How Foodie Fit's CMO Leveraged Community to Grow His Meal Prep Company by 4900% in 6 years (with Alex Lee)
Alex Lee, the CMO of Foodie Fit Meal Prep in Las Vegas, built his business with a community-first strategy that begins with care, compassion, and customer experience.
That one small step for brands, one giant leap for brandkind. This is Exit Intent.
All right, everybody. We've got Alex Lee, co-founder and CMO of Foodie Fit Meal Prep in Las Vegas with us today, Alex, how are you doing?
I'm doing fantastic. Thanks for having me on, Vasa.
Thanks for joining. Alex, we go way, way back, but I want you to tell us a little bit more about you and your history and how you started Foodie Fit and where you're at, and anything exciting in between.
Yeah. So I moved to Vegas about six years ago. I was a bartender, been a bartender, but before that, I did work for another meal prep company in California, and really liked that concept, I just didn't really believe in that brand so I went back to bartending to kind of start making more money. I don't think I was ready to grow up yet. But I also had some sales experience selling radio. And when I moved to Vegas, I reconnected with my best friend and business partner, Andrew. We kind of had this plan to open up something healthy in Las Vegas.
At that time, when you look on Yelp, it was literally like John's Meal Prep. It would just be a phone number and it would just be this dude cooking food from his house and then just dropping off. So we knew there was definitely some opportunity in the market because there was so many cocktail servers and bartenders and industry people. And what a lot of people don't know is that we're hired as models. They hire you kind of as is on the picture so they kind of have to stay fit, or there is an opportunity to lose your job because of it. With all these off hours in a city that doesn't sleep, we wanted to get something faster than fast food so we thought of bringing meal prep over to Las Vegas.
The one meal prep company we tried was called Ninja Fit Meals, which became our third business partner because his food was just amazing. We basically bought in. And now, six years later, it's Foodie Fit. When we first started, we're doing about 300 meals a week, just delivery. And now, five years later, we are at about 15,000 meals a week, two storefronts with a third one coming, so pretty excited. And I'm kind of excited for the future and just really blessed to be able to kind of get through this whole journey, including COVID.
Yeah, it must've been hard during COVID. One of the exciting things about this podcast for me is we work a lot with digital brands and we also support their growth in retail with all of the different digital communications that we leverage. So I really want to punch into this one because you have two storefronts now. You have a third storefront on the way, right?
The cool part for me, and what I really want to dive into is how do you build an online community and call them to action online (direct to consumer) or in-store? How do you get somebody to see an ad and get them to come into the store and pick up some meals?
Yes. I knew that there was some power in social media when we first started. I didn't know how much power we can leverage from it through Instagram, but I knew there was something behind it. And in the beginning, I started using influencers. Instead of looking at other meal prep models, I kind of looked at our own model and what we are, which is basically we wanted to be the best tasting meal prep company. We wanted our meal preps to be for everybody so why would I be sponsoring this off shredded, bodybuilder that only eats chicken with no salt and stuff like that when we wanted something with variety? So I actually started... My first tactic was to tap into the local food bloggers of social media. And I learned from a friend, you, that with social media marketing, there has to be an emotion, and the emotion was hunger. So, that's how I solved that problem, was through working with the food bloggers to kind of showcase the meal preps and stuff like that in a very different way.
So what did that look like for anybody listening who is kind of figuring out what it looks like to work with influencers aside from reach out to the bloggers or seeding them with product? How many were you sending per week or per month? Is there an ambassador program where people came in and got X amount in exchange for a blog?
Yeah, I think the nice thing about Foodie Fit that's different from CPG is that our food can technically subsidize your grocery bill. You can eat our food every single day and never step foot in a grocery store ever again, really. That was kind of a big advantage on our end to comped meals for the food bloggers. Those guys aren't eating gooey pizzas every single day that's kind of what they're featuring, you know what I mean? That's kind of how we got our earned media originally.
