The rise of the ready meal accelerated dramatically during Covid lockdowns for myriad reasons. For ready meal company Lite n’ Easy, it sped up a move that was already underway.
CEO Dennis Stark says, “We saw double digit growth in customers wanting access to a safe, healthy meal delivery service. For many reasons, customers enjoyed the convenience of having our meals delivered to avoid the shops, and many people saw it as an opportunity to focus on their health goals. 
“Ten years ago, we were considered just a weight loss brand. Today, more than 30 per cent of customers use our service simply for the healthy convenience. Increasingly time poor consumers mean convenience will continue to be a huge driver for the market.”
Accredited dietitian for Lite n’ Easy Ashleigh Jones says the company has witnessed a shift from the mentality of weight loss to one of “healthy convenience”.
“People used to assume if they were losing weight, they were improving their health. People are now much more informed and are asking brands to demonstrate the health credentials of their products.
“We are seeing an increase in people seeking “health convenience” and less looking for a weight loss solution,” Jones says.
If Lite n’ Easy was capturing Covid customers focused on their health, its exercise program and app ActiveATE has the potential to be its calorie free, customer rich dessert. In the early weeks of lockdowns, downloads of health and fitness apps grew 27per cent.
Jones sees ActiveATE as shaping the company as a complete health brand.
“Nutrition has always been at the heart of everything we do. We put evidence-based nutrition into practice by creating healthy, delicious recipes and balanced menus. We are now providing a complete healthy diet and fitness solution,” she says.
Research commissioned by the company found 85per cent of Australians had tried to lose weight, but only 51per cent of them had used diet and exercise. Barely a third (34 per cent) said they exercised enough.
Stark says, “We find it concerning that 66 per cent of Australians say they don’t think they exercise enough and over 57 per cent say the main reason they do not exercise enough is because they don’t know where to start or they lack motivation.
“Staying active regularly is essential for good physical and mental health and well-being. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of many health problems, such as anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, some cancers, and unhealthy weight gain.
“This is not new territory forLite n’ Easy, we have been building awareness for years that chronic health problems can be improved by healthy eating and weight management.”
The lightbulb moment for the company was when 36 per cent said it would be easier to exercise more if they could work out at home. And 32 per cent said short workouts that fitted in to their busy schedule would also help them exercise more.
ActiveATE is a six-week exercise plan offered to customers as an app. It covers a range of fitness levels with cardio and resistance exercises with guided videos. There are also “Microwave Moves”, which are short workouts of up to five minutes, designed for customers to do while they heat their meals.
Stark says the company’s steadfast focus on variety, choice, and flexibility with every menu providing good nutrition and health has seen the company retain the customers gained during Covid.
Lite n’ Easy has more than 235 meals in a range of pack offerings. Its model doesn’t involve contracts or subscriptions, allowing customers to tailor the meals to their needs. Stark says flexibility and choice are also key to the company’s success.
“We have grown our fresh chilled range, which is made to order in each state, by 20 per cent. Customers are looking for variety and love the option of including fresh and frozen options in their delivery,” he adds.
Jones says the model also allows the company to develop meals for specific audiences and current trends such as protein rich, high fibre, or plant based.
“One key change we have seen is the demand for a chilled offering. Frozen product still has the benefit of a longer shelf life but being able to offer both chilled and frozen options has really livened up our product offering and provided us with the opportunity to meet the needs of our customers – fresh when they want it and frozen when they need it.
“ActivATE was a response to increasing demand for a more holistic offering that encompasses nutrition, exercise, and overall wellbeing,” she says.
The customer growth and retention has paid dividends for the company.
Stark says, “It has enabled us to reinvest back into the business with new meal development, staffing opportunities, and the ActiveATE app.
“We’ve also been able to reinvest back into the company with a brand-new facility in Regency Park in Adelaide to be able to improve the service to South Australian customers. Plus, we’ve put significant investments back into Western Australia, Victoria, and Queensland operational facilities.”
In the aftermath of the Royal Commission into Aged Care and revelations that the basic nutritional needs of many older Australians were not being met, the company has introduced a new range of meals called My Choice.
“Combined with access to the government funding via Home Care Packages, our goal is to make it easy and affordable for more older Australians to eat well and enjoy a better quality of life,” Stark says.
A national roll out of My Choice is currently underway with specific Lite n’ Easy customer service teams for Home Care Packages and NDIS customers.
Programs like ActivATE and My Choice reveal a company committed to growth and the core principles of its brand.
Stark says the Lite n’ Easy continues to expand its delivery footprint, with more regional areas added every month and a delivery network now covering more than 90 per cent of the country’s population.
All its frozen meals now use paper-based board trays, which are ovenable and create a better reheating experience. It is also moving towards compostable packaging.
“Our goal is to make it easy for every Australian to have affordable access to healthy, delicious meals,” Stark says. With tailored meal options for all ages, an exercise app for all ability levels, and a growing customer base, that goal is in sight.
 This article first appeared in the October edition of Food & Drink Business magazine. 
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