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Fairfield Farm makes room to grow in frozen meals category

At conventional supermarkets and natural- food stores, frozen-food sections are bursting with natural and organic entrees. From leading organic brand Amy’s Kitchen to natural and organic versions of Italian dishes by Celentano, manufacturers have offered up an array of ethnic and gourmet items to tempt busy consumers willing to pay a premium for the convenience of a heat-andserve meal.


Fairfield Farm Kitchens entered this already crowded space in 2002. The company was founded and is wholly owned by Norman Cloutier, who retired as Chairman and CEO of United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) in 1999. According to company fact sheets, Cloutier was perpetually disappointed by available frozen meals and saw an opportunity to create “restaurant-quality” entrees. After a year of searching, he bought a 250,000-square-foot processing facility in Brockton, Mass. Formerly owned by Howard Johnson’s and the Marriott Corp., the plant was already tooled to produce a wide range of products. Retaining the plant’s 50 employees, Fairfield Farm Kitchens converted the plant to produce items with smallbatch methods.

“All of our products are developed by chefs, not by food technicians,” said Frank Carpenito, president. “We hand cut, slice and dice most of the vegetables for superior visual appeal and flavor profile.... The only time we’d use frozen vegetables is in a situation where there was a supply issue.” He added, “It’s not uncommon for us to get produce and poultry in on Monday, prep on Tuesday, produce and freeze on Wednesday.”

Fairfield Farm’s first product, launched in January 2002, was a line of conventional soups licensed from Boston Chowda Co. In May the Brockton plant was certifed organic by Quality Assurance International, and Fairfield launched its Organic Classics line of six chicken entrees in September 2002. Next the company licensed recipes from Moosewood, famous for natural food cookbooks, and rolled out refrigerated Moosewood soups early last year, followed by Moosewood entrees and Organic Classic Toaster Muffins.

Distributed nationally through UNFI, Tree of Life, C&S Wholesale Grocers and Kehe Foods, Fairfield Farm products are sold in natural-food stores as well as Stop & Shop and a wide range of conventional supermarkets. About one-third of the firm’s trade is with colleges and other foodservice clients. “We’ve had tremendous success this year going into colleges and universities,” said Carpenito, who estimated that about half of foodservice users help in marketing by displaying one or more of the brand names. So far, sales are only in the United States, but the company is working on an international program with UNFI.

Carpenito declined to reveal revenues but said sales are growing at 30-40% annually. “In refrigerated and frozen soups, Moosewood has 51% of the marketshare in the natural product segment,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of instore demos and sampling. The products are all about taste, so we want people to have a chance to taste it,” said Carpenito.

Carpenito fully expects more competition in the organic frozen entree segment, both from large food companies and store-label brands. “There’s a big push in the market by retailers looking to expand their organic private- label offerings,” said Carpenito. “Privatelabel brands aren’t going to carry the same quality level as the products we sell, but they’re competitors.”

An obvious question about Fairfield Farm’s future is whether it can accommodate a doubling or tripling of sales volume without compromising its quality. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to grow our business in the 30-50% zone,” said Carpenito. “When Norman Cloutier was buying the [Brockton plant], he wanted to make sure we’d be in an environment where we could put our foot on the gas pedal and not worry about growing out of our building.” The workforce has already been enlarged from 50 to 100 and Carpenito said, “We’ve got plenty of room to grow.”