FRESHDIRECT SEES THANKSGIVING DINNER SALES GROW

NEW YORK -- FreshDirect, the Internet grocer that specializes in delivering fresh food to the customer's doorstep, beat its own record putting Thanksgiving dinners on New Yorkers' tables this year.The company delivered just shy of 1,600 complete, fully cooked turkey dinners for Thanksgiving, exceeding last Thanksgiving's total of 1,085 by more than 500. In addition FreshDirect this year delivered

NEW YORK -- FreshDirect, the Internet grocer that specializes in delivering fresh food to the customer's doorstep, beat its own record putting Thanksgiving dinners on New Yorkers' tables this year.

The company delivered just shy of 1,600 complete, fully cooked turkey dinners for Thanksgiving, exceeding last Thanksgiving's total of 1,085 by more than 500. In addition FreshDirect this year delivered 3,638 raw turkeys, weighing more than 50,000 pounds. Supermarkets everywhere are up against big competition, especially when it comes to prepared food this time of year. New York City is particularly rife with competitors -- including some out-of-the ordinary operators like FreshDirect.

The online food company, launched nearly three years ago and based in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, prides itself on bringing in the freshest, select food direct from producers, thus eliminating the middle layer of distribution. Since the company's start, it has expanded its menu, geography and marketing venues, and is doing well, FreshDirect's president told SN.

"We're a fast-growing company," said Steve Michaelson, president of the privately held company, which is posting sales in excess of $100 million annually. "Our total sales are just under double what they were a year ago."

Michaelson, a veteran of trendsetting Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., joined FreshDirect this fall. He was most recently senior vice president of marketing and merchandising at Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa. Prior to that, he was with Wegmans for seven years as senior vice president of marketing.

"FreshDirect is an exciting company," Michaelson said. "It's an opportunity to give busy consumers what they're looking for. For Thanksgiving, we make it so easy. They get the bird cooked and stuffed, and all the other things they could want for a holiday dinner, delivered right to them."

The dinners, prepared by Chef Michael Stark, formerly of Manhattan's upscale Tribeca Grill, are offered at competitive prices. A Thanksgiving dinner to serve four to six people includes a fully cooked 12- to 14-pound turkey, a choice of sausage-herb stuffing or traditional cranberry stuffing, turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, par-baked dinner rolls and zucchini bread. Customers also choose four side dishes from a menu that includes mashed sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans almondine, glazed carrots and creamed corn. The dinner price includes dessert as well. The whole package: $129, plus a $4.95 delivery fee.

Larger dinners, with side dishes and desserts, are $199 for an 18- to 20-pound turkey that serves eight to 12 people, and $269 for a 22- to 24-pound turkey that serves 14 to 18 people.

Thanksgiving dinners comprise but a fraction of the volume of cooked items FreshDirect turns out year-round in its U.S. Department of Agriculture-regulated, 250,000-square-foot facility here. Yet Michaelson declined to say what percentage of total sales are made up of chef-prepared foods.

He did say that some of the 1,000-person workforce are on duty all night, preparing and cooking meals for delivery the next day.

"You could put in an order this evening for a salmon dinner and know that tonight, during the night, our people are pulling the bones out of the fresh fillet. And it will be delivered to you, cooked, in time for dinner tomorrow."

The fact that the company has no retail outlet, only a refrigerated pickup room at its facility for those customers who choose to pick up their orders, keeps overhead down, and thus keeps costs and prices down, said Dana Smith, FreshDirect's manager of promotions and marketing.

"It's cold in here," Smith said. "That's for the food.

"Customers don't walk around and shop [like they do in a supermarket]," Smith added. "They wouldn't be comfortable."

In fact, customers shop on the company's Web site.

The selection of items available online runs the gamut from custom-cut steaks to produce to dairy products, all fresh foods, Smith noted.

"You might say those little ads on our Web site are our endcaps," Michaelson said.

The company's fleet of 24-foot, refrigerated trucks delivers all day and evening to residences in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. The delivery fee is $4.95 no matter the size of the order, but there's an order minimum of $40.

As the holiday season gets into full swing, FreshDirect will post appropriate holiday dinner menu items on its Web site, but there will be no meal packages like there were for Thanksgiving.