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Cuisine Solutions Inc.

Cuisine Solutions Inc.


85 South Bragg Street, Suite 600
Alexandria, Virginia 22312
U.S.A.
Telephone: (703) 270-2900
Toll Free: (888) 285-4679
Fax: (703) 750-1158
Web site: http://www.cuisinesolutions.com

Public Company
Incorporated: 1972 as Vie de France Corporation
Employees: 302
Sales: $64.11 million (2006)
Stock Exchanges: American
Ticker Symbol: FZN
NAIC: 311412 Frozen Specialty Food Manufacturing; 311712 Fresh and Frozen Seafood Processing; 422420 Packaged Frozen Food Wholesalers

Cuisine Solutions Inc. is a leading producer of gourmet frozen food for markets including hotels, the military, transportation catering, restaurant chains, and retail outlets. Rooted in foodservice, it has sought to bring its sous-vide cooking methods to a wide user base, from top chefs to retail consumers. In sous-vide, a technique originally developed in France in the 1970s, foods are vacuumed packed before being cooked slowly, then they are flash frozen.

For airlines, banquet caterers, and large sporting venues, the company has been "Your Culinary Partner," but Cuisine Solutions also offers frozen gourmet products through certain supermarkets, and sells frozen entrées online under the FiveLeaf brand. Production is carried out at plants in Virginia, France, Brazil, and Chile. Cuisine Solutions was formed as Vie de France Corporation, but its baking operations and restaurants were later sold to a Japanese company.

BAKING ORIGINS

Cuisine Solutions Inc. was formed in 1972 as Vie de France Corporation. It originally baked French bread on a wholesale basis, making daily deliveries of fresh croissants around the Beltway from its base in Vienna, Virginia.

The company later developed a specialty in supplying partially baked frozen croissants for its customers to finish in their own ovens. This emphasis on saving food-service customers labor while maintaining very high quality results would be a hallmark of the company's future endeavors.

Vie de France Corporation had net sales of more than $10.5 million in 1980, of which the new retail division accounted for $3.7 million. Revenues in both the wholesale and retail segments would quadruple within three years, with total net sales reaching $43.1 million in 1983.

By this time, Vie de France had 18 wholesale bakeries supplying more than 4,000 customers. It had also launched a fast-growing chain of retail bread shops in the United States in 1978. These stores baked bread from frozen dough supplied by the corporation. The company established a franchise program for retail bakeries in 1983 and was beginning to operate its own full-service cafés. Later, when Pillsbury and others began to muscle into their baking market, company officials sold this business, which remained active in the Washington, D.C., area.

PIONEERING SOUS-VIDE

In the 1980s Vie de France began exploring a new cooking process ahead of its entry into the frozen foods market. Its top scientist, Bruno Goussalut, became a pioneer in the field of sous-vide, a new technique taking hold among chefs in France.

In sous-vide cooking, raw (or seared) food is chilled, then vacuum packed (or "cryovacked") before being slow cooked at low temperatures. When the dishes are finished, they remain in the same airtight plastic containers for freezinga process that minimizes the formation of ice crystals that has always been a challenge for maintaining quality in frozen foods.

Sous-vide was invented in 1974. A pair of French chefs, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, were vexed that their foie gras lost one-third to one-half its weight during cooking. They brought their problem to colleague George Pralus, who suggested cooking the dish sealed under plastic. This prevented the flavorful juices from evaporating, and reduced to loss to 5 percent.

The concept of poaching foods in wrappers such as plant leaves, foil, paper, or plastic was not new. However, in sous-vide cooking, the sealed foods are simmered in water at relatively low temperatures for very long timesfrom two hours to two days. This prevents the damage to foods' structural integrity that comes with high heat.

The French TGV train system began serving sous-vide dishes around 1980. The process, though controversial among old-school gourmet chefs, became widespread in France within a few years, and spread throughout Europe in the 1990s. It also took root in Japan. The technique found much interest among top chefs because of the quality of its results. The vacuum pressure helped infuse flavors throughout the dishes while making meats very tender. At the same time, lower temperatures helped retain the nutrients and colors of vegetables while requiring no cooking oil or preservatives.

There were some technical considerations to cooking foods at low temperatures. The water bath was circulated to provide even heating. Afterwards, if destined for the refrigerator, the pouches had to be flash chilled more quickly than possible with typical household appliances.

