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In 1986, an entrepreneurial start-up called My Own Meals marched onto supermarket shelves as the first shelf-stable meal for kids. And promptly marched out.

"A year or two after we launched, the frozen kids meal [competitors] blasted us with prices half what we were selling for. By 1990-1991, we were almost completely out of money," said Joe D'Onofrio, chief financial officer of the Deerfield, Ill.-based company. "Kids were fickle; the market was fickle."

But he lays the biggest blame on retail slotting fees.

"We slipped into a few markets without it, but on the East and West coasts it took too much money to get in," he said.

A decade ago, some supermarket chains were demanding $30,000 to list a product, he said, noting that in some cases the fees would buy space for only six weeks before the products were cycled out.

"I don't know what [supermarkets] are charging now, and I don't care," he said.

My Own Meals has remade itself into a Kosher meal provider, aiming at one area of the supermarket where no slotting is charged.

The product, which has always been sold in military-style pouches, also is marketed to institutions such as nursing homes and schools, and sold online on Kosher food Internet sites.

"We created a different distribution to survive, and now we even make some good money out of it," Mr. D'Onofrio said.

As for Fran Lent, who contacted My Own Meals before launching her Fran's Healthy Helpings line, "My recommendation was that you better have a lot of money," Mr. D'Onofrio said. "It almost killed us several times. It's just through sheer

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