GENEVA — RealEats began operations at the Geneva Enterprise Development Center in 2017 with just three employees.
Nearly three years later, the company, which makes fully prepared, boil-in-the-bag gourmet meals, has nearly 50 workers, with hundreds more expected to be added over the next few years as part of a multimillion-dollar expansion that is getting a boost with state and local dollars. On top of that, there is the potential for $1 million more to help grow operations if the company captures a state pitch competition for food and ag businesses, the winner of which is to be announced later Wednesday.
Last week, RealEats leaders Marco Ballatori, who oversees Geneva operations, and Keith Lydon, the company’s vice president, gave a group of dignitaries a chance to see what it’s like to produce and deliver thousands of meals to customers in 22 states in the Northeast — from the spot where the raw ingredients come in to where the vacuum-packed dinners roll off the line and go off for shipping. They also got a chance to taste some of products that come out of the Geneva facility each week.
Lydon said the prepared-meal and meal-kit business has developed into a $25 billion industry, and RealEats is working hard to get a bigger slice of that pie.
So far, the effort is working.
“The meal-kit space is very competitive, but we’ve certainly carved a niche,” Ballatori said.
However, stressed Lydon, the company can’t add 400 jobs over the new few years without comparable demand and expanded facilities.
“What we need is more cooler space and space to work,” Lydon explained.
To generate that additional demand, the company is beefing up its marketing operations, he said.
Ballatori and Lydon say Geneva is the right place for RealEats.
“We have a lot of room for growth here,” said Ballatori, adding that “we’re in a very rich agricultural region.”
Indeed, the company draws most of its ingredients from facilities not far from the GEDC.
“We are sourcing very, very local,” Ballatori confirmed.
The limit on cold-storage space, which the company hopes to address with a new 6,000-square-foot cooler in the early part of 2020, means the company needs nearly daily food deliveries to make its meals.
Ballatori and Lydon say the RealEats process produces great-tasting food that is a cut above other prepared products.
“Because they’re vacuum-sealed, they cook very evenly,” Ballatori said.
Among the most popular protein offerings in the meals: brisket and salmon.
“Anything for a slow cook really works well,” Ballatori said.
While the current menu of RealEats products consists of prepared meals with starch and vegetables, the company hopes to soon add à la carte offerings. Lydon admitted that à la carte presents a production challenge, “but we’ll work them out.”
Officials who received the tour last Friday afternoon came away impressed, both with the operation and the products: RealEats provided a sampler of some the food they deliver to customers. They were given a thumbs-up by the tasters.
City Manager Sage Gerling noted that someday RealEats may get large enough that it will have to find a new location.
“We look forward to your evolution as a mature company,” she told Ballatori and Lydon.
Company founder Dan Wise was not on hand for the Friday tour, but is in the region Wednesday for the Grow-NY food innovation and agriculture technology business challenge taking place at the Rochester Convention Center. RealEats and Victor’s The Perfect Granola are among 18 companies competing for state funding. They were selected finalists from a field of nearly 200 startups that applied for the competition.