Hot Mama’s Foods: Growing to Meet Demand for Custom Gourmet Solutions

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes, however, a food retailer, foodservice customer or food broker/distributor can find it hard to birth the perfect recipe for a product in development. That’s when they call Hot Mama’s Foods (Hot Mama’s), a leading specialty food manufacturer, co-packer and private-label resource for innovative organic, all-natural and conventional foods. Nurturing its resources since launching in 1984, Hot Mama’s has seen its “children” bring success to national and even multinational clients seeking a versatile, time-sensitive partner for perfecting signature recipes appealing to today’s taste trends.

The company began operations nearly 30 years ago in a small commercial kitchen in a private home in western Massachusetts. Initially the company produced different flavors of hummus, hand-chopped salsa and natural sandwiches, but over the years Hot Mama’s has not only expanded to two facilities (in Springfield, Mass., and Elk Grove, Ill.), but it has also expanded its range of product development, preparation, processing, packaging and shipping to include products that include gourmet spreads, dips and pesto in a wide array of traditional and contemporary/layered flavors, along with special recipe pizza toppings, deli salads, convenience foods and customized sauces.

Hot Mama’s products are distributed by its strategic partnerships throughout the United States, as well as into Canada and Mexico. The company can generate more than 10,000 pounds of fresh product an hour, but it never neglects its commitment to hands-on production and strict personal supervision from the first batch being produced to the last carton being placed on the truck. Production to shipping, whether for distributors, restaurants chains, hospitality and institutional dining facilities or retail, Hot Mama’s is meeting the strict standards and tight schedules of discerning customers.

Delivering Fresh Thinking

Leading Hot Mama’s exploration of trends, science breakthroughs and the universe of innovative tastes is Matt Morse, a native of Quincy, Mass., who acquired the company in 1991. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of Massachusetts (UMASS), Morse pursued his skills in taking concept to completion and combined them with his passion for food. Morse has grown the company substantially in the two decades since, earning an MBA from UMASS Amherst along the way while putting a lot of time and success stories under his belt.

“Back when I first purchased this company it was a small start-up doing fresh vegetable salsa, but soon after I took over we were doing a variety of layered hummus, which at the time was an unknown product,” says Morse, who retains the title of CEO though he has turned over day-to-day operations to concentrate on strategic planning of company growth.

“I used to demo at local stores, setting up a table and trying to convince people to try something they had never heard of before,” continues Morse. “Nobody knew what I was talking about, but since then it’s turned into a pretty big industry. And that’s what we’ve done ever since: taking what might seem like crazy ideas to some and turning them into top-shelf items. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mind, and I feel I’m still in the early stages of what I want to do with this company.”

Hot Mama’s produces the vast majority of its products for private-label and foodservice sales, who appreciate the company’s array of packaging and materials, which range from single-serve to industrial sized. Exactly who many of the company’s clients are remains unknown, as Hot Mama’s does not waver in its longstanding reputation for strict confidentiality to guard private-label recipes. In addition, Morse has even invested recently in the expansion of the Springfield facility’s processing equipment to allow for five-pound pouches to keep up with demand from distributors such as Restaurant Depot. As if that’s not enough activity, Hot Mama’s maintains its own signature brand, distributed primarily in the Midwest through Costco, which test-markets items such as a layered black bean and roasted corn salsa dip, which balances chunky and creamy, spicy and cool.

Finding a balance is at the core of Hot Mama’s initiatives. In terms of balancing cost and quantity, Hot Mama’s negotiates the best price on ingredients, produces items at an agreed upon price point, and leaves all the marketing and promotions expenses to the brand. As for quality, the company, which is USDA Certified, Certified Organic, and independently audited, works on every product to find a means to extend shelf life without artificial preservatives. “We try to keep it as simple as possible,” emphasizes Morse. “Sometimes potential clients send me ingredient lists and I look at them and think, ‘We’re a food manufacturer, not a chemical house.’ I haven’t put out one of those products yet.”

Exploring Texture, Color, But Above All Consistency

While Hot Mama’s is not a mad scientist’s laboratory, it does always have efforts underway to find ways to present alternative components. For example, the company is always looking to incorporate a variety of legumes – such as edamame, white beans, red lentils, white lentils, black beans – with equally innovative toppings. And the goal is to enhance a customer’s reputation and profitability in the marketplace, producing items with naturally derived preservatives that can extend from a seven- to 10-day shelf life to a 30-day shelf life.

No matter the item, however, Hot Mama’s is never willing to compromise its dedication to better already benchmark recipes, but it also will never compromise quality control and food safety. The company and its quick turnaround cold-pack production lines have earned the highest Good Manufacturing Practices credentials for meeting the food industry’s strictest health, sanitation, inspection and safety criteria.

Despite its impressive capabilities, Hot Mama’s Foods works at a manageable size that assures its team can monitor the entire operation closely. In the future Morse intends to implement a strategy of acquisitions and diversification, as well as some additional brand building. Dedicated to outstanding customer service and highly productive partnerships, Hot Mama’s Foods will continue to enhance the culinary universe, strengthening product families that nourish the consumer.