Is Super Suppers for Stupid Suckers? And Other Meal Prep Franchise ???s

Sean Kelly is my hero!!!

I wonder if “factfinder” is going to question Sean’s relationship with his spouse and children… :)

Do franchisees of Super Suppers feel like Stupid Suckers? Has Dream Dinners become the Nightmare on Elm Street? Will My Girlfriend soon be getting back her Kitchen? Has time run out for Supper Thyme USA ? Will Pass Your Plate soon be passing THE plate?

Can the “Meal Prep”,or “Meal Assembly Kitchen”, or “Make It & Take It” franchise concept fail before we’ve decided what to call it? Meal Prep franchise companies such as Entree Vous! , Entrees Made Easy , Mr. Food , Supper Thyme USA hope not. They’re launching creative strategies including premade food to go, health and diet meal preparation, and other ideas.

But it’s a bad sign for a food concept when even a woman named Cathy Chew, the Supper Thyme USA franchisee trying to sell her Council Bluffs, IA location, can’t make it work. Another bad sign is that, despite the myriad clever names, no seems to be able to craft a succinct explanation of what these places do.

I hope I’m wrong, but the meal prep franchise concept always hit me as a solution in search of a problem and my preduction is that you’re going to start seeing this supposedly “hot concept” turn colder than a Swanson’s TV dinner.

Read the full article here:

NYT on the Meal Prep Franchise: Hot Concept Gone Cold?

A common new business pitfall is the entrepreneurial tendency to become enamored so with a “solution” that one forgets to make sure it’s preceded by an actual need and a need great enough to support multiple competitors who are also enamored with said solution.

Case in point: “Meal prep” or “meal assembly” kitchen franchises. This is where, to my hazy understanding, ex-yuppie soccer moms with more money than time can go and slurp Merlot with other ex-yuppie soccer moms while assembling meals to bring home, freeze, and serve later to their families as if they had actually used those recipes they downloaded to their PDAs from GoodHousekeeping.com.

These recent darlings of hot franchise lists and their advertising sales reps have clever names like Super Suppers , Dream Dinners , My Girlfriend’s Kitchen, Pass Your Plate, Entree Vous! , Entrees Made Easy , Mr. Food , and Supper Thyme USA .

But are women who are NOT inclined to cook really looking for a way TO cook? It’s the same kind of question the Curves and 30 minute fitness franchise buyers wished they’d asked: Are couch potatoes really going to stop being couch potatoes, even if it only takes 30 minutes and they don’t have to shower?

My suspicion that the meal prep franchise concept is a solution in search of a problem seems supported by the current New York Times article It’s on to Plan B as a Hot Trend Cools Off. Here are some excerpts:

The concept boomed, as the number of stores mushroomed from four in 2002 to 1,400 in 2007, almost exclusively by catering to women who wanted to provide home-cooked meals for their families, according to the Easy Meal Preparation Association.

_________

The loyalty of these wives and mothers landed meal assembly companies on various lists of top franchises and hot new businesses throughout 2005 and 2006.

But growth in the industry has slowed sharply, long before reaching expectations. Industry revenue, which two years ago was forecast to reach $1 billion annually by 2010, is now projected around $650 million by then, said Bert Vermeulen, an industry consultant and founder of the easy meal association.

Some 264 meal preparation stores closed during 2007, Mr. Vermeulen said, more than three times as many as in the previous year. He forecasts fewer than 50 openings in the United States this year, compared with 562 in 2006.

It turns out that lots of people are simply not motivated to plan so many meals in advance. The desire for last-minute convenience remains powerful in America, often trumping the more ephemeral rewards of home cooking.

_________

Super Suppers, which is based in Fort Worth, once forecast it would have 600 stores by the end of 2006; it now has about 200. Dream Dinners, based in Snohomish, Wash., originated the concept. It has 236 stores, not quite meeting expectations. No single competitor of Super Suppers and Dream Dinners has more than 70 stores.

The majority of owners bring in less than $25,000 a month, or $300,000 a year, in revenue, according to Mr. Vermeulen’s data. He figures that is about $5,000 a month short of what they need to stay out of financial trouble.

