ONTARIO, CA | Tal Shoshan didn’t set out to build a megabrand when he came to the United States from Israel 34 years ago. Newly graduated from culinary school, he knew food and customer tastes enough to carve out a good living as a restaurant chef. Today, that focus on the customer experience, along with his own inability to sit still, has Shoshan at the top of a major enterprise he created and a megabrand – Simply Fresh by FiveStar Gourmet Foods – that is disrupting the fresh food industry.
Simply Fresh salads, snacks and fresh meals can be found at major grocery stores across the United States such as Costco, Target, Walmart, Publix and Aldi. As demand has grown, so has the company – which has more than tripled its footprint in the last three years. Next year, FiveStar will move into a $55 million new, expanded headquarters, product development and research center, and production and distribution facility in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. And its $20 million investment in a food manufacturing and distribution operation in Naples, Fla., has given the company a strong foothold in the East Coast.
“This was just going to be a little side business,” Shoshan says of FiveStar’s 20-year climb to the top of fresh food chain. “But when I looked around at what was happening in this industry, I saw the opportunity to create a product that was truly disruptive. That’s what we do and that’s how we’re seen.”
So much so that FiveStar’s patented product packaging often winds up being imitated by competitors – something the company aggressively monitors.
“This is an extremely competitive industry, and we know that in order to stay ahead, we have to stay creative and keep innovating. That relates not just to the quality products we’re creating, but the way they’re packaged and presented,” Shoshan says. “When we entered the retail marketplace five years ago, the fresh meal category depended on very dated recipes and dated packaging technology. We’ve changed that.”
Bob Spence, vice president of North American sales and product management at Del Monte Fresh Produce, said FiveStar and the Simply Fresh brand occupy a unique space in the fresh food industry.
“They’ve done an amazing job of taking a commodity product and creating a premium, upscale category,” Spence says. “With (Shoshan’s) background as a chef, he looks at the product differently. He knows that what’s going to drive customers is the packaging.”
To that end, it’s often the little things, such as grill marks on the chicken in a packaged salad that can distinguish Simply Fresh from the pack. “Brand stands for trust with the consumer, and they’ve established that,” Spence says.
Shoshan himself is FiveStar’s tinkerer-in-chief. During a recent visit, he pulled out a patented package he designed that converts into a salad shaker. “No new product enters the marketplace that doesn’t have my direct involvement,” Shoshan says. “Creatively, I am programmed to think differently than anyone else. My design is almost always marketplace disruptive by nature. For instance, when I saw my competitors using a round salad bowl, I went rogue with a square bowl. It’s just how I think.”
And as with the products it creates, FiveStar’s business hasn’t followed a traditional formula. Growing up in a family of farmers, merchants and business people, Shoshan was encouraged at an early age to get into the hospitality business. Becoming a chef seemed the right choice after graduating from culinary school, but soon after, he teamed with his brother to begin a successful catering business. Ever restless, Shoshan saw an opportunity to package fresh foods for a mass market, creating FiveStar Gourmet Foods, Inc., 20 years ago.
Over time, the company became a major player – and enjoyed considerable success – in providing school districts with healthy food alternatives. But it was its emergence into the commercial retail market that launched the company into the healthy meal stratosphere.
“We’re committed to continuing to grow, and continuing to serve more customers,” Shoshan said. “The demand for healthy, high-quality fresh food that tastes amazing, and is uniquely packaged is only increasing, and we plan to continue leading the charge.”