Hungry elderly lapping up frozen meals

DINNER TIME: Carolyn Mitchell whips up about 500 meals a week to meet the growing demand for frozen dinners on the Kapiti Coast.
DINNER TIME: Carolyn Mitchell whips up about 500 meals a week to meet the growing demand for frozen dinners on the Kapiti Coast.

Catering for one of the largest populations of over 65-year olds per capita in the country, the demand for Carolyn Mitchell's frozen meals has increased five-fold since she started providing basic hearty dinners for Kapiti Coast retirees.

Buying "The Ship's Cove" dining room in Waikanae, 10 years ago, she changed the name to "The Pantry" and decided to concentrate on supplying frozen meals to cater for the district's fast-growing elderly population.

Initially providing about 100 meals a week, she now produces about 500, mostly to local retirement village residents but also provides for a growing market of young mothers and time-stretched commuters.

Ferrying young children to sporting commitments and other activities, an increasing number of young mothers were buying meals for their families, she said.

She also had an increasing number of middle-aged men ordering meals.

"There are a lot of single men out there who just don't know how to cook," she said.

Growing up in Bulls, she was inspired by her mother and father who were both good cooks and she was cooking meals from an early age.

"It is in the family - a passion for cooking," she said.

Her frozen meals cost about $10 each and she sticks to very traditional food.

"With the oldies being the target market, they prefer their home-cooked, comfort food," she said.

There were about 20 different meals on the menu and four deserts including lambs fry, pickled pork, steak and kidney, sausage and mash and bread and butter pudding.

The favourites were probably sweet and sour chicken, roast lamb and peach crumble, she said.

The rapid growth of retirement villages on the Coast had markedly increased her clientele base and many had been ordering the meals since she started.

Working about nine hours a day, Monday to Friday, she and her one long-time, fulltime staff member delivered meals to private homes and retirement villages.

"We have also been known to post mail, change light bulbs and do some weeding," she said.

They delivered meals from Raumati to Otaki and couriered them as far north as Palmerston North and as far south as Wellington.

Elderly people still living in their own homes benefited a lot from the meals, she said.

"It means they can stay in their own homes longer, not having to worry about preparing meals, boiling water and frying, which can be dangerous," she said.

Describing The Pantry as a small family business, she said her husband was a supportive business partner.

Sourcing her meat from Waikanae Butchery and locally-grown fruit and vegetables from Horowhenua-based Sue's outlet in Paraparaumu, she did not believe people could buy and cook the meals for the $10 she charged.

Healthy home-cooked food was a priority for many clients, she said.

"People are now very much more aware of what is in their food. All our food is home-cooked with no preservative, cooked from scratch. People are going back to the more traditional food," she said.

She was looking at expanding the business to cater for the rapidly growing market.

The Dominion Post