Hot Mama’s Foods

High-end specialty foods catering to a broad market
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

Hot Mama’s Foods (HMF) started in the mid-1980s as a small operation in western Massachusetts. Originally a one-woman operation creating diverse and tasty foods in her home kitchen, the business has grown significantly since Matt Morse purchased the company in 1991.

Today, HMF is a large organic, natural and conventional food business with facilities in Springfield, Mass., and Chicago, Ill. “I purchased the company as a business opportunity,” Morse says. “I worked a good 10 years to get things off the ground.”

He started out with salsas, dips and hummus, selling products to colleges in western Massachusetts. A single location has now grown into a nationwide operation. In 2002, the company opened a facility in Chicago, which has recently relocated to accommodate higher demand. HMF has approximately 135 employees between the two states. The team is constantly seeking out new business opportunities and improving the product line. HMF produces foods under its own label and for other brands. Clients include private label customers, food service companies, multinational food manufacturers, co-packing customers, brokers and distributors.

In good taste

Most of the company’s products are fresh-pack food, made fresh, sold fresh and refrigerated, although HMF is getting into frozen entrees, as well. “It started with different flavored hummus back in the ‘80s,” Morse recounts. “Our company pioneered alternative bean hummus, such as edamame. With unique toppings and alternative ingredients, hummus has really taken off.”

The company currently makes just under 200 different products, but the assortment has changed over the years. One of the brand’s newer products is a tapenade topped hummus quartet featuring four different flavors with tapenade. “We take a classic ethnic and expand on it,” Morse explains. “Our research and design team is good at expanding on a category or product through innovating new textures.”

Most of the product line falls along the ethnic food category, whether entrees or dips, with entrees to more ethnic type products. “We try to stay on the cutting edge of what is new and interesting,” Morse notes. “We are producing replacement meals and replacement entrees in the gluten-free category. We have added two frozen lines of entrees within the past year. We are also co-packing with three new customers for higher-end products. Another growing line is our alternative grain salads, which are very hot now. “

Research and design

HMF’s research and design team works in a state-of-the-art kitchen, turning out new, fresh flavors for the broad line of products. The skilled chefs work with ideas and flavors from all over the world, constantly reinventing classic foods and improving products to add value. While the team concocts new tasty foods for the brand’s label, the department also works with clients to develop flavor profiles and final products that fit a company’s identity and the needs of its customers.

Often, clients approach HMF with an idea. The research and design team develops that concept into a market-pleasing product that provides reliable products, as well as a strong market return. “We don’t come up with our ideas any one, certain way,” says Morse. “We go to shows, listen to people and go to restaurants. Our work has taken us into alternative grains such as quinoa. Some of these trends are more mass marketable than others. Quinoa and hummus, for example, have become more mainstream and provide a strong market.”

A strong will to rise to the top with innovative projects has built a trajectory of growth for the business. While for the most part HMF has grown organically, Morse is looking into new opportunities. Over the next few years, he plans to make acquisitions that will boost the team’s production power in the market.

“We are poised to do great work in the coming years,” he explains. “We want to expand our capabilities. I would like to buy some good brands that need a little work to get back up to speed and take them to the next level.”

Taking smart risks

Whether expanding the business or experimenting with new products, Morse takes a similar approach to the company’s growth. HMF takes smart risks by gauging market and food trends. Growing a business is a creative process. “We are creating an entity with a lot of different moving parts,” he notes. “This is a creative process. I’m a risk taker, but I will not take crazy risks. Every day there is a new challenge or new opportunity; there are so many opportunities out there.”

As part of his smart risk-taking, Morse recently took the company public. HMF has attracted a number of strong investors who are dedicated to the company’s growth and success. Public status has increased the business’ potential by strengthening its financial base. The business has a new, larger leadership team willing to push HMF to the next level in quality food production.

“It has been an interesting ride,” Morse continues. “The recession made us better by pressuring us to become a leaner, smarter company to compensate for shrinking margins. Restructuring has allowed us to invest in the more important components of the business while looking for opportunities. We are up for just about anything that involves producing premium specialty foods. We don’t want to do commodities.”

Morse is straightforward, with a clear definition of his goals for the company. He chalks this quality up to experience, although he has proven himself in business with HMF. “We are honest and up front,” he explains. “We don’t cut corners and I hope that has helped get us to where we are now.”

The company embodies a strong sense of integrity. In the coming years, this honest practice promises to take Hot Mama’s Foods further up the food chain as the team continues to create innovative products for a changing market.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Borawski Insurance Agency
Easypak
Friedman LLP
Lacerta Group, Inc.
Sunshine International Foods, Inc.