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Healthy living: Weight loss company brings home good food, profits

Personal Trainer Food

350 Garden Acres Dr.

Fort Worth 76140

800-273-1686

www.personaltrainerfood.com

“A husband talking to his wife about her weight is extremely sensitive, but that’s how we started this company,” Mike Starks said.

Starks is chief executive and president of Personal Trainer Food, a weight loss home meal delivery plan based in Fort Worth he says is the fastest growing company nationwide in the $925 million diet food home delivery industry.

Starks, a native of Garland, is an accomplished entrepreneur who has started and managed six successful companies since 1988. At his last company, a health care staffing agency headquartered in Little Rock, Ark., called Travel Nurse Across America, he achieved a five-year revenue rate of almost $90 million before selling in 2004 and retiring.

“Retiring. That was not good for me. I’m very restless,” the 52-year-old businessman said.

Back in 1998, Starks had shed 60 pounds in about three months after having back surgery. Curious as to why his method – eating healthy, nutritious meals loaded with fat-burning vegetables and meats – was successful, Starks began researching the history of weight loss. In 2005, after the birth of the second of their three daughters, he helped his wife Laura drop her unwanted baby weight.

“I saw her go through all the struggles to lose weight. She would go to the gym, skip meals, eat things she had been told were healthy like yogurt and bananas and she still couldn’t lose the weight,” he said. “I told her she needed to eat the right things: simple vegetables, meat, cheese, eggs. But she said she didn’t have time to plan, shop and prepare meals like that.”

So he made a deal with her.

“Every Sunday I cooked her different meats and vegetables, portioned out the food, put it in plastic bags and froze them. All she had to do was take out a bag and heat it for 90 seconds in the microwave. She was skeptical at first. She lost 55 pounds in five months and is still a size 2-4.”

Thinking this might be an anomaly, Starks tested his theory on a group of 15 teachers. Within six weeks each teacher had slimmed down 13 to 24 pounds by eating a regimen of meats, vegetables, eggs and select nuts, and walking every day.

“Then we knew we were onto something,” he said. “What we discovered is that if the food tastes good and it’s easy to prepare it’s easy for a person to transform.”

Starks started another company, Meal Balance, a direct retail diet food business with three partners in 2009. The business marketed its products through personal trainers. Starks sold out to his partners and launched Personal Trainer Food in 2011.

Today, the company ships 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of food daily to about 150,000-170,000 customers across the country. Seventy-five percent of customers are female, and the reorder rate is the highest among competitors, at 35 percent. Meals are packed and shipped from a 90,000-square-foot warehouse facility in Fort Worth. The company also operates a warehouse in Fresno, Calif., and will open another warehouse in New York this summer. A fourth warehouse is planned for Miami in first quarter 2016.

“We anticipate very rapid growth in New York just because of the population,” Starks said.

Sales spread initially by word of mouth and then the company joined Groupon. Personal Trainer Food is now one of the top three generators for Groupon with a 91 percent approval rating. It also is the highest ranked diet food ever on Amazon.com.

Since its launch, the company more than doubled sales and net profit, and quadrupled sales in 2013. In 2014, Personal Trainer Food gained $20 million in revenue.

“We have consistently maintained and expect to continue such rapid growth because of the quality of our product, the loyalty of our customers, our different marketing approach, the ease of the shopping experience and the great customer service our employees provide,” Starks said. “Our goal is to hit $100 million by 2017. If we keep our prices down and we continue to serve quality products, it will pay off.”

Heat and eat

Starks says Personal Trainer Food stands out from its competitors because of its fresh, wholesome food. The company tests and gathers only meats, vegetables, eggs, cheese and nuts from 65 food manufacturers around the country. The food contains no processed fillers, artificial ingredients or sugars. After being cooked, meals are flash-frozen to preserve flavor and texture, packed in dry ice and delivered to the client’s doorstep via FedEx. This March, FedEx added Personal Trainer Food to its corporate wellness program, offering discounts on the meal plan to its employees.

The 28-day program costs $10-$14 a day and offers breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks in more than 900 meal combination possibilities. For lunch and dinner, participants eat meats, such as teriyaki chicken or meatballs, and veggies, including green beans and squash. Breakfasts may consist of egg patties and sausage.

“It’s just simple meals, no starches or sugars, nothing artificial. It’s the way I grew up eating when Mom cooked all the time,” Starks said.

Customers can expect to drop several pounds in a month if they stick to the plan and don’t cheat, they walk at least 20 minutes a day and they ignore the scale, Starks said.

“We serve a good product and don’t try to mislead people. We don’t tell them that weight loss will be easy. It’s a journey, a process. It’s a commitment every day,” he said.

“I wanted to create an affordable product that really works,” he added. “It’s not touted as some miracle cure but as a product that teaches you how to eat again. That’s what we strive for here. Our food is good and affordable, and it works.”

Amanda Gomez agrees.

Last July, Gomez participated in a trial run of the company’s “Altered” weight loss challenge, a Web series where five brides-to-be follow the 28-day regimen to help them lose weight before their wedding day. Gomez lost 37 pounds in 10 weeks and has been able to maintain her weight since then.

Last October, Gomez, who is getting married in a few weeks, started working in customer service and as a weight loss coach at Personal Trainer Food.

“I’m definitely passionate about helping people. I’m able to give my testimony to let people know this program really works,” she said. “I’ve done this first-hand and I know all the struggles through experience and that helps when I’m speaking to our customers. Sometimes it’s difficult to have people trust me. They think I’m making it up. But they have the actual information on how I lost the weight. Losing weight and keeping it off – this is what I want for all our customers.”

This year’s Altered challenge begins June 1 and offers up to $10,000 in cash and prizes. Brides, their mothers or their future mothers-in-law can still sign up for the contest.

“We encourage good health,” Starks said. “We have a great product, we’re honest and we sincerely care about people. I’m proud to be able to help our employees and anyone else to change their lifestyle.”

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