Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in Refrigerated & Frozen Foods magazine, a sister publication in the BNP Media portfolio.
It’s easy for frozen food processors to get caught up in the monotony of pumping out products day in and day out. But, for the folks at Blake’s All Natural Foods, this monotony doesn’t exist. That’s because their frozen meals are made from scratch in small batches by real people (not machines), using only “kitchen” ingredients (not laboratory fillers).
This fourth-generation family business based in Concord, N.H., began in 1929 on a 25-acre family farm owned by Clara Blake, who raised free-range, all-natural turkeys. In 1970, Clara’s grandson, Charlie Blake, sold his first turkey pot pie from the back of his van.
Shortly after Chris Licata, Charlie’s son-in-law, took over as president and CEO in 2006, the production facility was converted into an approved certified-organic food facility. This is how Blake’s All Natural Foods entered into—and reinvented—the natural frozen foods retailer channel.
“The innovativeness of the meals was more of a tribute to the simplicity of food from an era gone by,” Licata says. “As I suspected, there was a growing market of consumers who wanted a trusted meal solution, and the promise of a Blake’s meal was aligned perfectly to these consumers.”
Since then, Blake’s All Natural Foods has gone from a New England-only brand to a nationally recognized one, selling more than 36 different SKUs in 46 states and increasing from 12 to 49 employees. Blake’s All Natural Foods’ lineup of natural and organic frozen meals, including chicken pot pie, Shepherd’s pie, macaroni and cheese and casseroles, among others, can be found in approximately 6,000 stores nationwide, including Target, Whole Foods Market, Publix, Kroger, Sprouts, Market Basket and more.
“Even though Blake’s has grown from a quintessential New England mom-and-pop business, we still operate with a simple goal—provide convenient and nutritious meals to allow people to live healthy lives while making it easier for families to come together at meal time,” adds Licata.
Traditional comfort food feel
One consumer demand that continues to emerge is the request for convenient meals that are made from real, high-quality and nutritious ingredients, says Licata.
“The connotation with the freezer aisle is often negative, with many people focusing on the less-than-good-for-you dishes behind the freezer door, but one sector in the frozen aisle is thriving, [and that’s] natural frozen foods,” he adds. “We’re constantly looking for new and inventive ways to help busy families and professionals put a dinner on the table that requires little prep time, but that they can feel good about serving.”
That’s why in May, Blake’s All Natural Foods unveiled a new line of all-natural, protein-based meals using old family recipes such as Meatloaf Dinner Casserole, Chicken Dinner Casserole, Chicken & Dumplings, Tater Topped Hot Dish, Chicken Noodle Casserole and Tuna Noodle Casserole. These savory meals feature antibiotic-free, hormone-free proteins, home-style gravies and sauces and traditional comfort food feel.
Meanwhile, the line’s packaging is intended to give consumers a window into not only what’s inside the box, but also inside Blake’s All Natural Foods.
“We want people to know that we are still a family-run business with actual members of the family involved on a daily basis with all aspects of Blake’s,” Licata adds. “We are not a company run by a disconnected board of directors, and we always maintain the values you’d expect from a fourth-generation family business.”
At a Glance
Company Name:Blake’s All Natural Foods
No. of Employees:49
No. of SKUs:36
Products:Natural and organic frozen meals, including chicken pot pie, Shepherd’s pie, macaroni and cheese and casseroles, among others.