While the first real polar weather now grips most of the country today, the thought of all things frozen – especially food – might seem counterintuitive. And yet, popping a meal – a healthy one at that — into the microwave can be just the thing, especially following all those big, rich holiday extravaganzas and the weeks of oversubscribed travel and shopping-weary schedules.

Cozy up to Luvo.

And who doesn’t “love” a food brand name that oozes more than great ingredients?

When it comes to locally-sourced seasonal food, ingredients are the stars of the plate.

When it comes to Luvo, the stars are also those at home behind “home plate” – as in New York Yankee star, Derek Jeter, along with movie star, Jennifer Garner, Dr. Mark Hyman, physician/author/TV star, and Troy Polamalu, Super Bowl champion and Pittsburgh Steeler football star. The Luvo president and CEO, Christine Day, is a business and media star in her own right (although this Examiner became her 33rd Twitter Follower today) who successfully drove Starbucks and yoga apparel maker, lululemon athletica, to staggering heights.

Luvo brings serious marketing muscle to the enterprise; the company is ahem, “covering all bases” and is “hitting it out of the park.”

If there was a marketing communications must-do list, rest-assured every box would be clearly checked off.

The Luvo website alone is a thing of beauty – clean, easy to navigate and culinary images that would make James Beard swoon. Those flatbreads from Italy, the Orange Mango Chicken with Green Tea Infused Whole Grains, the Kale Ricotta Ravioli and “The Best Hot Chocolate Ever.” Well, not everything is Luvo-made. Seems Luvo aims to be more than frozen food – it’s a lifestyle brand, too.

The video of Day and Garner on the website is a gauzy, Hallmark®-worthy moment. Over a cup of tea or coffee — or hot chocolate — the two discuss food-as-memory… There is no real mention of Luvo food products in the video – except when Day shares a particularly poignant Luv letter (yes, it’s too perfect) from a mother who was able to get healthy meals and snacks by way of Luvo for her and her son while taking him back to college on partner Delta Airlines. So elated, the mother volunteered to wear a Luvo sandwich board which in turn, gobsmacked Day and Garner.

The two also talk about the much-needed change in the food industry. Day tells Garner she is a role model and an inspiration. Garner says, “It’s exciting to create the demand that will change the way things are supplied… People are dying for healthy food… It’s a pleasure and one of the joys of life.” This Examiner shares Garner’s food memory of mother’s homemade bread – in fact, we make it every week. The bread is a loving, living reality.

Day says her purpose and passion brought her to Luvo and she hopes to reinvent a category. “This is a space where the consumer is actually ahead of the food industry,” Day notes. “We have the opportunity to disrupt the whole frozen-food aisle,” she says in a rather tech, Wall Street-speak while describing the oxymoron of a food “industry” while embracing the notion of home-cooked meals.

Then there is the Luvo philosophy – fueled by a few principles: “Food should be delicious, nutritious, low cost and convenient to prepare, and “come from a good place.” They give back; in fact, “Giving Back” is a brand attribute page unto itself nestled under “Our Story.” The partnership with WhyHunger is indeed a noble one. In 2013, Luvo “donated 50,000 nourishing entrees” to Why Hunger food banks across the country and supported Luvo Nourishes America events.

Moreover, there is their commitment to source food locally, to support local growers and foster a more sustainable planet, with recipes created by chef John Mitchell, former Whole Foods chef. The company claims they use no high-fructose corn syrup, no artificial preservatives, no artificial flavors or colorings, nor hydrogenated fats in their recipes. Further, they write, “We use certified organic and non-GMO ingredients whenever possible, and make every attempt to use the highest quality ingredients from the best farm and people-friendly sources. Our goal is to find the best-tasting, nutrient-dense food at the best possible price.”

Brand Development Officer Derek Jeter will help steer the Luvo food truck this summer around the streets of New York. Not in the literal sense, of course. The question is why would such a revered, national icon become involved with Luvo, a frozen food company? According to Jeter, “Eating well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle has become important priorities in my life and are critical to ensuring my peak performance on and off the field. I believe in the vision of the Luvo team and look forward to helping them positively impact health and wellness in our country by changing the way we eat. “ The plan is that Jeter “will be involved in product development, will work to enhance Luvo’s brand awareness, help to create strategic partnerships and will offer counsel on other relationships that are developed in the sports and nutrition world.”

Leaving no stone unturned, the food is packed in eco-friendly packaging made from recycled material: a Luvo “exclusive, patent-pending paper pouch modeled after the classic French en papillote technique. This technique further maintains the enriching vitamins of the food and their natural colors and flavors.”

The entrees and recipes are, for the most part, low calorie (fewer than 500 calories per entrée), fewer than 500 grams of sodium per entrée, no trans fats; meats sourced from animals raised without antibiotics or hormones, antibiotic-free poultry and frozen-fresh produce.