Book It N Cook It, an independent store in the Tampa, Fla., suburb of Lutz, never exceeded $4,000 in monthly revenue in its eight-month life, said Terry Warner, its former owner. Monthly expenses averaged about $7,500. Mrs. Warner and her husband closed the store in November after losing about $250,000.

The Warners, retired insurance adjusters who spent two years studying the industry before jumping in, say they underestimated the public’s aversion to meal planning.

“People here have a grab-and-go mentality,” Mrs. Warner said of Florida, where free time can be spent outdoors year-round. “The last thing anyone wants to do here is plan dinner.” She said that the burger joint next door to her shop seemed to be doing great.

Read the article here:

Meal Prep Franchise Dream Dinners Appoints New CEO

Here is the press release announcing the appointment of Darin Leonard as meal prep franchise Dream Dinners CEO.

The Meal Prep (Or Meal Assembly Kitchen) segment of franchising has come under increasing scrutiny, with commenters on FranchisePick.com alleging that stores are closing in large numbers, but the troubles are being kept quiet by the franchisors and groups such as the Easy Meal Prep Association.

It’s curious that the press release writer seems to hint at industry troubles, and noticeably avoids mentioning the number of open Dream Dinners locations (which the Easy Meal Prep prep group lists at 233, Entrepreneur magazine lists at 199, a Recent TIME magazine story quotes 278 and the Dream Dinners website doesn’t list.)

[Emphasis added by FranchisePick.Com]

Dream Dinners Announces New CEO

SNOHOMISH, Wash., Feb. 12 /PRNewswire/ — Dream Dinners, the leaders and innovators of the meal-assembly industry, are starting 2008 with some bold moves. Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna, co-founders of Dream Dinners and the originators of the meal-assembly industry, announced this week the placement of Darin Leonard as CEO to lead the evolution of the brand and the industry.

Darin is excited to be jumping aboard at such a pivotal time in this industry. “This industry has some unique challenges ahead of it, but Dream Dinners is poised well and clearly at a competitive advantage to continue to lead the industry. Stephanie and Tina have done a spectacular job of setting up a Franchisor support system that focuses on the customer,” Leonard said.

Dream Dinners, a privately held company based in Snohomish, Washington and recognized as the creators of the meal-assembly Industry, continues to lead the industry in store count and double digit growth since inception in March of 2002. While Darin steps into his position as CEO, the founders will continue to play active roles in the business relating to their unique talents. Tina Kuna will serve as CFO for the business, while Stephanie Allen as President will concentrate on strategic development.

Darin is amazed at the early success of Dream Dinners and recognizes both the challenges and the opportunities in taking this industry from a niche market to mainstream . “Nobody in this industry is positioned as well as we are to take it to the next level,” said Leonard. The plans and strategy necessary to re-define the industry requires new thinking and he is passionate about the possibilities in front of Dream Dinners.

Darin Leonard BIO

As Managing Partner of OneAccord, an international revenue consulting firm, Darin has driven major revenue growth plans, systems and processes for mid-market Fortune 500 companies in the food manufacturing and retail industries. He began consulting with Dream Dinners in 2007 on systems and strategy before joining full time.

Prior to his work with One Accord, Darin built leadership success within the Maytag Corporation, where he spent twelve years at various leadership positions in all three of Maytag’s divisions (retail, builder and national accounts). Darin left Maytag to launch an innovative retail concept in the Northwest called the Maytag Stores, where he served as CEO for almost three years.

Dream Dinners has doubled its revenue every year since 2002, is ranked 5th fastest-growing on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 and its co-founders were named 2006 Ernst &Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Pacific Northwest Consumer Product category. For more information, visit http://dreamdinners.com.

Read the article here:

Other Articles of Interest:

    None Found

85 Responses to “Is Super Suppers for Stupid Suckers? And Other Meal Prep Franchise ???s”

  • DinnerZen:

    Two afterthoughts,

    For clarity, re: recipe copyright, I believe you can copyright a name and description, but not specific ingredients. I’ve purchased recipes from a few different MAK sources and was saddened to find the exact same recipes on great websites – some almost to the ingredient- e.g. recipezaar.com.