And then once we started really, really accelerating our customer base, I had to start learning kind of more of the classic agency style marketing through sponsored ads. And really, I just cast in a net in Vegas in the beginning because it's relatively cheap. As opposed to if it was a CPG and I was shipping all over the nation, I would have to be learning a lot more. So it was kind of more of a guess and check strategy. It's been working pretty well. And really going heavy on creatives. Keeping the creatives in-house was really, really important to me, and focusing on the beauty of the food, because our food is in the container.
How did you quantify the impact of working with an influencer and what does success look like for each one?
Originally, it was followers. And because we had a storefront, it's kind of like we have a live visual survey of the customer coming in. So we have daily summaries and we would see just, "Oh my God, all these people came in from Drew with Unlock." I saw his post and it came right in. We actually got a bunch from just a small feature in 90 Day Fiance to this day. They're like, "Yeah, we're watching it and I didn't even know that was there and I drove right over."
Is that couple still together? Do they bond over Foodie Fit? HAHA
I have no idea. But I had no idea that even traditional was making such a large impact, so I was like, "Okay. Maybe TV is making a comeback" especially with digital streaming. You can daypark some of your head creatives now and stuff. So, definitely looking into that in the later future. But as of now, social media has been doing very well for us because we do have online local delivery portal.
Got it. Were you using coupon codes to track other than influencer following? Because you can report on CPM based on their following but we know that only 10% of their following is going to see their content unless you white list or something.
What was that measure of success? Did you have a coupon code for them to use [crosstalk 00:08:39]?
Yes. Yes, we had a coupon code, but granted their engagement was probably sometimes like half of what a pizza place they would feature would do, but our check average is about a hundred dollars a person so I would need a much less conversions if you will, to see a success because our average reorder rate is about four times. Our lifetime value of a customer is about 500 bucks.
So I don't need a lot to... If I get one or two here, three and four here, 10 to 15 there, huge successes.
So, you've got a loyal following purchasing four or five times, a hundred bucks a pop. How have you nurtured that? Aside from working from influencers to build that top funnel, what have you done to show the love to your community in Vegas?
We work really close with the community. Any sort of charity thing, we always try to donate to. We were really big during COVID because COVID honestly kicked our butts pretty hard. I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast about a chef in New York and he just said, "Well, we're not going to lay anybody off so let's just keep cooking. That's what we're good at." And I was like, "Same. Let's do it." So we dropped off almost 3000 meals throughout the whole city just to be like, "Okay, cool. If they need us, they need us. If they don't, then they don't."
But during that time, I realized the biggest sales drop was from industry, hotels are closed. I really kind of just looked at the avatar, the consumer, "Okay. They have to be hourly based and they have to have, not really a 9:00 to 5:00, they're kind of on a schedule, like a week-to-week schedule. And we've kind of had... I was like, "Well, what industry have we not tapped into?" And that would be police officers and first responders, nurses because they were working overtime. Nothing has changed for them. If anything, I feel like they were making more money. So we did a lot of drop-offs to them. We've definitely seen a return from them even to this day. I mean, the [inaudible 00:11:04] is always top 10 for Metro PD and Las Vegas Medical.
And what about the folks who still might be out of work? Because I think Vegas opens up May 1st, right? Completely.
Yes. That's the hopes. That's the hopes. It's looking like it too.
Got it. Nightlife might've dropped off a bit, but how have you been continuing to maintain that relationship as right now, they probably can't?
Well, my business partner is probably going to kill me, but honestly, any industry person that was hurting and stuff like that, I was just giving them half off our food. I really can't give anyone a metric, give you a metric on the return for it. It just made me feel good. And I know that once the person goes back to work, they'll tell their friends and hopefully by then, they'll return the favor back. Because at that point, what was I going to do? 10% is not going to do anything for them.
That's really cool, man. That's really what I was getting at, is I know you personally. I know that you were doing a lot of great for the nightlife community that was laid off or furloughed, or just completely-
... shut down. That's really cool. And I can see why people are coming back four or five times at a hundred dollars average order value. What other things are you doing online to drive people into store?