Sous-vide naturally found applications in the packaged food industry. Since raw foods went into the packages, intermediate cooking and packaging steps were eliminated. The entire process was carefully controlled, and further mitigated risk of foodborne illness by reducing the need for uncooked ingredients at the caterer's end. Cuisine Solutions had notable success supplying caterers for airlines and sports venues, who appreciated the considerable labor saving aspects of sous-vide as well as the potential for reducing wastage. Rather than managing raw ingredients for thousands of meals themselves, they could simply heat up servings based on attendance and enjoy the extra long shelf life (up to 18 months) of the unused portions.

The company's Culinary Division opened in 1987 to build on earlier research performed by another company, Nouvelle Carte France. Construction on a 30,000-square-foot plant in Alexandria, Virginia, commenced two years later.

By 1990 the company was distributing frozen food products throughout the United States under the name Vie de France Culinary. Revenues exceeded $2 million in fiscal 1991. By 1996, the division was doing $6 million of business a year.

Vie de France Corporation was renamed Cuisine Solutions Inc. in November 1997. The bakery division had been sold to Yamazaki Baking Company, Ltd., of Tokyo in June 1991, followed three years later by the restaurants.

COMPANY PERSPECTIVES


Cuisine Solutions, a pioneer in the United States for the Sous-Vide cooking method and technology, utilizes Cuisine Solutions' proprietary technology and "secret" recipes for more than 200 products. We slowly cook our entrees, sides and sauces, immersed in water and sealed in vacuum tight pouches, at low, varying temperatures for long periods of time. The result is consistently delicious, fully-cooked, restaurant quality products to enjoy in minutes at home, at special and large events, in world-class hotels and restaurants, during first-class travel, or while serving your country both at home, at sea, or abroad.

With a focus on supplying sous-vide dishes for large-scale foodservice situations, Cuisine Solutions billed itself as "the Event and Banquet Specialists," but it was also starting to reach out to individual consumers. The retail food business had begun in France in the mid-1990s with a line of frozen dishes prepared with some of that country's best-known chefs. In 2000 Cuisine Solutions officially launched its retail sales channel to get into supermarket delis.

INTERNATIONAL SOURCING

An international expansion program was launched in the late 1990s. The company's strategy was to help set up advanced processing plants near good sources for raw materials. A new facility in Norway turned heads with the high quality salmon it supplied to the World Cup games.

In 1998, Cuisine Solutions set up a joint venture operation with Sanoli Industria e Comerio de Alimentacao, Ltd., to process beef dishes in Brazil. The company took a 40 percent holding in the venture, which began operations in 2002.

In 1999 the company bought Nouvelle Carte France, which had a 15,000-square-foot plant located west of Paris. It was renamed Cuisine Solutions France. The company added a 46,000-square-foot facility in Le Petre, France, in 2006.

Another partnership was established with Chile's Inversiones Continex to supply whitefish, shellfish, and farm-raised salmon. The 45,000-square-foot Chilean plant began salmon production in 2004, replacing the Norwegian operation, which had suffered losses due to the volatile price of salmon in that area.

A new U.S. source was signed up in 2004. Baltimore supplier Phillips Foods was tapped to provide seafood for a line of frozen meals for retail and airline sales.

POST-9/11 ADJUSTMENTS

With an extensive airline catering trade (focusing on the first-class and business sections), Cuisine Solutions was vulnerable to the aviation industry slowdown following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. However, the company was able to score government contracts supplying meals for the military in the years afterward. The company also introduced a line of foods for sale online. Branded FiveLeaf, it included entrées and appetizers developed by, or in conjunction with, several world-class chefs.

Thomas L. Gregg, a founder of 3-G International, was named Cuisine Solutions president in 2004 after advising the company for a year. Stanislas Vilgrain, who had led the business since 1987, remained chairman.

In fiscal 2005 the company returned to profitability, posting income of $1.7 million, after three years in the red. Sales had risen to $46 million, with $30 million coming from the United States and the rest from France.

The company's stock slipped from the NASDAQ in 1998 due to a low share price, but in February 2005 the company was listed on the American Stock Exchange, the ticker symbol "FZN" standing for "frozen." The U.S. media had discovered the company, which was profiled by the New York Times Magazine and Good Morning America during the year. Approving investors made it one of the Washington area's hottest stocks of the year.

