Ankeny-based Mom’s Meals grows to national footprint, with further growth ahead
JOE GARDYASZ Dec 24, 2019 | 5:19 pm
5 min read time1,084 wordsBusiness Record Insider, Health & Wellness
Eating well-balanced, nutritious meals is often quite literally just what the doctor ordered, as many Americans are finding.
And regardless of whether those meals are directed for someone recovering from a surgical procedure, living with diabetes or managing other chronic health conditions, it has become more common for both private and government health insurance to cover the cost of ensuring that their patients are getting proper nutrition.
Providing access to healthy meal options is the mission that drives the growth of PurFoods LLC, which does business under the brands Mom’s Meals and NourishCare. A family-owned business, the Ankeny-based company has grown over the past 20 years into a coast-to-coast enterprise that employs more than 1,200 workers, nearly half of whom are based in Iowa. The company now produces and delivers more than 700,000 refrigerated meals weekly to clients, primarily through Medicare and Medicaid coverage.
Operating largely under the public radar for the past two decades, Mom’s Meals was launched in Nevada, Iowa, in 1999 and moved to Ankeny in 2003. In 2014, the company moved into a new 46,000-square-foot office and fulfillment center on Corporate Woods Drive east of Interstate 35. A year later, the company built a $3.5 million, 30,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse and distribution center adjacent to its headquarters.
Purfoods’ president and a second-generation owner, Mike Anderson, recently opened the doors of the company’s headquarters to the Business Record for a tour — and insights into what has allowed Mom’s Meals to achieve double-digit annual growth for the past several years.
“I’ve learned a lot from my parents over the course of those years, and they’ve continued to trust me with a lot of the activities that helped build the business,” Anderson said. “And today, we’ve got a wonderful management team that brings a lot of different skill sets, a lot of different perspectives to the table. And we’ve got some folks here that have been here with us almost since the beginning.”
A nutritious idea for a family business
The company was founded by Barb Anderson — the “Mom” of Mom’s Meals — and her husband, Rick Anderson, a “sandwich-generation” couple whose two sons were student-athletes at Iowa State University and whose parents were living on their own and managing chronic health conditions. Both the kids and the parents had a need for healthy meals with no preservatives that they could easily heat up.
“From that came the idea for a family business — delivering refrigerated, nutritious meals to people’s doorsteps,” said Mike Anderson, one of “Mom’s” sons and now the president of the company. Anderson left Iowa State with less than a semester of credits remaining to pitch in at the fast-growing company.
The family initially bought a former grocery store building in Nevada, Iowa, and retrofitted it as a USDA-certified food preparation facility to prepare meals to be delivered primarily to college students and to other customers in Central Iowa.
The Andersons soon realized, however, that college students weren’t the best at planning ahead and didn’t represent a viable long-term business model. After researching the national market, they approached some companies that were offering daily delivery on the coasts and marketed their meal concepts to them.
“So through some of those partnerships, we developed the ability to package meals, have a menu that was made along certain nutritional parameters, so that someone could choose their meals, have them put into a refrigerated container, and deliver that container right to their doorsteps.”
Mike Anderson joined the company full time 18 years ago during his final semester as a student-athlete at Iowa State. He was in charge of sales and business development before becoming the company’s president in July 2018.
A critical point in the business was connecting with a European-based equipment manufacturer that supplied Mom’s Meals with specialized packaging machinery that enabled them to effectively extend the shelf life of meals to several weeks in the refrigerator.
After packaging meals several years for the diet and fitness market, in 2002 Mom’s Meals was approved as a vendor for the Iowa Medicaid program and began producing and delivering meals for Medicaid patients. By 2008, the family decided to shift the company’s focus entirely into the health care market and began expanding one state at a time to more Medicaid programs. It now also provides meals for Medicare recipients.
Mom’s Meals develops its own recipes in a test kitchen at its Ankeny headquarters, under the leadership of Jon Benedict, director of research and development and executive chef. Benedict perfects his recipes in family-sized portions that are taste-tested by company staff, who are routinely asked to weigh in on new recipes. The company operates a production kitchen in Grinnell that turns out meals in hot-tub-sized vats. It also operates distribution centers in Ohio and Las Vegas, Nev.
In 2011, the company began developing its own logistics networks for delivering meals in some of its highest-density customer areas around the country rather than having express delivery companies like FedEx and UPS do all of them. To date, Mom’s Meals has a fleet of about 225 delivery trucks serving regular routes.
Mom’s Meals prides itself on getting to know its clients, whom staff connect with on a regular basis by telephone support. A Mom’s Meals employee perk is free breakfasts and lunches from the company’s menu, which keeps the staff familiar with the quality and taste of the meals.
“Today, we do business throughout the United States, all the territories, and from a Medicaid perspective we’re in about 40 states as a Medicaid provider,” Anderson said. “I think it was a good decision to just focus on health care.”
To accommodate the company’s continuing growth, Purfoods recently leased the former Vatterott College building at 7000 Fleur Drive on Des Moines’ south side. Purfoods is also adding to its fulfillment, warehouse and logistics teams in Ankeny and in several of its other locations around the country, he said.
The company has 85 customer-support staff members working in the south Des Moines facility, and plans to have more than 100 workers there by the first quarter of 2020. When the renovations are complete in the second quarter, the Des Moines office will have space for about 350 employees.
“We feel this location will be a draw for people who live in communities around the southern side of Des Moines due to its location, some who may not be willing to travel to Ankeny every day but would like to work for a mission-driven organization like ours,” Anderson said.