Honestly, the in-store kind of sells itself. It's such a unique concept. And that one's a little bit more on the side of the guerilla marketing and through influencers. And then, we use the ads for more for the online portal, because we don't have the luxury of being able to connect with Shopify. So we have a custom built website that doesn't give us as much data, but then I see is the storefront gives us a ton of data because you're seeing them face to face. "How's it going? Welcome back. You've been here? No." And then old-school style, when we tally it up and then we ask them where they came from, it's always 50% is referral. So, I, at least know that our product is second to none, and there's definitely a demand for it and people enjoy it and they're seeing definitely health benefits through the food.
Is there a chance for someone who maybe sees a direct response ad for your online storefront to see that and say, "Hey, I know they deliver two or three times a week and I can get this right to my door, but I'm going to be right there on Windmill" or whatever the street is.
There's a chance that they could see that and come in and pick it up, right?
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. There are definitely some sort of attribution model, but there isn't kind of a metric that I've been confident enough to share with someone like you yet. But it's definitely working. I mean, people know who we are. I mean, I remember five years ago, we're able to afford 12 hats and 12 shirts. I wore a shirt to the gym and I was so amped and nobody could care less. And now, sometimes when I wear a hat, when I go to the grocery store or whatever, they're like, "Foodie Fit. What is that? I've heard about friends eat it. I've been wondering about it." So I was like, I know that the awareness is there. We're doing something right. It's just now, I think we're at the stage of really trying to document the attribution process. And that's kind of we're about to launch a new website in the next two, three months, along with that third storefront so that's going to be a lot of work coming in the next few months. And with the industry opening up to, because this is going to be flying, I think.
Do you ever see people in the comments of an ad asking, "Where can I buy this?" Do you have any... Is there a store locator on your site like a lot of CPG brand has? A lot of our clients, they sell online and they're in Whole Foods nationwide, so if somebody clicks-
... to that store locator, you know where they're available at near you and they get to choice. We call it multiple ways of winning. You can buy online, you can buy in-store, you could drive them to Amazon. You can give them a retail request form, all those sorts of things.
Do you have any different guerrilla tactics like that for when you're community managing, or anybody on your team is to help guide them to a path to purchase?
Yeah. We do have the store locators on our website. We've actually, thank God, the last few months been investing in SEO because we've been ranking top organics for years now, even for Meal Prep and for Foodie Fit. And little did I know that our paid ads manager told us that now, these national companies are starting to bid on our name. I was like, "Okay, we're starting to..."
Now, we're almost kind of playing defense right now. But the fact of the matter is, if you look at a local meal prep versus the national meal prep company the difference is night and day. And I'm very, very, very heavy on customer obsession. And I always tell people, "Just treat them like your friend. They're only in here for about five minutes, make it the best five minutes of their day because they probably have back-to-back-to-back meetings like you and I did today."
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's great. I can tell you're building community first, and then that's what's kind of sustaining that lifetime value.
And kind of cool, I've ordered to national meal prep companies before and it comes frozen and you got to microwave it.
Definitely got to give props to your food, even if you next day eat it, to me, pretty dang delicious.
Yeah, I flaunt it over to you before. I know you are probably my number one fan, but you're also my harshest critic. And the fact that you enjoy the food, really says something. And honestly, it gets me off. I'm a foodie and watching people be like, "That's so good." That's what I'm here for, honestly.
Yes. So talking about more national meal prep companies, are there any plans in the future to do that? Or are you really stoked on the regional or very local play?
I actually feel like we haven't really scratched the surface with Las Vegas yet. Based on some of the data that we've kind of collected, I think we have an opportunity to grow two more stores. So four stores total at still the same sales velocity. I think once we get this website dialed and be able to get Klaviyo integrated, I think we'll be able to double our online sales as well before I think going outside into a new market. By that time, I think we'll have plenty of data and we'll have a very, very good idea digitally on how to capture out a state because I won't have the connections that I'll have in Las Vegas, that's for sure. So I need to do it right.
Yeah. What else are you doing? Because I ran the math as we've been chatting. 4900% growth in six years, from 300 meals a week to 15,000 meals a week. You're doing more than just influence or marketing and working with foodie bloggers. Given a great customer experience, big fan of Tony Hsieh and Zappos.
