Home Bistro Cooks Up New Catalog

Sales are cooking at Home Bistro, a catalog that offers chef-prepared meals. In fact, the Plattsburgh, NY, company will expand its catalog in January with more meals and larger photographs of the food.

Home Bistro Foods Inc. was founded in 1999 by David Thompson, who mailed 100,000 copies of a 16-page catalog the first year. After an infusion of venture capital in 2002, a new manufacturing facility was built. Home Bistro now employs 27 people and mails 400,000 catalogs monthly.

“Our sales volume is doubling every year, and we expect to double next year as well,” Thompson said.

His reason for the catalog's success: A vacuum-sealed, chef-prepared meal that is delivered frozen via FedEx. At-home preparation involves placing the meal in simmering water for 10 minutes.

With offerings such as filet mignon with red wine sauce or cranberry-stuffed chicken breasts, and prices that reach $22.95 per meal, these aren't your everyday frozen dinners.

“Nice and easy, high-quality meals really is a universal need,” he said.

Home Bistro is part of the growing home meal replacement industry, which usually refers to cooked full meals that are available to take out from a grocery store or restaurant. With both adults in many families working full-time, home meal replacement is an increasingly popular way to put dinner on the table.

Home Bistro provides “a new way to fill this need,” Thompson said. Because the meals are ordered in advance and kept in the freezer, there's no need to call a restaurant or pick up a meal when it's dinnertime.

The current catalog carries more than 80 items separated into categories such as beef, pork, lamb, poultry, seafood, pasta and low-carb dinners as well as appetizers, soups and desserts. Prices start at $6.49 for a soup. Meals include a roasted rack of lamb with garlic sauce for $16.95 that comes with mashed potatoes and peas with caramelized onions, or maple Dijon chicken for $10.95 with mushrooms served over a puff pastry shell and accompanied by grilled corn, roasted red peppers and asparagus cuts.

Sales are split evenly between customers buying for themselves and those buying the meals as gifts, Thompson said. As a result, Home Bistro is less dependent on holiday sales than some food-based catalogs.

“We've found that we're not that seasonal,” he said. “We do spike in December [just not that much].”

Home Bistro's target audience is women ages 35-54. A secondary target is women 55 and older.

In January, the catalog will grow from 24 to 32 pages. New items will include Szechuan chicken, lemongrass grilled shrimp appetizer, crab bisque, cherry duck confit and filet mignon and jumbo shrimp duet. Several existing items will be re-merchandised to make them easier to find in the catalog.

“There's been a lot of requests for low-fat, low-sodium or vegetarian meals, so we've decided to put these together as samplers,” Thompson said.

Prior to the January edition, most of these meals were offered individually and Home Bistro didn't highlight that they were low fat, low sodium or vegetarian. Samplers are groups of eight meals for $79.95 to $96.95.

The January catalog also was redesigned and new photography shot to showcase the meals better.

“The book was too cramped before,” Thompson said.

Previously, a page featured as many as six meals. The new version adds half-page features for some items. As few as two meals are shown on several pages. It also will feature more photographs of Home Bistro's chefs cooking in the kitchen. Earlier catalogs might have included one photograph of a chef.

“We want to show people who is preparing the food because we really do have chefs,” Thompson said.

The January catalog's cover will feature a crab cake dinner, which is new to the book but was introduced on the company's Web site in October. Soon after its introduction online, it started selling as well as some of the best-selling items in the catalog.

Home Bistro's Web site accounts for about 30 percent of annual sales. It lists ingredients for certain meals. Site visitors soon will be able to search for all Home Bistro meals that contain a specific ingredient or meet a specific dietary need.

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