    Re: the KC website being the go to place for food, I think that’s a red herring. As the coalition moves forward, I think I’d put that idea on the “parking lot” list of nice to haves– someday when you’re rich and famous. There is no way that type of site could begin to compete with the food network, cooking light, recipezaar, etc. or plain and simple google for that matter. The directory is a fine idea. Though, I find the two current directories that are available (mealassembly.net and easymealprep.com) to be of good use and not really worth duplicating efforts. 1,200 stores and thousands and thousands of miles to cover, when you try to search out a store near someone, even with a directory of most all stores, the proximity can be pretty darn far for a lot of folks. There would need to be some real differentiator to make it worth the effort for customers to come to your directory versus the ones that already exist. Couple hard lessons learned…

  • gourmet girl:

    Recipe Copyright is exactly the opposite of what you discribe. You can copy a list of ingredients, but you cannot copy the instructions verbatum.

  • Gourmet Girl is correct, a simple list of ingredients cannot be copyrighted. And the instructions may or may not be copyrighted depending on what they contain. For example, the steps of:

    1. Set over to 350
    2. Cook for 25 minutes
    3. Remove cover and bake for 10 minutes more

    Is not something that can be copyrighted. The cooking instructions must be unique to the writer and have to involve wording and steps that go beyond a simple list. If the directions indicate taking certain steps until a desired look or consistency is achieved or reach a certain height then they may be copyrighted. If the directions are a list and can only be expressed then they aren’t copyrighted.

    You do not need to change the proportions or add/remove an ingredient to make it your own. You wouldn’t be able to submit this to a contest since they will check the uniqueness of your submission.

    The title of a recipe can be copyrighted if it contains certain names, locations, etc in it. But something like “Lemon Pepper Chicken” is usable by all.

  • blondie61:

    I see that nobody has commented on this industry in quite a while. As someone who opened a Supper Thyme store and lost everything, I encourage people NOT to open a business like this. When I opened my store, Supper Thyme had 41 stores, they now have 10. This franchise does not have knowledgeable franchisors and they give you almost no training and support. My advice is run, don’t walk, away from this particular franchise and this entire industry.

  • I think a lot of people are scrambling to figure out what they’re going to do. The bottom has fallen out for a lot of the franchises. Cena to Go is in the same boat with a vast majority of their stores nothing but a memory and their wild expansion plans nothing but hot air.

    As you can see from the survey, many people are pushing ahead to try and make the best of what they have. That could be for a lot of reasons; they may be too heavily invested to give up, they may have a decent following in their area as other stores drop away, they might want to weather the storm and hope things are better in a few months. However, I doubt many new stores are coming open. I can’t think there are too many people opening new stores around here, not with all the information they have at their disposal.

    It might be stubborn determination or perhaps wishful thinking, I’m not sure, but plenty of people have walked away over the past year.

  • IClosedADreamDinners:

    I believe some of these old threads need to re-surface again.
    I have Since closed my store, however, I do know that Dream Dinners Home Office is still asking for $20,000 to close up shop. Isn’t that like adding salt to a wound? ouch
    Is this to cover the lawsuit expense?

  • cookgal:

    Is Darin still hanging on at the helm of Dream Dinners?? It’s quiet out there – I just wonder what is going on.

  • Someone has to be out there strong arming people for $20k or else the full power and might of the DD legal team will unleash their fury and rob you of money you don’t have. That is of course when they aren’t in court fighting their own legal battles for some alleged misdealings.

  • judithpeck:

    I am sorry that so many of these meal prep companies are going out of business. My favorite is Dinners Ready. A little more home prep-nothing more than 30 minutes. Sadly my location in Bend, Oregon is going out of business and turning into a pub.

    I moved to Pinehurst, NC and tried Super Suppers. I have to drive about 50 miles to pick up my meals–I have ordered $275 worth and it was money poorly spent. The food is barely etable. I have to hide in something else. They also use MSG. I would rather spend 20min cooking my own rice than reheat rice that has been previouly cooked. My first meal had peta bread included. It tasted musty, and by the next day it was covered in mold.