Still too early to just bummed about what happened there.
You're doing more. You got to be, just to drive that sort of growth in meals. Are you doing any sort of SMS? Or what kind of automations do you have going on? And-
Yeah, we actually just started doing SMS. It's kind of funny you mentioned that. We've actually been doing a higher offer online and getting less purchases because I think there's friction on the website, hence why we're going to overhaul the website. We're getting like a hundred redemptions for 5% off.
So, it's definitely offer driven. I'm a big fan of your podcast. I know that there should be a relationship built through the text message, but I think that, that part is covered through our storefront experience.
What's the breakdown of online versus storefront sales?
Right now, it's about a 40/30/30 split. So 40% online and then 30/30 from both stores.
Got it. So still a pretty solid-
Yeah. And then the numbers are pretty darn close. That's why I kind of want to open up another storefront just to see some different variables. You know what I mean? Because they're almost running side-by-side along with the rankings of the meals too. It's pretty crazy.
What does it look like when you open a new storefront? Does it have to be in a certain strategic geography so you're not cannibalizing sales from another store?
Yeah, we try to... I actually landed on this one website called Placer.ai. It's a really fantastic site. It kind of gave me a little bit of a heat map. We were able to identify that the third store, even though the proximity is about, I think, eight or seven miles away from the Green Valley location based on the heat map, I compared them to the grocery stores that we're next to, there shouldn't be too much overlap. If anything, it should actually just add onto the business based on where the cars are going and stuff like that because it tracks your cellphones. As opposed to getting a census that was two years old, Placer.ai can update up to 30 days before.
That's interesting. I've never heard of Placer.ai. I'll put that link in the show notes after this-
Yeah. Hopefully, they'll give me a discount because I can't afford their service.
You might have to swap a few meals for that.
Yeah. But yeah, I also give them an avatar and I just really liked it. What my business partner always says is that we're kind of like the Trader Joe's model. We really try to maximize our cost per square foot. We try to be in a good area, but not in the center where we're paying ultra-premium pricing for the real estate. We're just on the outskirts of the nice area. So we're getting a very, very cost efficient, cost per square foot. It's like if we want to serve Beverly Hills, we'll be right outside of Beverly Hills, so we don't pay the Beverly Hills pricing.
Gotcha. Very cool. I want to segue into innovation for Foodie Fit.
For me, innovation and CPG is limited edition flavors or new wine extensions or whatever that may be. But for Foodie Fit, it's much different because it's meals. It's meals and you switch them out in a very specific way. Can you talk us through your definition of innovation and how you roll it out?
Yes. We are constantly innovating. We finally have a thousand square foot kitchen just dedicated towards innovation. Our model is, we actually have about... On average, from what I see from other meal prep website portals, we have about 10 to 20% less items, but we also rotate in three items in and three items out. The strategy with that is based on sales. Like, if nobody likes it, get rid of it. It also helps us with, for example, COVID, there was so much unavailability on proteins and whatnot so we really had to pivot, but because we were already doing rotation changes, all we were doing was just kind of swapping out the meals that we're going to put into the pipeline, but we ended up pushing this one up, if that makes sense, as opposed to now. And so, like blocking out half the menu, if that makes sense.
Yeah. How do you roll those out? Is it just on social? I've seen your IG stories where you do the gamifications of what meals are coming in, but do you send it out to email list and SMS list?
Or what does that look like?
What we've been doing right now is just a Stack email blast. We have about a 35% open rate, which I know it doesn't matter in this day and age, but until we get Klaviyo in, we can start kind of really pocketing our consumers. But as of now, lumping them as a whole. Our new creative director has a pretty cool strategy, Jacob, he's really been trying to focus on the look and the feel of the food through social media and really trying to get more interactions and engagement and build a preview out. Because before that, we just didn't have enough... Our team wasn't big enough. It was hard enough just to launch it because you have to teach the kitchen how to make it. You have to whittle down the inventory for the items that are leaving and bringing in the new items, and also ensuring that if you made one of them, it tasted good. Would it taste good if you made a hundred of them?