While top chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Michel Richard, and Charlie Trotter raised awareness of sous-vide in the United States, Cuisine Solutions was preparing 25 million servings of frozen meals every year. It had 200 different products in its lineup, including more than 30 sauces. One of its newer items was a Salmon Shank crafted from the usually discarded tail of the fish. This required specialized equipment to trim properly.

Cuisine Solutions was also entering the high end of the grocery freezer section at Wegmans and Costco with gourmet items such as $50-per-pound kobe beef, beef Wellington, salmon, lamb shank with rosemary mint sauce, and veal osso buco.

KEY DATES


1972:
Vie de France Corporation is formed as a wholesale French bakery.
1974:
Separately, French chefs develop the sous-vide method of cooking food slowly under a plastic seal.
1979:
Vie de France launches a fast-growing chain of retail bread shops.
1987:
The company's culinary division opens.
1989:
Construction begins on a plant in Alexandria, Virginia.
1991:
The bakery division is sold to Yamazaki Baking Company, Ltd., of Tokyo.
1994:
Yamazaki buys the restaurant division.
1997:
Vie de France Corporation is renamed Cuisine Solutions Inc.
1999:
A French subsidiary is acquired.
2002:
FiveLeaf brand sous-vide entrées from top chefs become available for purchase online.
2006:
Additional production capacity is added in the United States and France.

In 2006 the company reported spending roughly $8 million to double capacity at its plant in Alexandria. The leased facility was being expanded from 48,000 square feet to 66,000 square feet.

Cuisine Solutions faced a minor public relations crisis in February 2006 when New York health inspectors banned the sous-vide process from city restaurants. Company officials went over European guidelines with them in hopes of getting their dishes back on menus. The company pasteurized its packaged food products.

Propelled by strong U.S. sales, revenues leapt 39 percent to $64 million in the fiscal year ended June 24, 2006. The company, which recruited internationally for talent, had about 300 employees.

Frederick C. Ingram

PRINCIPAL SUBSIDIARIES

Cuisine Solutions France, S.A.; Cuisine Solutions Norway, S.A.

PRINCIPAL OPERATING UNITS

On Board Services; Foodservice; Retail; Military; National Restaurant Chains.

PRINCIPAL COMPETITORS

Gate Gourmet, Inc.; LSG Lufthansa Service Holding AG; Performance Food Group Company; SYSCO Corporation; U.S. Foodservice, Inc.

FURTHER READING

Bowen, Dana, "With Inspectors in the Kitchen, Chefs Can't Cook in a Vacuum," New York Times, March 9, 2006.

Briggs, Tammy, "Cuisine Solutions," Continental, August 2006, p. 121.

"CEO/Company Interview: Robert Murphy; Cuisine Solutions, Inc.," Wall Street Transcript, July 30, 2001.

"Cuisine Solutions Looks to Chile," Seafood Business, August 2001.

Duchene, Lisa, "Phillips Foods Takes Partner," Seafood Business, September 2004, p. 6.

Frick, Walter, "It's in the Bag," Washington Times, April 28, 2006.

Hesser, Amanda, "Under Pressure," New York Times Magazine, August 14, 2005.

Hoppough, Suzanne, "Sweet Sous-Vide," Forbes.com, May 4, 2006.

Killian, Erin, "Alexandria Company Ignites Fresh-to-Frozen Frenzy," Washington Business Journal, January 13, 2006.

Kummer, Corby, "Out of the Frying Pan," Atlantic Monthly, November 2006.

Palmer, Sharon, "Sous Vide: Cooking Trend du Jour," Today's Dietician, June 2006, pp. 4044.

Rockwell, S. A., et al., "Vie de France CorporationCompany Report," Boston: Investext Group, July 1, 1984.

"Sous-Vide Offerings in Supermarkets & Clubs; NY Ban in Restaurants Stirs Chefs Nationwide," Food Institute Report, May 8, 2006, p. 2.

Tolédano, Vincent, "Des vieilles marmites à la cuisine de laboratoire," Le Nouvel Observateur, June/July 2006, pp. 6667.

Wilkes, Ann Przybyla, "Culinology® in Action: Sous Vide Salmon Solutions," Culinology, March 2006.

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