How Amy’s Kitchen Grew From One Pot Pie To One Million Meals

How Amy’s Kitchen Grew From One Pot Pie To One Million Meals

Daniel Hall 03/08/2023
How Amy’s Kitchen Grew From One Pot Pie To One Million Meals

In 1987, Amy’s Kitchen pioneers and new parents Andy and Rachel Berliner were looking for quick, easy vegetarian meal options to feed their growing family, but there weren’t many options out there. The couple admits starting a vegetarian food business wasn’t even on their radar when they cooked up their first recipe (a homemade pot pie). However, they soon suspected the DIY solution they’d come up with to solve their own veggie-fare shortage might just be too good not to share. 

The Berliners’ entrepreneurial instinct proved correct. As the menu of meat-free recipes they concocted from a blend of trial, error, taste-testing — and lots of love — evolved, Amy’s Kitchen was born. Soon, the vegetarian options the new company began marketing were being scarfed up like manna from heaven for an untapped niche of hungry, like-minded foodies in search of convenient, yummy, meat-free alternatives to the lackluster premade selections on offer at local supermarkets at the time. 

How a Pair of Vegetarian Parents Became Committed Vegetarian Entrepreneurs

When the Berliners embarked on the Amy’s odyssey, the impetus for the journey was a need to find better food choices for themselves, but it soon transitioned into a search for viable solutions for the vegetarian community at large. The process wasn’t without a pretty steep learning curve.

“From the very beginning, when Andy and Rachel came up with the idea of Amy’s, they hadn’t had a lot of traditional business experience, but they had a really deep sense of personal values when it came around people and the planet,” notes Amy’s Kitchen President Paul Schiefer. “So, first of all, they were vegetarians themselves which in their case, really came from a care for animals.” 

Schiefer says that back in 1987 when the Berliners launched Amy’s Kitchen, vegetarian food companies were practically unheard-of. At a time prior to the whole plant-based movement and the idea that plant-based eating might actually be an integral facet of the larger solution to offset detrimental environmental issues, Andy Berliner took the time to learn where and how meal ingredients were being grown. 

“He went out and visited [California] farming communities in Central Valley and then the Watsonville, Monterey area, down into Ventura, and he came away quite saddened,” Schiefer recalls. “He understood that there was areally negative impact that a lot of pesticides and herbicides were having on local farm communities — not just the farm workers themselves, but their families who lived near these farms.”

Berliner was also deeply troubled by the evidence of water systems being harmed and the negative impact on biodiversity in general he witnessed. “While he didn’t know a lot about regenerative agriculture or all these new buzzwords, he did know that that didn’t feel right to him,” says Schiefer. “So he committed the company from very early on to use only organic ingredients, organic vegetables, pulses [legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, lima beans, etc.], and grains within our products.” 

Again, Schiefer points out, in 1987, there was no national organic program, no standardized code for organic requirements. “It was something Andy did from … a place of morality and intuition,” he says.

Schiefer, citing research from the Organic Trade Association, notes that organic agriculture accounts for increased levels of stored carbon in the soil and higher levels of biodiversity. “We see much better water systems, lower overall carbon emissions from the farming operations,” he says. “And truly, the world has caught up and now we hear about climate-smart ag or regenerative ag, but we’ve always been that way. Amy’s Kitchen oriented our supply chain from day one, and that’s just an incredible strength and gives us something quite unique.”

At Amy’s Kitchen, Real Food Is Cooked, Not Manufactured

Another hallmark of Amy’s Kitchen that speaks to the company’s passion for real food is Amy’s commitment to what might rightly be termed “a much less processed process” that involves actually cooking food rather than manufacturing it. “We use real herbs and spices, we sauté onions, garlic, we build roux,” explains Schiefer.

Schiefer stresses that from the beginning, Amy’s Kitchen has intentionally steered clear of a traditional manufacturing strategy. “That approach is often somewhat unrecognizable compared to how you and I as normal people think about the food we make,” he asserts. “At Amy’s, we really make food, again, like you would expect to see it being made by a cook in a restaurant or even a home kitchen. 

“We started from the very first day with this premise that every meal we serve should be good enough, taste good enough that we would serve it to our closest friends and family,” Schiefer continues, “and the way to do that is by finding the highest quality ingredients, and working directly with farmers and growers on varieties and processing techniques so we get the best things to start with.” 

Amy’s Nationwide Footprint Still Embraces Home-Kitchen Values

Since Amy’s Kitchen launched more than three decades ago, the ensuing popularity of its growing vegetarian product line has resulted in an exponential expansion into the prepared food marketplace. Amy’s Kitchen items can now be found in 43,000 retailers nationwide, from grocery and convenience stores to big-box stores and warehouse clubs. “You can find Amy’s just about everywhere,” Schiefer says, “Kroger stores, Walmart, Costco, of course Whole Foods and Publix — all the natural stores that have really been part of the very inception of our brand, our very first customers.”

While Amy’s operations continue to grow, and with a new company headquarters in the works, the enterprise’s ethics and mission remain aligned with the Berliners’ original eco-friendly vision that combines the use of the finest ingredients in conjunction with ethical, sustainable production practices. “I would say that has stayed true from the day Andy and Rachel started the company in 1987 to today,” Schiefer says. “What really has changed is the scale in which we do it … So, going from making one little potpie with four people by hand to now making … roughly a million meals a day in our production facilities, but still using that same sense of care.”

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Daniel Hall

Business Expert

Daniel Hall is an experienced digital marketer, author and world traveller. He spends a lot of his free time flipping through books and learning about a plethora of topics.

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