We've been doing this for three years now. We've kind of got it to a good science and I really want to give a shout out to my director, goody and my business partner, Andrew, for working through the night on the operation side, because it's not easy trying to make fresh food, because again, we have a big customer obsession, you know what I mean? Because we just always try to under promise and over deliver.
So it's every two weeks that you're rotating the meals?
Yeah, three items in, three items out.
Now, are people... You have a very loyal community base.
Do they just know that new meals are coming? How is it communicated to them?
It's communicated through training through our front house. And then, the email blasts and social media kind of sort of drive the online sales people because the online sales have a higher or more consistent ordering structure, if you will. Like, I see the same names every Sunday. But if you go retail, there is less. There's about 2% overlap of the person that comes in on the Saturday versus the next Saturday or for the next week. It was kind of driving me nuts trying to figure it out. And I just realized where, "Well, it's like a 7/11" you know what I mean? You don't go in every single Monday. That's not part of your ritual [inaudible 00:27:25]. You kind of go whenever it's convenient for you to go, or when you want to go to Vons or Albertsons. You need to go there at some point, it just doesn't have to be today. If that makes sense.
So what we've been doing is now, we've been trying to kind of give them a reminder, be like, "Hey, don't run out of food." Because looking at a lot of CPG models, I was looking at it all wrong. So I based it off of not when they reorder, I based the retargeting based on when the meals expire. If you buy a thousand meals today and the next person buys only two meals, those meals will be expired in five days anyways, so you got to re up. Maybe you have a family of 20, maybe you're bringing it to your whole high school. I don't know. But either way, there should be a re up. My goal is no overlap. Now, we're trying to just shrink the overlap and increasing the frequency. It's really kind of the main objective right now.
Alex, I got to say that I'm a big fan of people who build online communities and are able to win in brick and mortar. It's one of my favorite things and it excites me the most. So big props to you building your community and pretty much owning Meal Prep in Vegas.
Yeah, I appreciate it. It's still a project and it's definitely not just me. It's myself and a team of 90 that really make this happen for this community. We're going to be providing for two elementary schools this year for a charity. I'm really excited for that. And coming up in August, we have our own school charity. Our idea was I wanted to be the first small business to be able to do things that the hotels were doing. Because I've seen the hotels, they'll go to Walmart and they just start putting stuff into the grocery shopping carts and stuff. And I was like, "I want to do that" but I'm not as big as the Wynn. We're not as big as the Wynn, but I'm sure if we get a couple of businesses together, collaboratively, we can make just as big of an impact than we have. And people love it.
Alex, I don't want to get to it yet, but let's [inaudible 00:29:49] it for when we tell everyone where we can find you to how we can support all of the charities that you're doing and the stuff in the elementary schools. Before we get to that, though, we do one of my favorite things, which is rapid fire questions.
One or two. The guests never knows what they are and most of the time, I just make them up as I go. My question to you is, you're starting a CPG company.
Who are your co-founders? And it can't be me.
You're starting a CPG company. So Foodie Fits making a productized product that'll be in retail.
The Rock, I think would be one business partner. And I would probably tie that in with Elon Musk because I feel like he would just really elevate this to something that's going to really solve a problem, which is kind of the main theme of why we're in the health industry in the first place, right?
Would you call that pair of two people Rocket Fuel?
Yeah, I think so.
Awesome. All right. We're going to leave it at one today. Alex, tell everyone where we can find you, where we can support the charities. Literally, anytime anybody goes to Vegas, all they have to do is search Foodie Fits, so where can we find you?
You can go online at www.foodiefit.com. We would deliver only in Vegas. We have two locations, one in Green Valley, one in Summerlin. No need to list the addresses. Our Instagram handle, which is the most popular is @foodiefitmealprep.
And what about you?
You can find me, @alexlee122. I don't really have a cool Instagram. I just post my dog and me bike riding and stuff, but you can reach me at email@example.com. Yeah.
Awesome. Alex, thanks for coming on the show today. Really appreciate you. Congrats on that 4900% growth and-
Appreciate it. Thank you for having me. It's a real honor.