    Needless to say, I begged the woman who owned the Dinners Ready to give me the receipes and food sources and I will pick them up next month when I return to Oregon. I plan to set up my own food prep kitchen once a month.
    Judth H. Peck

  • closeadreamdinnerstoo:

    I agree these thread need to continue. Dream Dinners Rob so many people. It should be consider criminal. I closed a few month ago and have heard nothing from corporate. They must only offer certain people the $20K offer. I miss some expect of the business, but I am doing much better than I thought.

  • guest:

    SupperThyme USA is down from 44 stores to 9.

  • guest:

    supperthyme looks like is down to 4 or 5 stores from 44 in 2007. IMHO that % of store closures is typical for all the franchises…PassYourPlate looks like it’s down to 2 stores. We all Cenatogo has now got-up-and-went, and Sociale Gourmet is now unSociale, Entree Vous was sucked into SS and has all but disappeared too.
    Make & Take (your money)Gourmet is closed and involved in lawsuits. If I were a franchisor I might be a little frightened that franchisees will come after them once they have recovered financially (and their good sense), especially with all the lawsuits filed against DD.
    I know Dinners By Design owners have gone independent but who pays for the websites upgrades and upkeep. How will franchisees from companies like PYP & STUSA deal with websites?

  • guest:

    Can anyone tell me why the website Easy Meal Prep has 89 Super Suppers listed when it looks like there are only 38 still opened?
    That is a significant closure rate from last year when it was over 200.
    Is Dream Dinners closure rate as bad?
    How about Entree Vous? It looks like they only have a handful opened too.
    It looks like all the store counts on the Easy Meal Prep website are wrong…

  • 89 seems to be pretty close, at least according to the Super Suppers website. Whether those stores are truly open or not I have no idea, but the main site lists that many as being in business.

    It’s still a pretty significant closure rate.

  • guestwhothinksDDbelieverisahoot:

    I spent a tedious morning looking through the SS website and it “appears” from calendars that there are more stores closed than open. Have they stopped using the calendar feature?

  • JustClosed LastMonth:

    Yes, there are many SS kitchens that do not use the calendar feature so it can look like they are closed if they don’t have current info on their home page.

  • I believe SS has all but ditched sessions based meal assembly and is almost exclusively Grab and Go these days.

  • guest:

    This may seem like a stupid question, but why have the calendar function if most stores don’t use it.
    It’s confusing for a customer if they are looking at the website for a local SS.
    It’s not until you get to the “ordering” that you find out(like on DD websites) because it just recycles you into another website. It’s like chasing your tail.
    Then there are SS websites that claim they are working in a “new” website (I thought that process happened over a year ago). It just seems terribly unprofessional to someone looking to hook-up as a newbie customer to SS.
    It’s all very confusing and seems a little self defeating for a company that seems to be struggling…just my opinion.

  • JustClosed LastMonth:

    Yes, guest, I agree it is silly to have a calendar feature if you’re not using it and very confusing to customers. But in a franchise system as compared to independent business ownership, it’s not easy to change things you have no control over.

  • chrisguest:

    I understand about the franchise system being for the most part an inflexible animal beyond store owners control, but isn’t business supposed to be all about the customer? I hate to point out the obvious, but if you are inconveniencing the very people you depend on for your income isn’t that a little self-defeating? I know personally when I go to a website if it becomes burdensome to use or navigate, I move on to somewhere else that doesn’t frustrate me. Owners all run their business from that website,and are paying a pretty doggone penny for it too…shouldn’t the website be somewhat of a priority?
    What message/impression does that give a prospective customer
    Just my opinion

  • Tyingitagain:

    I’m bucking the trend right now and have just gone back to DD after about a year. At one point I was considering meal prep as an early retirement business but after research and after reading this site and others decided against it.

    Our local DD closed about a year ago so I drove about 30 miles to another store. The owner was friendly and helpful and the session seemed full or nearly full.

    I think there is a niche for meal assembly – I never thought I’d patronize DD again but I have to admit I’m glad I did and will probably be back. I don’t think it’s cheaper than cooking at home and my local supermarket offers pre-made entrees (their meat loaf is excellent) much cheaper than DD. We have several “fast causal” restaurants nearby where I can buy entrees at about the same price as DD that my family likes better. However – the variety is good and it’s reassuring to know that for a few nights a week we have dinner taken care of.

