Chickens cook in the kitchen at Fresco Food’s Tampa warehouse. On one stainless steel table, naked macaroni is steaming, ready to be coated with cheese. A walk-in refrigerator is stocked with fresh vegetables.
I’m touring the local company’s facility, an office/industrial kitchen hybrid that has been home base since January. Eat Fresco specializes in prepared meals you can buy from the grocery store. But unlike most prepared meals, they are not frozen. And they are prepared and packaged right here.
This local factor is key to Fresco Foods, a young business that operates the Eat Fresco brand of meals that are sold at stores like Winn-Dixie, Earth Fare, Rollin’ Oats in St. Petersburg and more. Husband and wife Robert and Tracy Povolny launched the company in February 2015 and spent the next two years raising capital to open the industrial kitchen/office space in March 2017. As I sit down to talk with them about the company after a tour of the space, they keep repeating words like "clean," "local," "real food" — buzz words of our current food moment.
They consulted with a chef to develop meals like Roasted Chicken in BBQ Sriracha Sauce, Balsamic Glazed Grilled Salmon and Tuscan Vegetable Pasta; there are currently eight meals available, five of which are gluten free and all under 500 calories. They worked to create unique packaging that helps the meals stay fresh and flavorful: The entrees come in a BPA-free, recyclable white tray with a piece of vacuum-sealed plastic on top that expands as it cooks in a microwave to allow steam to circulate.
The Povolnys first came to the idea of creating a line of packaged meals when their son was a baby, and they realized it was hard to find quick and convenient meals that lived up to any sort of healthy standard.
"We were struggling with what we could eat," Tracy says. "If you want to eat something quick, you’re usually sacrificing something. This is all stuff I feel good about feeding to my son."
Robert has a background working for big food companies like Coca-Cola and Nestle, which included selling to large retailers. So they decided to go that route, creating meals that could be stocked in grocery store refrigerator sections. Their products are currently available at certain grocery and convenience stores in the Jacksonville and Tampa Bay areas, and they’re adding new locations all the time; see eatfrescofoods.com for more information. (Want to see the meals in your favorite store? There are printable product requests on the website that customers can bring to retailers.)
"The inspiration behind all of our dishes is to create flavorful, nutritious meals that are ready to heat and eat," Tracy says.
I’ve tried a couple of different varieties; the meals are ideal for quick lunches and lazy nights when you don’t feel like cooking. On the horizon are their takes on chicken marsala, ropa vieja and tikka masala dishes. (They also encourage feedback and input on what dishes to create next; reach out at [email protected] or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with your suggestions.)
One of their recent creations, the Turkey Breast and Quinoa Medley, is a real winner: a twist on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with sliced turkey breast, quinoa and soft sweet potatoes.
"We wanted to include quinoa for a gluten-free, high-protein entree instead of a conventional breading or stuffing," Tracy says.
The meal is surprisingly filling and full of flavor, with a homemade vibe that won’t make you feel guilty for not cooking it.