CEO Michael McDevitt, Terra’s Kitchen
Carving Out a Niche in Meal Kit Industry
By Elizabeth Levy Malis
Dec 01, 2017
Michael McDevitt admits his career path gives few clues that he would end up launching a farm-fresh, eco-friendly meal kit delivery startup called Terra’s Kitchen.
He’s not a chef. He’s not a farmer. He doesn’t even have anyone is his family named Terra. (The company name comes from the Latin word for “earth.”)
Yet McDevitt’s background hints at an affinity for media, marketing, technology and money matters that serves him well in his e-commerce startup that reportedly earned $20 million in revenue its first year of operation.
Raised in Virginia, McDevitt studied finance and technology at James Madison University. New York based-The Blackstone Group employed him as a financial analyst. For more than a decade, he worked at Owings Mills-based Medifast Inc., ultimately serving as its CEO. In 2013, he launched his first startup, a Washington, D.C.-based service business called Tandem Legal Group. In 2015, he lined up Terra’s Kitchen to launch, first on the West Coast, with a national roll out in March 2016.
Still, why meal kits?
“I built the business, really, for a customer base of one. I tried all the competitors. I liked them, but I didn’t love them,” says McDevitt. “I wanted something more convenient. I sought out a way to see how cook time could be more significantly reduced than the competition. I had something I wanted, desired, needed – and built a business around it.”
Based on growth of Terra’s Kitchen, McDevitt is not the only one who wants healthy, convenient meal kits. Although he doesn’t reveal exact numbers, “well over a half-million customers have come to our site and shop our products,” says McDevitt. “For any given month, there’s north of 20,000.”
Part of the draw comes from the fact that Terra’s Kitchen ships only precut ingredients, which allows average cook times to be less than 25 minutes. Additionally, this company delivers a climate-controlled, reusable, shipping vessel (sort of a mini-fridge) that gets picked up at your door once you empty it. It can be reused more than 100 times, says the company. “There is less [packaging] waste to help create a better earth,” says McDevitt.
By his own admission, McDevitt enjoys storytelling. He recounts the story of how the day he learned that he and his wife would become first-time parents is the same day the idea for Terra’s Kitchen was born. “I wanted to find a way to have the type of family dinners like I grew up having. Dinner time builds families. It helps them reconnect. “There’s a feeling of community around the table, which I think is much needed in society. But people are busy. We need something to help get us around the table on a more regular basis. Terra’s Kitchen is designed to do that. It’s a convenient and healthy way to get back around the dinner table,” he says.
“Convenience and health are the main drivers behind starting this business,” says McDevitt. But he knows it takes more than that to stand out within a growing $1.5 billion industry.
“I have a very clear vision of what this company will become. I am told, by others, I have a powerful way of messaging that vision so that everybody can see it. I do enjoy talking so that everybody can relate. I try to find that North Star that everybody can hang their actions on,” says McDevitt.
In hindsight, “the best thing we did that drove a lot of our success is that, early on, we started talking to our customers. We keep a very tight and close relationship with our growing customer base. You really have to stay in tune with your customer – especially in a business growing as fast as ours,” he says.
“We allowed the customers to help shape our decision processes vs. trying to guess what they wanted. We spent a lot of time learning who our exact customer is. Finding the way to meet your customers exactly where they want to be met is extremely important for all companies,” he says.
McDevitt cites Amazon as a source of inspiration. “It’s done a wonderful job setting the new standard for e-commerce. We look to ensure that we are meeting, if not exceeding, the Amazon standard,” he says.
Sometimes it’s not easy. In business, “nothing is ever going to go exactly how you think it is going to go,” he admits. “Having a team that is trusting of each other can help you get through challenges. What are those challenges? No one really knows out of the gate what they are, but rest assured they will always be there.”
McDevitt stresses “business is about people. I was lucky enough and am honored to have the team that came to join me at Terra’s Kitchen to be the team that I had worked with for years prior [at Medifast]. People get so infatuated and hooked on the product and the idea of what you are selling. But from my perspective, the team you are able to put together to execute your business is one of the most valuable assets your business can ever have.”
Although much of his team has worked together for years, new blood enters the mix, too. Take, for example, Libbie Summers, creative culinary director for Terra’s Kitchen. She sheds some light on McDevitt’s business acumen.
“The only reason I am involved with Terra’s Kitchen is Mike [McDevitt]. He has a passion for the company and the reason behind it. It’s palpable. It rubes off on you. He drives that passion through everything we do,” says Summers, three-time cookbook author, culinary TV producer and creator of the lifestyle brand known as A Food-Inspired Life.
“He has taught me so much on the business side,” she says. “He’s very focused. When you are in front of him, he’s all in. He’s inquisitive. He’s a great listener. He stays up on trends. He’s taught me to be a better leader. We’ve all gone through various leadership seminars. He’s about becoming the best team member you can be.”
Approximately 22 employees work for Terra’s Kitchen at the corporate office in Baltimore. The company’s food comes from farms across the country. The packaging and shipping happens in New Jersey and California.
Its recipes source from a culinary team that listens to feedback from consumers. Two new recipes come out every week with approximately 70 meals offered online at any given time, says McDevitt. Keeping abreast of food trends, Terra’s Kitchen just launched a line for those who want a ketogenic diet.
But variety remains key. McDevitt, who orders Terra’s Kitchen for himself, “cooks two dinners and one lunch from the meal kits. Also, we order lots of add-ons like suja juices, grab-and-go salads and yogurt parfaits. We utilize it more like your e-commerce grocery in addition to just the meal kits,” he says.
Currently, his wife, expecting their second child, prefers Terra’s Kitchen’s vegetarian offerings. His two-year-old son likes the chicken tacos with avocado and goat cheese. McDevitt enjoys slow-cooker meals, especially in the winter season.
“There are so many food companies out there now. It’s great to see this generation having a different level of appreciation for food, health and wellness. So, we are kind of riding the wave of a new love of food and a new love of finding brands that people really have a connection to,” says McDevitt, who likes to hit the gym for exercise and some meditation before coming into the office.
“Terra’s Kitchen is a very authentic business for me because it uses everything that I love – health, wellness, marketing and technology – and puts it under one umbrella to help connect people back around the dinner table,” he says. “Terra’s Kitchen is as authentic of a business, a product, a model that I could ever design for myself.” I95