Retaining customers and maintaining growth after last year is a challenge nearly every packaged food company is facing as people venture back out to restaurants and offices. Home Run Inn’s pandemic pace has already slowed considerably, said CEO Dan Costello. That was expected.
Though COVID closures kept people out of restaurants for much of last year, it certainly didn’t keep them from the frozen foods aisle. Frozen pizza sales in the U.S. soared almost 21 percent to more than $6 billion, according to data from market research firm Nielsen.
Home Run Inn’s sales followed those trends, with revenue up 20 percent to about $100 million, Costello said.
It was a wild ride at the company’s pizza plant. The facility went from making 60,000 frozen pizzas a day to more than 100,000. For the first few months of the pandemic, it simply could not meet demand, Costello said.
With restrictions in place at Home Run Inn’s nine restaurants—plus its outpost at Midway International Airport—the makeup of the business shifted too. Frozen pizzas brought in about 80 percent of the company’s revenue last year, up from 70 percent in 2019.
Now, demand calls for Home Run Inn to crank out about 80,000 frozen pizzas a day, comprising about 75 percent of the business.
And making that many pizzas a day doesn’t seem as challenging as it once was, Costello said. It’s like training for a marathon. The first time you run 10 miles, it seems impossible. Log 15 miles, and 10 seems like a cakewalk.
“That’s how we are feeling on the frozen pizza side,” he said.
All nine of the company’s restaurants are open, too, though they still face capacity limitations. Pent-up demand to eat out is driving customers into the restaurants, Costello said. He’s staffing back up as well, though the company is feeling the labor shortage plaguing the industry. The company has about 70 positions open. It employed 550 pre-pandemic, and dipped into the mid-300s last year. Employee count is approaching 500 again.
Home Run Inn distributes pizzas to 40 states. The company, which was established in 1923 as a South Side tavern and later built into a frozen pizza empire, continues to keep working to reach more customers.