If you’re particular about the healthfulness, taste and quality of the foods that go into your freezer, then you may be familiar with Red’s All Natural delicious, convenient and clean-label frozen foods. This relatively young specialty brand has been winning over consumers since 2010, when Red’s frozen burritos first debuted to shoppers in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Since then, CEO Michael Adair and his Red’s team have been diligently searching for ways to up the ante on their already popular selection of burritos and breakfast sandwiches — by procuring the best talent, technology, equipment and ingredients available on the market.
Headquartered in The McEwen Building, a KBS property in Franklin, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville. Founder Adair was committed to using only the highest-quality, all-natural ingredients available, including organic, non-genetically modified organism (GMO) produce, and cage- hormone- and antibiotic- free protein sources.
We sat down with Adair to discuss his company’s founding, its mission, vision, values and how The McEwen Building is the optimal location for a company with these ideals.
Can you give us a little background on how Red’s came to be and what was your inspiration for getting into the food business?
I had a former career in finance. Out of college, I worked for a money-management firm but wanted to build a business of my own. I liked what I was doing although it didn’t offer the control I desired.
If the company made good decisions, it made my life really easy. If they made bad decisions, it made my life miserable. So, I fell in love with the idea of building a business and controlling my own destiny.
I gravitated toward consumer product goods. If we could produce a product that could positively impact people’s lives just a bit — that would be amazing. And, if we could put smiles on customers’ faces and make their lives a little bit easier, our team could sleep a little better at night knowing we were doing something good.
That was my original thesis.
As I was still mulling it all over one day, I took a walk and wandered into an animal shelter to find an amazing reddish mutt. We bonded the moment we met, so I adopted that dog immediately and named him Red.
Sometime later, I returned to business school and began conceptual work on my first entrepreneurial project.
My wife happened to make these incredible tacos and burritos, which became my inspiration. Her cooking evolved into what would become our first burrito recipe — and the company’s first product.
When it came to naming the endeavor, Red’s seemed like a fun way to go.
I never thought this project was going to become a real company. It was my first introduction to entrepreneurship, and we were playing with a lot vof ideas at the time. But people loved the product. And they kept asking for more and more. I began to fall in love with the idea that there could be a great market for it. Frozen foods were at the beginning of a Renaissance at this point.
For years, there was this negative perception about frozen food. There was still a hangover from the frozen TV dinner phenomenon that started in the 1950s.
When we began to develop the concept, a lot of people were realizing the freezer aisle was the closest thing you could possibly get to a fresh, homemade meal. Most frozen foods can go without preservatives, and produce can be processed directly from the fields with very little waste. If prepared with new technologies such as air fryers and toaster ovens, the experience could be incredible.
What from your previous corporate experience did you want to do differently when you started Red’s?
How much R&D did you do before deciding you had products people would enjoy?
We initially had to do R&D within the guardrails of existing manufacturers. We’ve done some very successful R&D over the years, but we’ve also failed at some things.
One of those “failures” was a really big burrito that ended up being a great product but there really wasn’t a market for it. So, we downsized the product, both in girth and price point. Right now, we’re putting the final touches on a buffalo chicken burrito that has been through about 50 iterations.
Whether it’s developing a new product or improving on our existing portfolio, R&D is in our DNA. We’re always asking, “How can we do it better?” Once we have an item that sells well, we’re going to keep trying to improve it.
The same goes for suppliers. Even through all the recent supply chain shortages, we never compromised on quality. We’re always looking to upgrade to the best possible resources available.
There are new technologies being developed all the time. In fact, I’m on a continuous quest to find the perfect kettle to slow cook beans, but even if I think I found it, someone else might be improving it as we speak.
Red’s is a family business. How important is that to you — and to your employees?
We don’t really call it a family business, per se. My wife is a nurse and my number-one supporter. I do want everyone who works for Red’s to feel like it’s a family. It is, after all, a small, entrepreneurial business where there’s comradery, we can be nimble, and create a familial culture. At Red’s, I’m cultivating an environment that gives people freedom and the autonomy to be successful. All ideas are welcome.
My plan isn’t to hand down this business to my kids, necessarily. I want them to find out what they want to do, make their own mistakes, and find their passion. Red’s is my passion, but I feel I would be robbing them if I steered them toward joining the company.
Your tagline is “delicious, convenient, clean label,” and your website defines clean label as fewer, better ingredients for food that’s better tasting and better for you. How do you stay true to that commitment?
When we were smaller, it was a lot easier, but as we’ve grown, we’re realizing that we need to be on the forefront of developing our supply chain because — if you think about the scale of frozen food or food for the most part — it’s not yet scaled with “clean label, non-processed, natural, organic, non-GMO” options.
The supply chain is set up to deliver product for processed foods, so we are constantly working with suppliers to develop these options.
We’ve committed to partnering with suppliers on a massive scale that will have more farmers raising animal protein that’s cage-, antibiotic- and hormone- free. Much of this is still in its infancy. But we’re big enough now where we’re helping to drive that supply chain because we have the market for it. And it needs to be good enough and big enough for us to continue to scale. From our perspective, the consumer wants our product but the supply chain isn’t developed enough to deliver fully, yet. To us, that’s unfair and the world needs to catch up. We’re doing our part to push that change.
We use organic whenever possible, but there are certain areas of the organic supply chain that are underdeveloped, but others are very mature. Non- GMO is another challenge. Currently 90% of corn is GMO, so we have a finite amount of corn we can buy. I want anyone — not just food scientists — to be able to read one of our labels and understand what’s in it. I want it to be as short and clean as possible, so that if I can understand it then most other people will be able to understand it, too.
Your headquarters are in The McEwen Building in Franklin, Tennessee — a KBS building. How does the location and its amenities support your company’s mission, vision and values?
We wanted an approachable, warm, inviting environment. I believe our office reflects that; it looks and feels like our culture.
One of the great aspects of The McEwen Building is that it’s located in the Nashvile suburb of Franklin, Tennessee. It’s a growing location, with terrific amenities. It’s super convenient and so clean. We can walk to so many different places, like restaurants, coffee houses, gyms — it has all the factors a business like ours are looking for.
There are showers in the building downstairs, so if you use one of the nearby gyms, you can come back and shower, which is such a convenience.
There’s also a restaurant in the building. Our people can go get a slice of pizza or beer, which we do very regularly. It’s great for team building, to hang out a bit, and talk in a different environment. They’ve got a great food and beer selection. As a beer snob, that’s important to me. The rest of the tenants seem great. Everyone seems nice, so it’s checked off all the right boxes.
We also use the courtyard, where we have coffee, catch up, and even have meetings. For instance, today is an absolutely gorgeous day, which means we’ll be spending a lot of time outside. After 13 years, we’re finally growing up and our office is a reflection of that.
Is having a UL-Certified Healthy Building with outdoor areas, amenities and everything else help you attract the and retain team members at the talent level and values you share?
Do you have testing facilities in the office?
How do you see the company growing in the next several years?
We’re very ambitious. We’re expanding our South Dakota plant extensively and spending a tremendous amount of time, energy and money on equipment to improve our processes and products.
We fully anticipate expanding here, and KBS has been very open about working with us and sharing the availability of space. From a revenue standpoint, we expect to triple our footprint in three years or so. Moving forward, Red’s is 100% committed to seek out properties — like The McEwen Building — that share our commitment to clean label standards.