David Goronkin was named CEO of My Fit Foods in June 2014. In this interview, he discusses consumer demands for food that is both healthful and flavorful, the brand’s marketing approach, and how improving the nutritional profile of menus can impact profits.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
I’m thrilled to talk with you and hear more about My Fit Foods. Tell me about the companies you have worked with over the years.
I started when I was 14 years old, working at Dairy Queen. I have had the pleasure of being able to learn at many great brands like Chi–Chi’s Mexican Restaurants, Buffets Inc., Redstone American Grill. I also served as CEO of Famous Dave’s from 2003 to 2007. Then I was able to lead a few brands through significant change and brand repositioning efforts. In June 2014, I joined My Fit Foods, and we now have 52 stores in five states, most in California and Texas, as well as in Arizona, Illinois and Oklahoma.
Each opportunity certainly gave me some great insight into consumer trends and what drives consumers to brands. And with each opportunity, I could take a step back and very thoughtfully identify where trends are heading and what is of most interest to today’s consumer. And health and nutrition are certainly leading trends that are here to stay. … When I think about the options available to Americans today, I think My Fit Foods is venturing into a category that is really yet to be defined.
Yes, My Fit Foods is right on trend. How have you seen trends and consumers change in the last few years?
People are educated about food and nutrition today. They are looking for ways in which they can maintain a healthy lifestyle and still engage in the great experiences that restaurants have to offer. And they are asking tough questions. They want to know where products are sourced, they want to know what the ingredients are, and they want to know that the labels are clean.
We as operators have the opportunity now to really take advantage of our own supply chains and to effectively provide back to today’s consumers those things they’re looking for. It’s a huge strength and a great opportunity for the industry to be proactive and offer guests great food and be a solution to our nation’s health problems.
It’s great to see how restaurants are rising to the challenge and contributing to a more healthful America. How did you choose to work with My Fit Foods?
My Fit Foods was founded about seven years ago. When I first looked at the brand almost two years ago, I saw something very special and unique. I also recognized that this brand was on the cutting edge of being able to provide handcrafted, freshly prepared, grab-and-go meals to satisfy people in various stages of life.
Before coming onboard, I traveled to some of the locations in Texas and California. I was blown away with the passion that the employees brought to the table. We call our employees “fit fanatics” because they truly care about helping our guests live healthier lives.
We take pride in our expansive menu offerings that are made fresh daily; every item is gluten-free, and we use all natural, hormone-free lean proteins, fresh produce and antioxidant-rich spices.
My Fit Foods is the first restaurant brand to have 100 percent of its menu items certified to meet Healthy Dining’s nutrition criteria. Why is that important for My Fit Foods?
When I came to My Fit Foods, I recognized that we had a unique opportunity to have all of our products meet the Healthy Dining nutrition guidelines. How wonderful for our guests — they don’t need to wonder. They can be confident that whatever they choose at My Fit Foods tastes amazing, is good for you, and is validated by our own and Healthy Dining’s dietitians. … The recognition we’ve received from Healthy Dining not only further establishes our credibility as a brand dedicated to promoting a healthier lifestyle, but also supports our promise of making healthy eating delicious for our customers.
What are some of your favorite meals at My Fit Foods?
Everything is so good, but the Lean Lemon Turkey is one of my go-to meals. It is lean ground turkey with citrus, onion and garlic, served with rice and asparagus. Our salmon is delicious. Another go-to favorite is The Omega Me Crazy Salmon, which is Scottish salmon, glazed, with sugar snap peas, rice and carrots. For breakfast, I love our omelets and our Good Morning Sunshine, which is spicy, lean ground turkey with rice, eggs, cheese and pico de gallo — the small size has 350 calories.
I’m impressed by the sodium levels in My Fit Foods’ dishes. Almost all of the meals meet Healthy Dining’s Sodium Savvy criterion, which is 750 milligrams of sodium or less for an entrée. How have you achieved that?
It starts with great flavor. There are so many wonderful seasonings that you can incorporate that can mitigate the need for sodium. And everything is fresh, so we don’t need preservatives. The industry needs to be thoughtful and conscious about sodium. It has to be one of the data points from the very beginning. We are looking much more closely at sodium and what can we add to each item to make great-tasting items with low sodium levels.
Who are your customers?
Over 75 percent of our guests are well educated, very active, with families — a lot of women looking for convenience. They are lifestyle customers who want to eat healthy and are looking for options beyond the traditional QSR, and they don’t have time to cook at home. They can come in and pick up three or four lunches and a couple of dinners that will get them through a busy week.
Then we have our “solutionists.” These are the customers who value us because their doctor said, “Reduce your sodium, lose a little weight, reduce your blood pressure,” and they know they can find the right choices at My Fit Foods. We have nutrition coaches in each of our stores who can help with complimentary meal planning to meet specific health needs. Our customers really appreciate that.
You have some very innovative ways of marketing and growing your brand and creating loyalty.
Yes, our nutrition coaches help us to create loyalty. They are dietitians or have a background in nutrition, and they are available at each of our locations to help with meal planning. So a guest might need to lower his or her blood pressure or cholesterol or dial back on sodium. A guest may need to get on a weight loss program, or just want to get on a healthy maintenance program. It’s a free service we provide. We will actually sit down with customers individually and help them develop a meal plan that will enable them to meet their healthy goals. This is a huge point of differentiation for us.
We also focus our marketing efforts on corporate wellness programs. We work with HR departments to help build healthier workforces for better productivity. We provide a “lunch and learn” program for the worksites, where our nutritional coaches talk to five or 500 employees about the benefits of nutrition and other healthy lifestyle habits like hydration, exercise and sleep. We also work with employers to provide their employees with easy access to My Fit Foods menu items, whether it be on site at the worksite or in our retail stores. It’s a win-win for the employer and the employee to be able to introduce them to the My Fit Foods healthy lifestyle.
What advice do you have for brands that don’t necessarily have the health halo of My Fit Foods? How can restaurants find healthy profits in these nutrition-focused times?
I would say that it can be done. And yes, it will require some very bold strategies. Consumers want healthy options, but will not sacrifice taste. They want to be confident that the brand that they know and love is providing great, high-quality food that is nutritionally balanced. The world is changing, and you either have to change with it or you will be left behind.
I think brands can be true to what they are and what has attracted guests to your brands over the years and still transition to a healthier way of serving guests. I think brands will get a lot of credit when they can tell the customer that they reformulated, revisited and re-sourced, and are now providing you better, higher quality products that are nutritionally balanced and great-tasting.