Laureen Asseo is the 27-year-old founder and Co-CEO of Fresh n’ Lean, a healthy meal delivery service, specializing in 100% organic dishes without preservatives, additives, dairy, gluten, GMOs, hormones, added sugar or soy. Her company has sold five million meals to-date.
Laureen first began preparing vegan meals for friends and family out of her own home. However, as demand increased, the company expanded into a national meal distributor to promote nutrition education and provide access to wholesome ingredients.
Since 2010, Asseo has been leading a talented culinary team in support of a healthy eating revolution. The company recently opened its first retail store in Santa Monica. Learn what inspired Laureen to start a healthy, ready-to-eat meal delivery service and why she’s convinced it’s essential for entrepreneurs to know what they’re capable of.
|Company||Fresh n’ Lean|
|Industry||Food & Beverage|
|Year of Establishment||2010|
|No. of Employees||100+|
How a daughters love would impact millions
Growing up on a ranch with horses in Southern California informed Laureen’s sensibilities as an individual and aspiring entrepreneur. “It taught me how to be a self-starter and a sense of responsibility at a young age,” she told YFS Magazine.
“I have always been interested in business and wanted to be an entrepreneur. The hustle was within me; I remember being 10 years old looking at horse trailers and telling my father “Look they are asking $15,000 – we should negotiate and offer less.”
“The hustle was within me; I remember being 10 years old looking at horse trailers and telling my father ‘Look they are asking $15,000 – we should negotiate and offer less.'”
Laureen later went off to college to study Apparel Manufacturing and Business Management at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles, California, with the goal of starting a line of sustainable clothing. However, while in school, her career trajectory shifted abruptly in 2009 when her father experienced a frightening health scare.
“I was still in school when we got pretty serious news regarding my father’s health,” Laureen recalled. “He was overweight which had caused high cholesterol levels along with a plethora of accompanying health problems. My parents had moved to the U.S. from Europe, and my dad’s weight gain was a result of years of overindulgence in America’s fast and processed foods.”
Inspired to help her father overcome life-threatening health issues, she began creating food plans to assist in his recovery. “I helped him establish and keep a better diet,” she said.
“We went back to the basics; whole grains and vegetables all homemade from scratch and no processed ingredients – also cutting out animal protein from his diet. Making the changes to his diet paired with exercise made a huge difference. He lost 85 pounds and turned his life around. His lifestyle changes and the amazing results grabbed the attention of his friends and fellow workout partners. The resulting high interest in my dad’s ‘food plan’ is what catapulted this into a business idea.”
Her father’s results inspired the young entrepreneur to take action on a much larger scale. A year later, in 2010, starting with a team of five people, Laureen launched Fresh n’ Lean, a national direct-to-consumer healthy meal delivery service. Her mission was simple: to supply affordable, healthy and delicious ready-to-eat meals to as many people across the country as possible.
From a one-bedroom kitchen startup to producing 80,000 meals per week
Since 2010, Laureen’s ambitious startup has grown into a sustainable company. As she scales, the young entrepreneur is facing new challenges head-on.
“Since day one, as I was starting this business from my one-bedroom apartment kitchen in Redondo Beach, CA, I dreamt about having a wholly tailored facility where we can test and make more recipes. I feel immensely proud that we are about to move into a custom kitchen and manufacturing facility that we imagined and built to our needs.”
The young entrepreneur recently designed a new Anaheim, CA-based custom kitchen and manufacturing facility to meet growing demand. “I designed the new manufacturing facility with our architect from scratch. It took a couple months to really get the vision on paper,” she recalled.
“This was the first construction project I had ever done and being a manufacturing kitchen, the build was complex. Seeing it come to reality has been very exciting. We currently manufacture 80,000 meals per week––this facility will allow us to manufacture 500,000 per week.”
The power of partnership on this kind of undertaking can’t be understated. “I mostly worked with our architect and contractors. As well as, all the necessary city and state inspectors. With this kind of project, there are a lot of moving parts.”
Scaling operations and marking milestones
Scaling a healthy meal delivery service provides ample opportunities to learn valuable operational lessons. Laureen’s journey from her apartment kitchen to building out a facility of her own was met with its own challenges.
“You never stop learning and growing. This is the first time I had done anything with construction and it taught me so much,” she said. “It was not easy, we ran into a lot of issues and even had to switch contractors midway through the project which caused delays.”
As Fresh n’ Lean grew, so did her needs for commercial kitchen space. Entrepreneurs launching or expanding a culinary business can rent kitchen space for one-time events or on an ongoing basis. However, finding the right food production facility can be stressful. “Along with our journey, we had to adapt our production to whatever commercial kitchen we could find. As a result, we moved four times since we were always growing out of the facilities that we were in.”
“It is a very emotional and surreal moment when something you have dreamt about for nine years comes to life. Marking this massive milestone for the company feels like we are finally coming home.”
The new facility will help Laureen grow Fresh n’ Lean operations and offer customers better recipes and new products.
Bootstrapping big ideas and earning respect
Like many entrepreneurs, Laureen started small with lean pockets backed by an ambitious idea. “As many entrepreneurs will testify, growing your business without financial backing, getting the ball rolling, is not easy,” Laureen added. “That’s what I did, and I learned a lot on the way. My initial team was small, but they all believed in what I was trying to do. There were countless 20+ hour work days, and I used to sleep on the couch in my office.”
“I used to lie about my age when asked in meetings as I noticed that I would get less respect and consideration when my business counterparts knew just how young I was at the time.”
Meanwhile, being a young, female entrepreneur came with its own set of unique challenges. “I used to lie about my age when asked in meetings as I noticed that I would get less respect and consideration when my business counterparts knew just how young I was at the time.”
“I had to learn to grab the attention and redirect questions as well as prove that I know what’s best for my business. Those experiences were not always pleasant, but the journey has thought me about resilience, believing in yourself and never giving up on your dreams.”
Self-belief and confidence deliver bottom line results
When asked her advice on how other aspiring entrepreneurs can grow their self-belief and confidence, Laureen suggests: “Never gives up and know what you are capable of. Just really believe in what you are doing and don’t let anyone take that passion away from you. There are a lot of people that may not believe in your idea or concept, but that doesn’t mean it is not viable.”
What’s next for the 27-year-old founder? “I just want to keep growing and make Fresh n’ Lean a household name,” Laureen told YFS Magazine. “We are branching out into more traditional retail distribution. We opened our very first brick and mortar retail store in Santa Monica. I hope to open more stores this year as well.”
Notes from the editor’s desk
- What book do you recommend? Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less
- What are your 3 favorite online apps, tools or resources?
- Podcast app:I love listening to podcasts when I am in the car. There is so much out there that is really interesting.
- ClassPass: ClassPass is so good for getting a workout in on the fly. My schedule is so unpredictable.
- Google Apps: Gmail and Google Sheets save me when I am having a busy day and not able to be at my desk.
- What are 3 things you can’t live without? My family, my animals, and a good cup of coffee or tea.
- In terms of legacy, what is the mark you’d like to leave on the world? I just want to feel like I was able to leave a positive impact on peoples lives.