These days, Natalie Coughlin is doing more than just training at the pool for her next challenge. The 12-time Olympic medalist is investing time and money into Luvo, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based frozen food startup. Joining the high ranks of Derek Jeter and Russell Wilson as a brand ambassador, Coughlin will also be a daily food and health blogger on Luvo's website.
"Its super healthy and delicious," the professional swimmer says, referring to Luvo's assortment of dishes. A serious health food junkie, Coughlin had started a garden on her fire escape when she was a college student in Berkeley, Calif. Today, she raises chickens in her backyard so she can have meals with her own farm fresh eggs.
Coughlin says that she chose to support the company because of its emphasis on nutrition. Unlike other frozen food competitors, Luvo's ingredients don't include added sugars or large amounts of sodium.
What's more, Luvo isn't wasteful compared to other food companies. "They use ingredients that are at the peak of ripeness," she says -- even if they don't necessarily "look pretty." Coughlin adds that Luvo's established brand presence will help her to grow her own network of foodie followers on social media once she begins blogging.
Founded in 2011, Luvo gives athletes the edge they need in the form of "recovery nutrition," meaning that dishes -- like Coughlin's personal favorite, the vegetable bibimbap -- can help them to regenerate fuel in the half-hour period after a major race or event.
What else sets it apart? "They have these hacks, and options to add extra ingredients to your dishes," she explains. The company's blog suggests various ways to pair dishes with fresh foods, like fresh eggs for that extra protein kick.
In true fast-casual food form, Luvo is out to prove that frozen foods can in fact be healthy. Its chef-inspired dishes can be cooked via microwave in less than 10 minutes. Each meal is under 500 calories. Items include comfort classics like barbecued chicken with grits and collard greens, enchiladas, a spicy Korean rice, as well as your run-of-the-mill oatmeal and quinoa bowl.
"We've created familiar favorites," says Luvo CEO (and former CEO of Lululemon) Christine Day. She calls the idea that folks must eat "weird" things in order to be healthy a myth.
The process of freezing meals actually preserves the nutritional value and flavor of Luvo's dishes, explains Day. The company freezes its fruits and vegetables with water crystals to maintain the cellular structure of food. A paper pouch filled with water cooks the dish once heat and steam is applied.
Luvo's ingredients are sourced primarily from California (where the company's contract packer is based) and Oregon. All manufacturing takes place at a plant in Schaumburg, Ill.
The recipes are designed by John Mitchell, a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Mitchell had previously worked for the restaurant chain Whole Foods for eleven years, where you'll find most of Luvo's products in the freezer section.
It's worth noting that Luvo price points are higher than some of their competitors. Lunch and dinner dishes retail for $7.99, and breakfast items cost between $2.50 and $3.00, while a Lean Cuisine dinner can go for as little as $2.50 at Walmart.
The frozen foods industry grew 0.8 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to recent data from IBIS World, but numbers are expected to decline by 2016, as health-oriented consumers turn instead to fresher (read: non-frozen) alternatives.
Still, Day is confident that with the brand partnerships, as well as a lofty $25 million in funding, Luvo will continue to be successful. While she refused to disclose revenues, Day says that year-over-year sales have been increasing by more than 200 percent.