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RealEats stays focused on growing Geneva, and Grow-NY competition

As one of 17 finalists, RealEats remains focused on winning Grow-NY, a food and agriculture business competition that supports innovative, high-growth startups in the food consumption market.

Winners shall be announced at the Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit in Rochester this week where $3 million in prizes will be dispersed to winners.

But before pitching their final bid for competition, key community actors came to support RealEats in Mayor Ronald L. Alcock, Former Senator Catharine Young of Cornell’s New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture, City Manager Sage Gerling and former state senator Michael F. Nozzolio prior to this Tuesday’s competition.

William Simon of the Geneva Center for Concern bestowed a plaque to Executive Chef Marco Ballatori on behalf of RealEats’ “outstanding support” and contributions in filling the food pantry for the community.

Stationed out of Geneva, RealEats has surged and stormed the prepared meal market with its full staff of 45 to 50 producing thousands of meals each week that are shipping-out to 22 states primarily within the Northeast area.

When it comes to processing meals, RealEats has a well-oiled procedure that was shown on full-display after the plaque was awarded and guests were invited on a tour of their facility. 

After packaging precleaned and cooked products into containers, they are stored in freezers to safely cool-down the product to 70-degrees within two hours and even drops to 40-degrees four hours later.

Inside the sealing room fridge, there are two machines where plastic bags seal food every 35-seconds, closing more than 20,000 bags each week.

“Currently we’re operating one, you know, one shift 40 hours a week for everyone that’s here and that’s getting all the cooking and packaging done as well as shipping after products being cooled,” Ballatori said.

Ballatori also notes convenience as a necessity with their product where most meal kit companies send ingredients that may take an hour just to cook dinner.

“A lot of people work a 12-hour day or 14-hour day, so that’s where we come where you can have a healthy balanced meal that was curated by culinary professionals with worldly tastes and real high for what’s on trend taste-wise and what is responsibly sourced and seasonal in the area; and that all comes together and meal that can be on your table in 10 minutes,” Ballatori said.

Locally sourced healthy foods are collected by companies like Headwater Food Hub and Regional Access who aggregate produce from smaller farms and helps farmers get their crops to consumers.

“Obviously it’s no coincidence that we ended up in Geneva. We’re in a very rich agricultural region,” he stated.

“The focus of our company is just clean food. You shouldn’t have to compromise by eating preservatives and chemicals and you know, things like that garbage, right? So, we’ve always been about transparency and when you look at our ingredients list, you’ll certainly see that there’s nothing that you can’t pronounce,” he continued.

RealEats generates labels for meals, which will tell a subscriber about the meal, cook time and the use by date, which is usually a week. Labels are then placed inside boxes alongside menu cards, t-shirts, tote bags and other promotional products.

“They’ll be boxed up with the appropriate amount of frozen gel packs and our recycled insulated boxes and it’ll be palletized and they’re going to end up on the loading dock. We’ll have a line haul in the morning,” Ballatori stated.   

The city has recently shifted in waste management discourse and the startup has even picked-up on this trend, sticking to this mantra by mitigating their own waste impacts.

While the plastic vacuum-sealed bags are not recyclable, most of the shipping products originate from reused or recycled materials.

The insulation for their reusable delivery boxes comes from recycled denim and coffee bean sacks that keep shipped products cold.

Consumers can also pour their melted ice packs down the drain, which is tested as safe by the company.

A crucial component to RealEats’ success has been the cultivation of a partnership at the Cornell AgriTech in Geneva.

“Aside from the startup, we’re a tech company too. I mean, this is food technology and what we’re really doing as well. And it’s great to have them here and have the tech farm here to again answer questions, just help us avoid problems before they become problems,” Ballatori said.

RealEats sees its future long-term goal in developing a new website experience where customers can peruse the marketplace, purchasing individual meals and even mix-and-match options.

Ultimately, if RealEats were to win funding from Grow-NY, they seek to acquire new customers, buy some new equipment as well as explore new local partnerships with businesses.

Between running operations from Monday to Saturday, the City of Geneva is the birthplace of RealEats and all of its business dealing virtually remain within the city itself.

Following a tour, Youngs extended her gratitude and best wishes to RealEats as they venture to win up to $1 million.

“Thank you for taking the time today and congratulations on everything that you’ve accomplished so far and we have really a lot of faith that you are going to continue to grow and contribute to the local economy and make people really happy when they eat your food and healthy,” Youngs concluded. 

– Reporting & Photos by Gabriel Pietrorazio

An undergraduate student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Pietrorazio has written for the Town Times of Watertown, Connecticut and Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, New York. He’s currently a reporter for FL1 News, and can be reached at [email protected].