoPicnic also features its own high-quality brands, including Sweet Perry Orchards, Copper Cowbell and Professor Zim Zam’s Extraordinary Sweets.

Explain your marketing strategy to the allergen-free community?

Last year we introduced new branding and began positioning GoPicnic as the ideal solution for that “hangry” feeling – that grouchy condition you get when you’re really hungry.

We leverage every asset at our disposal: PR, e-marketing, blogger relations, partnerships, sampling, sponsorship and social media. We work closely with the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center and many industry experts nationwide to make sure our products meet the requirements of the FDA. We also work with hundreds of gluten-free and allergen-free community groups throughout the year, whether it is supporting their local meetings or supplying products for the finish line of a race.

We also partner with daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social and Gilt to provide consumers with exciting discounts.

How do the peanut-free movement and allergen-free community continue to create demand for your products?

As the number of people living with food allergies continues to grow, the demand for great-tasting allergen-friendly foods continues to rise. We will continue to take the necessary steps to significantly improve the accessibility to healthier allergen-free products that are ideal for on-the-go lifestyles, making it easy for people with allergen sensitivities to safely enjoy a satisfying meal outside the home.

What’s on the horizon for your company?

We recently launched our premium GoldStar meals line, originally developed for Whole Foods Markets and other specialty food stores. Our GoPicnic line includes Gluten Free, Vegan and non GMO Project verified meals and uses only natural premium ingredients. This new line of meals includes: Three Bean Dip + Rice Chips, BBQ Beef Stick + Cheese Crackers, Edamame Kale Dip + Plantain Chips and Almond Butter + Crackers.

Last year, we created GoPicnic Concept Labs, a sister company to GoPicnic Brands Inc., that specializes in innovative custom meal solutions for airline travelers, athletes, event planners and other markets where tasty food solutions are desired. GoPicnic Concept Labs’ food brokerage, GP Emporium, represents more than 50 top quality manufacturers of tasty and innovative products including great options for a la carte and tray setups along with foodservice solutions.

The GoPicnic website is going through an evolution and re-design for 2013. Check them out at
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