Dr. Praeger’s is the pioneering brand that was giving people healthy food options before it was the norm. We checked in with CEO Larry Praeger to find out what’s new with this family-run business, get his take on why people are getting off of meat, and delve into what’s so perfect about their perfect burger.
It’s hard to believe Dr. Praeger’s launched in 1994.
My father, Dr. Peter Praeger, and his partner, Dr. Eric Somberg, started the brand because they were searching for healthy, easy, and accessible food for their patients. With nothing on the market satisfying their high standards, they set out to create their own food brand.
You became CEO in 2013 from a sales role to relaunch the company. What were your initial challenges?
I was determined to elevate the brand and extend the legacy of my family’s food company to reach more American families. There was a great foundation in place, and the brand was ready to scale with innovation and distribution. My dad and partners always felt plant-based, clean, and nutritious frozen food was underrepresented in grocery stores. Scaling an existing company with new category innovation and rebranding always comes with obstacles, but I surrounded myself with a smart and dedicated team who supports our mission.
What did you learn from your father about running a business?
Growing up watching my father pour his heart and soul into being a surgeon, manage a family, and launching Dr. Praeger’s was the best training I could’ve gotten. He taught me how to build a team and treat them like family. He taught me to take chances, to always be innovating or thinking differently, and he taught me the value of listening to and supporting our community.
What does the company stand for today?
Dr. Praeger’s is a family business, and we treat everyone we work with as part of our family. We believe bringing families together at mealtime is the biggest reward of the day and that those meals should be nutritious, delicious, and enjoyable. We believe in real ingredients. We’re committed to nutrition and wellness for everyone, and we proudly support organizations that share our commitment, challenge us to think differently, and embrace those in need.
The brand is known for its California Veggie burger. What else is on the Dr. Praeger’s menu these days?
We have nearly 60 terrific products available throughout the U.S. for every meal occasion. Although we are best known as a veggie burger brand with 15 different veggie burgers, for breakfast we offer three types of Oaties oatmeal dippin’ sticks, breakfast bowls, sides like hash browns, veggie puffs and vegetable cakes, Pure Plant Protein meat alternatives, Littles for kids, and more. We currently offer products that fit vegan, vegetarian, soy-free, gluten-free, Kosher, and non-GMO lifestyle choices. You can search for hundreds of easy-to-make-at-home veggie-inspired recipes, and for our products by dietary needs on drpraegers.com to find a product for anyone in the family. I’m particularly excited about our growing line of Pure Plant Protein items spinning off from the success of our Perfect Burger, such as our Dr. Praeger’s new Perfect Turk’y, Perfect Sliders, and Perfect Grounds arriving at your local grocery store throughout summer and fall.
You launched the Perfect Burger late last year. What makes it so perfect?
What makes the Perfect Burger special is while it looks and tastes like meat, it’s made with Pure Pea Protein and infused with real vegetables, including sweet potato, butternut squash, and carrots. It’s soy-free, gluten-free, vegan, and packed with 20 grams of non-GMO plant protein. Overall, Dr. Praeger’s Perfect Burger has less sodium and fat per serving than leading meat-alternative burgers on the market and grills up perfectly.
You also have a kids line and they’re tough customers.
Dr. Praeger’s Littles were created for kids but is loved by consumers of all ages. We have four different kinds of Littles—kale, spinach, broccoli, and sweet potato—and they all come in fun kid-friendly shapes like stars, dinosaurs, and teddy bears. They’re so popular because they’re quick and easy to make, fun for kids, and full of real vegetables and nutrients.
People are really turning away from meat in this country. What do you think took so long?
I do see meat consumption continuing to decline in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, whether those be personal taste, dietary restrictions, lifestyle choices, environmental impact, and more. I think meat alternatives will keep growing as products on the market become cleaner and more delicious. People who are new to meat alternatives can be skeptical of the taste and the quality, which I think is why it’s taken a bit of time to pick up.
We hear you kept your factories open during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey. How did you make sure you kept employees safe?
Due to increased grocery demand at the start of the pandemic and a fear of food shortages, we quickly pivoted to keep our factory open and fulfill the need for healthy frozen food. The factory ran at approximately 75 percent and was producing roughly 100,000 pounds of food each day. All staff was given proper protective gear, everyone entering the facility had their temperature checked, and lines were staffed at half capacity to ensure social distancing and extra time for regular deep cleaning and disinfecting. The health of the Dr. Praeger’s team is my top priority, and we took every precaution to keep everyone safe and comfortable throughout the process.
What other products do you hope to eventually launch?
We’re always looking to innovate and provide new options for our consumers. In fact, we’re working on many new items for all mealtime occasions. Some of these are new Pure Plant Protein meat alternative launches coming soon, as well as a local burger inspired by the coastal living in Long Island,
You have a really well-curated Instagram account. Why is it important to promote the brand through social media?
Social media is so important because it allows us to engage our customer base, interact with them, and hear their wants, needs, and concerns. We love our social community and use the various platforms to share company information, product news, recipe ideas, and in general to see how Dr. Praeger’s fans use our products and share their creations.
You’re also a partner in one of our favorite places, The Meatball Shop! What are your other business investments?
I’m a true entrepreneur and love getting involved in businesses that cater to my own interests of health, wellness, and coming together with loved ones over a delicious meal. A couple of businesses I’m involved in beyond The Meatball Shop are Nothin’ But snacks and WellWell functional beverages.
It’s a very different kind of summer this year. How are you adjusting?
I don’t think anyone could have predicted a summer like this, but I’m trying to focus on the positives, like extra time at home with my kids and the health of my loved ones.
You’re a Hamptons regular! What do you love about the area?
I have a place in Water Mill, and it’s my favorite escape. The town is so full of life and nature at the same time. I’m grateful for time with my family here this year.