Kevin McCray faced an unexpected twist in his college life when he was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease that left him hospitalized for months at a time. Previously, Kevin had a passion for health and fitness, but found himself unable to eat and relied on a feeding tube. Her experience was not only physically difficult, but also emotionally draining. Realizing that conventional hospital treatments only provided temporary relief, he decided to develop a nutritional protocol to reduce inflammation and aid his healing process.
Frustrated with years of eating bland, uninspiring foods, Kevin then embarked on a mission to create foods that would satisfy both the strict guidelines of the anti-inflammatory diet and his craving for tasty, comforting meals. .
In 2019, his journey led to the birth of Kevin’s Natural Foods, the premier refrigerated entree brand that specializes in making delicious, nutrient-dense, easy-to-prepare meals for people with autoimmune diseases, food sensitivities and/or those who want simple, healthy foods.
Recently I heard that Kevin’s Natural Foods would be acquired by Mars so I wanted to catch up with Kevin to learn more about this development and also the inspiration for his starting the business and the direction he is heading. plans for the future.
Christopher Marquis: Let’s start at the beginning, can you tell us what inspired you to start Kevin’s Natural Foods and more generally your quest to create nutrient rich prepared foods?
Kevin McCray: As a society, we have a huge desire to eat better, yet we still struggle with diet-related chronic diseases. This is because the challenge is in “execution” and not “motivation”. People want to eat better but find it difficult to achieve it. That’s why our mission is to empower even the busiest people to eat healthy without sacrificing flavor.
When I was twenty, I was struck with an autoimmune disease out of the blue. It turned out to be a chronic problem that kept me in and out of the hospital for weeks to deal with debilitating flairs for years. I tried a variety of treatments with conventional medications, and nothing helped consistently until I discovered the power of a diet rich in whole foods and avoiding refined sugar. This lifestyle change helped me recover my energy and regain good health.
This experience opened my eyes to the power of eating better. However, what happened next led to Kevin’s. Standing in my kitchen late one night I was dead tired and trying to muster up the willpower to cook meals for the week ahead when it hit me – if I’m having trouble doing what he takes to change my lifestyle, so what about the person trying to pull this off who doesn’t have the over-motivation of impending autoimmune disease? The deeper I dug, the more convinced I became that there was a great unmet need that needed to be addressed. So we dug in and focused on a solution that provided healthy meals that the average consumer could prepare in less than five minutes and still taste fantastic.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than 60% of US consumers suffer from one or more preventable diet-related chronic diseases. It’s what keeps us awake at night and what inspires us to execute our mission. By offering a varied menu of dishes prepared with strict sanitary standards, that taste incredibly delicious and can be reheated in less than 5 minutes, we help people improve their lives without sacrifice. We eliminate the need to sacrifice nutrition and flavor for convenience.
Marquis: How has the brand evolved since your launch in 2019?
McCray: We shipped our first crate to the Bay Area division of Costco in August 2019 and the product exceeded its speed expectations from the start. When Costco started calling to push orders, we knew we had something special with Kevin’s and we’ve grown like crazy ever since. Today, Kevin’s sells at more than 22,000 outlets in the United States, Canada and Mexico, including Costco, Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Albertson’s, Publix and Kroger.
Plus, by working directly with our customers through focus groups and collecting multiple rounds of feedback, we’ve expanded the Kevin’s product line to include a wide range of culinary shortcuts, including sous vide protein entrees, sides to heat and eat, sauces, cauliflower. pasta dishes made from pasta and raw/marinated chicken dishes. Every product serves the mission of empowering people to eat clean without sacrificing flavor.
Marquis: How does Kevin’s Natural Foods integrate social and environmental values into its business practices?
McCray: We created the brand to help people improve their lives. The brand was designed to do good for people. In our opinion, this ideal cannot be limited to Kevin’s product alone. It was bigger than that. The company behind the brand had to meet these same high standards. With this in mind, we believed that the company’s culture, operating practices and governance should be held to the highest standards for social and environmental impact. This fueled our decisions to pursue B Corp certification. As we were going through the certification process, we were happy to know that we were already operating at a high level and didn’t have to make any major adjustments. We simply refined our tracking and instituted ongoing goals to continually improve.
We approach social and environmental values as we would other important business initiatives with strategy, goals and creative ideas to get the ball rolling. With this in mind, we have decided to methodically focus on key areas where we can have an impact and continually add projects to the queue so that we are always making progress. One of the current initiatives is plastic reduction. By redesigning our packaging format to use more sustainably harvested corrugated and fiber trays, we were able to eliminate over 500,000 pounds. plastic of our products in 2023 alone.
Transparency is key to our success at Kevin’s Natural Foods. We have a culture of radical transparency and every employee has a stake in the company. We believe that continuing to share our mission and goals and reporting on our progress allows our teams to all work towards the same goal. We value every employee and their opinions and have achieved outstanding results in the worker section of the B-Corp assessment. We’re very proud of it because it’s a company built by the people who work here and we wouldn’t have the success we have without them.
Marquis: Can you tell us why you chose to sell the company and why Mars is a good place for you to work in the future?
McCray: We recently made the decision to join the Mars Food & Nutrition portfolio of brands, which will allow us to accelerate the development of more product innovations and support our mission to bring Kevin’s to more people. consumers in all markets. We’re excited to play a key role in Mars Food & Nutrition’s ongoing journey to create goal-oriented activities that enable delicious and healthier eating habits. Mars is committed to Kevin’s rigorous nutritional standards and will operate as a stand-alone business within Mars Food & Nutrition to maintain its entrepreneurial spirit and the authenticity of its brand and culture.