Tara Bone, contributing writer
Four years ago, registered dietician McKenzie Rockwood had an idea to help people with specialized diets prepare healthy meals at home. Today, her idea has grown into Citrus Pear Dinners — a thriving business that spans five states, employs 175 people, and is praised by customers for helping families navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19.
The Smithfield mother of three says she never dreamed her idea would have exploded as it has. After graduating from Utah State University’s (USU) dietician program in 2008, McKenzie was teaching patients at Logan Regional Hospital how to cook healthy at home. McKenzie saw that it was overwhelming for patients to implement and she wanted to help.
“I thought it would be a fun side job,” McKenzie said. “It had immediate success and grew really fast. Within one month of starting Citrus Pear, I had to quit my job at the hospital, even though I liked it.”
Her original intent of providing meals for those with special diets evolved into something more. Busy moms looking for fast, healthy, and tasty meals flocked to Citrus Pear Dinner classes. The meals are still suitable for cardiac diets and diabetic meal plans, and can be modified for common allergies.
Before COVID-19, customers signed up for classes online, went to the class at a local grocery store, and spent two hours preparing 10, 20, or 40 meals that were taken home, frozen, and then popped into the crock pot or pressure cooker for a quick and healthy meal. No grocery shopping, menu planning, or clean up necessary.
During COVID-19, the process is even simpler. Customers can still get meals, according to Citrus Pear social media: “You order, we prep, you pick up your meals.”
McKenzie says it’s the “perfect solution for the busy dinner rush.” And she knows something about that. She is mom to three boys, ages 11, 8, and 6. She and her husband Mace met working together at USU. For the last six to eight months they’ve been working together again: Citrus Pear Dinners is truly a family business.
Mace is working full-time with the business and McKenzie says their 11-year-old has helped them with fair booths where “he’s relentless at getting people to stop.”
Citrus Pear Dinners grew quickly through word of mouth. “We’ve been hanging on for the ride,” McKenzie said. “It’s been growing so fast; we’ve been trying to keep up.”
According to McKenzie, she and Mace have put processes into place and worked to be proactive, instead of reactive. Fortunately, those efforts were just what the company needed to face COVID-19.
During the March lock-down, classes had to be canceled to meet social distancing standards and new food suppliers had to be found when grocery stores couldn’t fill their food orders. McKenzie says in the last few months, they’ve had to reinvent their business. Because they have a loyal customer base and efficient processes in place, the company is making the transition from classroom teaching and food prep, to pre-assembled meals for pick up.
Feedback from customers is positive. Many have expressed that it’s comforting during a time of chaos to have the security of a freezer full of meals. McKenzie says she’s seen customers help others by buying meals for neighbors and friends.
One of those customers who has expressed gratitude for Citrus Pear Dinners is Katie Kain, who said, “You [Citrus Pear Dinners] have saved my sanity, helped my anxiety, saved us hundreds, and helped my husband and I lose almost 90 pounds and counting.”
McKenzie says seeing the generosity of customers and how the company is helping families is what keeps her going. “This is why I do it, even if I just helped one family because their immune system is compromised, or a mom who is running ragged.”