Don’t misunderstand; all the brand work is admirable. If Luvo can be a change-agent to bring healthier fast-food to a population that is, by and large, well – too large – and altogether too mobile, then the company’s passion and commitment will hit the sweet spot of America’s eating habits. There is no doubt it’s better to eat Kale Ricotta Ravioli than Burger King or …

Think of the Luvo fare as the on-ramp or the passport to a huge (no, too easy) swath of the population that just hasn’t been introduced to healthy fast food to make at home.

Luvo founder and principle Stephen Sidwell was motivated by his own need to eat healthy and lose weight. He hired his own personal chef, changed his life and started a company called Stephanie’s Place – named after his daughter, and later renamed LYFE Kitchen. A former banker, Sidwell cited a 2013 Mark Bitman, New York Times article, Improved Fast Food as inspiration, writing, “I think he’s onto something.” Indeed.

Yet there is a robust, healthy precedent for frozen food as healthy food. In fact, back in the “Roaring Twenties,” Clarence Birdseye was traveling through the Arctic and seeing Eskimos freeze their fresh fish to maintain freshness he got the idea to flash freeze vegetables. According to the Birdseye History, in 1926 he and his partners unveiled the “Quick Freeze Machine” to flash freeze vegetables so fast that the cell walls are not damaged and protects their maximum flavor, texture and color. By 1944, Birdseye’s company was leasing refrigerated boxcars to transport foods. The company also developed freezer grocery display cases.

Everything old is new again.

Luvo says it’s a revolutionary frozen food company that offers great tasting, nutritionally-dense fare made from the highest-quality ingredients, using flash freezing to capture the fruits and vegetables used in their meals when they are at their peak of freshness. They emphasize: “Flash freezing is nature’s pause button; the vitamins and minerals from the produce are preserved and locked in at their richest state.”

Just ask Clarence…

And not so long ago, this Examiner reviewed top chef Floyd Cardoz FreshDirect frozen food line of gourmet, affordable frozen food .

Here, there is much news space devoted to the marketing story because the company presents itself in just this way. It’s understandable customers want to reconcile the brands they are loyal to; align with the brand’s authenticity and philanthropy. There is no doubt there is a Luvo master plan for vision and growth.

Luvo claims it wants to change perceptions of frozen food in the US and make it more like Europe where frozen foods have witnessed steady growth in the last decade “because there is no stigma attached to eating frozen food.” Talk about musical chairs… This Examiner ponders whether frozen food has grown so steadily in Europe simply because they are now eating more like Americans. Previously, there was no culinary culture of eating frozen foods because they ate local and seasonal – therefore the rapid increase in frozen, imported food is understandable.

The Food

In the end it’s all about how the food tastes. And how good the food is for you.

This Examiner sampled four of the entrées: Kale Ricotta Ravioli, Turkey Meatloaf, Red Wine Beef and Burrito. The steam burritos, priced at $2.99, are filled with seven ingredients including, chicken, coconut curry, organic roasted eggplant and quinoa.

The Organic Vegetarian Breakfast Burrito was best, with flaxseed tomato tortilla wrap and filled with cage-free eggs, mushroom, spinach and salsa. The nutritional metrics are posted right up front on the package: 300 calories, 3.5g saturated fat, 370g sodium, 4g sugar, and 4g fiber. These are tasty, any-time healthy meals.

The entrees, priced at a head-scratching affordable price of $4.99 are vegetable-rich: roasted Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and cranberries. The pasta or turkey or beef – along with spices – add great flavor and fiber.

This Examiner’s husband liked the Red Wine Beef entrée as a good alternative to a home-prepared meal; noting the portion size was good and the vegetables were “recognizable and tasty” unlike some ready-to-go foods that offer little to no vegetables and if they do are not inspired.

A parent or caregiver would be confident their children – or parents – were eating good food if they were to heat up the meals. Or if work renders little time to cook, Luvo is a happy, healthy meal choice, particularly in those neighborhoods that remain “food deserts” or frankly, for those who view cooking as more aspirational or entertainment. The sheer reality is we need to have a Luvo to provide a healthy, great-tasting alternative that is readily available.

Luvo is availably nationally in major retailers including Publix, Safeway, ShopRite, Stop N Shop, Food Emporium and online at Amazon, HSN.com.

The thing is, this Examiner so wants Luvo to succeed beyond all expectations.

The concept is spot on. The strategy and marketing couldn’t be more superlative and is sure to win all the industry’s accolades. The food world needs this category of good, healthy, local, seasonal food that is available to the masses.

Still it’s disconcerting to read Day quoted, “People think ‘healthy’ is eating tofu and salad, but they don’t realize that you can get great nutrition from basic food,” noting that calorie restrictions or bland presentations have led most people to associate ready-made meals with “sacrifice and denial.”

That’s not true. There is a mixed message here with regard to basic food and ready-made meals. And perhaps with regard to their audiences and customers…

Bon appetit to Luvo lovers. It’s a good-for-you home prep food choice. Enjoy.