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I have a friend in the healthy foods business, and over the years we have had many discussions about the difficulty in scaling products. I have used a few cases from our experiences with frozen meals to bolster my argument that companies should stay small, and that when they get purchased so that they can grow, they run a high risk of all that hard work going in the tank. Yes, the founders make out well financially, but the consumer is left wanting the great brand back.
evol. is one of those companies. They made great burritos and some of the bowls they made in their early days were fantastic. They then sold out to Boulder Brands, and we have not seen anything great come from evol. in years. We keep trying, and I still feel good about their brand (their logo is one of the best ever), but we continue to be disappointed.
The same is holding true for Udi's Gluten Free, another of Boulder Brands' acquisitions. Udi's was a family owned company specializing in gluten free products - some of their breads are pretty good - and as with most frozen gluten free breads, they have improved over the years.
Their frozen meals are another matter.
We tasted their Sweet Potato Ravioli about three years ago, right around the time the company changed hands, and this week we went back for another look. At that time my tasting notes indicated that the sauce and the ravioli weren't too bad, but the sweet potato filling tasted of overly sweet orange juice. This time around it appears that they have fixed the problem with the filling, but the rest of the dish is much, much worse. The pasta is now much thicker and is both rubbery and has a raw flour taste to it at the same time. Worse yet is the sauce, that now just looks like it is glistening with cornstarch.
In short, there is really nothing to like about this dish, especially at 260 calories and 550 milligrams of sodium. A continued downhill slide for Boulder/Udi's.
We decided to sample their Italian Sausage Lasagna as well. The last time that this was reviewed was 2014, right at the time that the original owners of Udi's sold their frozen foods business. It is interesting to note that we thought this lasagna was OK, and at the time it came in at 340 calories and 400 milligrams of sodium.
The first thing you notice when this dish comes out of the microwave is the oil. There is an large slick across the top of the lasagna. That grease sits on top of a bright red herbed tomato sauce. It looks every bit like the floppy pizza that I used to get when I was in high school in New Jersey. Now that makes me a bit nostalgic, but not all that much, and this dish actually tastes pretty much like that pizza: lots of sweet canned tomato sauce, dried basil and oregano in abundance, and a chewy crust (oh wait, that's not pizza crust, it's the lasagna noodles).
Looking at the package, it is interesting that there are now 420 calories and a whopping 25 grams of fat (that explains the oil slick). Even more interesting is that the 2018 version of this meal contains a whopping 650 milligrams of sodium – a 20% increase over just 4 years ago.
Bigger is not better and Boulder Foods has done a great job at showing they can take a great brand and turn it into a terrible one. Leave both of these meals in the freezer case and look carefully at any Udi's frozen meal to make sure you really want to purchase it.
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Reviewed: April 13, 2018