Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin is backing Luvo, a frozen-food startup.
Courtesy of Speedo/photographer Carlos Serrao
By John Kell
August 10, 2015

Professional swimmer Natalie Coughlin has a no-nonsense approach when it comes to her Olympic-level diet: avoid anything extreme. Eat fresh foods and while you are at it, perhaps try some frozen food made by Luvo.

That last bite may seem a bit unusual, but the 12-time Olympic medalist is the latest athlete to place a bet on startup Luvo’s bid to more aggressively tackle the frozen-food aisle. Luvo, led by former Lululemon CEO Christine Day, is angling to sell a wide range of pizzas, burritos, and other entrees with fresher ingredients than what is typically found in that area of the grocery store.

It is a message that is resonating with some top athletes. Along with Coughlin, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and retired New York Yankees baseball player Derek Jeter are working with the startup. All three are also investors. Terms of those financial agreements haven’t been disclosed.

“They’ve all chosen to take a stand against childhood obesity and they won’t partner with the [soda] industry in particular,” said Day. “It is a big step for them to walk away from those endorsement contracts.”

All three are taking on a big challenge. Sales of frozen entrees, a more than $10 billion industry in the U.S., have dropped for three consecutive years. Grocery shoppers have turned to fresh foods that are found around the perimeter of the store. Observers say frozen foods have faced competition from ready-to-serve meals that grocery stores prep and sell at their retail locations, essentially generating in-store competition for the frozen meals category.

 

Coughlin describes herself as a passionate “foodie,” with her culinary interests going all the way back to her early college years at the University of California, Berkeley, where Coughlin grew herbs on her fire escape and learned more about cooking. Throughout her swimming career, Coughlin said she worked with a number of nutritionists and dietitians with varying degrees of success. Today, she touts a method she says is simple and makes sense: eat a ton of fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.

“I try to stay away from the fads and go with logic,” the Olympian tells Fortune.

The 33-year-old says Luvo’s menu is full of healthier foods that she hasn’t seen in the frozen-food aisle before. And she’s already incorporating some of the meals into her diet. Coughlin is a big fan of Luvo’s vegetable bibimbap, which she adds eggs to for extra protein for her swimming training.

On a personal level, Coughlin said Luvo has helped her eat more meals in the afternoon – key to her training. She said in the past, she found it difficult to cook a full meal between her morning and afternoon training sessions.

Because Coughlin has invested in Luvo, she also plans to back the brand on social media, where she has 112,000 followers on Twitter and 138,000 on Instagram. Coughlin will also contribute to Luvo’s blog, where she hopes to help readers learn tricks to enhance their Luvo entrees in unusual ways. The frozen meals are available at grocers, such as Kroger (KR) and Amazon (AMZN).

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