    Sometimes I think the meal assembly message is just wrong – it should be more about options for dinner and not a way of life. Less about having fun and attending parties and sipping wine. Less about communities and charities and more about the reality of a busy family life. I have always found it ironic that so many meal assembly franchises devote extensive web site space to their charitable fund raising at the same time store owners are losing their life savings.

    On a final note – I appreciate the candor on this site that helped keep me and others like me from making a potentially disastrous business decision.

  • guest:

    tryinitagain,No need to apologize, I know my self and others are thrilled that someone actually still uses MA’s. Every time someone frequents a MA, it validates our belief that above all this concept DID reflect and fill a real need in some women’s lives for good food that was easy to acquire. In short-the concept made sense, unfortunately not for as many women as we needed it or hoped it would, but you give some people still in the biz hope!
    You are correct that MA patronage is just one more choice in a long line of choices people have for feeding their family. The good/news bad news is just that. Unfortunately not enough people chose MA’s to frequent and become regulars. Again thank you from those of us who still think the idea was a cool one!

  • No one will fault you from visiting an MA store. In fact most people will be impressed and thankful. The concept of preparing meals ahead of time is a good one. Buying into this idea and trying to make a living from it, isn’t.

  • guest:

    Although most who post here are very vocal about the devastation that MA COMPANIES and FRANCHISORS have reaped on current franchisees and former franchisees, I don’t believe any of us are anti-small business. Tuckerbox is correct that buying into the idea of trying to make a successful long-term(or short-term) living off of this faulty concept was the mistake. Obviously making meals ahead are desirable and/or more convenient meals are something people desire or TV dinners and pre-made dinners, take & bake dinners from the grocery stores & places like Costco would not be segments of the supermarkets that are seeing increases in sales year after year
    Hell even restaurants would be non-existent if not for peoples desire for fast easy meals for their families that don’t include hours in the kitchen for Mom or Dad. Crockpots, microwaves would not be a part of our everyday lives here if not for a desire for fast hassle free dinners.
    Unfortunately, MA’s NEEDED to be a way of life ,a “longterm permanent lifestyle change”, if you will, for an MA customers just like a regular trip to the gym needed to be a “permanent lifestyle” for a Curves customer, in order for an MA owner to make a living.
    That did not happen, why? I can tell you why MA’s currently fail…a poor concept/model was rushed to market. The question of why they did not flourish from a customer retention angle is a bit more complicated. I question many women as to why they were not regular customers and they had a myriad of answers, none were “the one” that made me go “ahhhhh”. It was just something that does not seem to resonate with enough people to make it viable as a stand-alone business.

  • Geoffrey Donovan:

    Super Suppers corporate is likely nearly bankrupt. I would be shocked if another dime is invested in changing their web site function even if the business practices no longer mesh well with the site. Corporate has spent countless time and money on web site and back office function. The current is based upon an open source package that has local modifications added. A dramatic change to drop calendaring altogether is not likely to occur, especially as some of the remaining top franchises are heavily session based (based more on customer loyalty and habit than on it being a great concept).

  • I would have to agree, it seems like Super Suppers is done for. I haven’t seen one article about them in almost a year, nor has there been any press releases or any news that would indicate the company is doing well and gaining customers. The rumors that Judie sold off the business and then went her own way seem very plausible based on the silence and lack of the direction the company now shows. Their store numbers keep dropping and I get the impression that Super Suppers won’t be a viable company by the time we hit the end of the year. Summer is here, the kids are out and it looks like Super Suppers has already packed up and gone home.

    From their heyday of well over 200 stores, Super Suppers has jettisoned 2/3 of their stores and now sits at just 75 stores open. Their closure rate is nothing short of staggering and there isn’t a single reason to think that trend won’t continue. It’s just a matter of time before Super Suppers will *have* to call it quits and go out of business.

  • guesto:

    Here are some interesting comments/complaints about Super Suppers.

    http://www.consumeraffairs.com/misc/super_suppers.html

  • I just had a look at the complaints. There aren’t many, but the problem is exactly the same, a guest paid ahead for something at the store and then the store closed. I’m sure this is happening all over the country and will continue to do so.

    I’m sure the idea of paying ahead and not getting the good you paid isn’t turning people off the idea at all.

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