Kevin McCray on the success of Kevin’s Natural Foods, eating paleo-friendly and more

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 14: A view of a dish prepared by chefs Andrew Kitko and Marc Sarrazin Steak and Whiskey Pairing with Allen Katz at STK Downtown at STK on October 14, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for NYCWFF)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 14: A view of a dish prepared by chefs Andrew Kitko and Marc Sarrazin Steak and Whiskey Pairing with Allen Katz at STK Downtown at STK on October 14, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for NYCWFF) /

The namesake of Kevin’s Natural Foods spoke exclusively with Guilty Eats about the past, present and future of his growing, paleo-friendly company.

Kevin’s Natural Foods is named for after Kevin McCray. McCray was an active, health-conscious college student when he was hit with an auto-immune disorder that changed his life forever. After being laid up in the hospital for weeks and pumped full of corticosteroids, the flare-ups eventually subsided, only to rear their head and land Kevin back in the hospital every few months.

Frustrated and defeated by those hospital stays, McCray read up on the effectiveness of a paleo-friendly diet with regard to reducing symptoms of autoimmune disorders. He decided to give it a shot, and this led to long-term success with his health and well-being. It also led to the founding of Kevin’s Natural Foods, which makes excellent paleo and keto-certified “Heat & Eat”-style entrees, simmer sauces and seasonings. The entrees themselves currently come in 8 different flavors — including Korean-Style BBQ Chicken, Cilantro Lime Chicken and Beef Chili — and are gluten-free.

I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Kevin McCray himself about Kevin’s Natural Foods and clean eating as a whole. For those also seeking recipes, the Stockton, California-based company also has plenty on those on its website.

Guilty Eats: What first got you interested in eating organic paleo? 

Kevin McCray: Like many people, I was actually motivated to clean up my diet by a health issue that occurred over a decade ago. I was a health-conscious college student when I was hit with an auto-immune disorder out of the blue. After being laid up in the hospital for weeks and pumped full of meds that suppressed my immune system, the flare up eventually subsided.

However, it became a reoccurring issue that landed me back in the hospital every few months. After years of dealing with the disorder, I stumbled on a paper about the paleo diet’s effectiveness in reducing symptoms of autoimmune disorders. I gave it a shot and have never had a since.

Guilty Eats: To you, what separates Kevin’s from other meal delivery services? 

Kevin McCray: Taste! Our aim is simple: Help people eat clean, feel better, and never sacrifice flavor. We cook everything in our own facility and have two secret weapons: sous-vide meats and incredible sauces. Sous-vide is a French cooking method that is used by many of the country’s top restaurants. It delivers incredible results by cooking vacuum-sealed meat, in a hot water bath, at a precise temperature. The outcome is moist, fork-tender meats that we pair with our signature paleo/keto-certified recipe sauces for five-star entrées, ready in just five minutes.

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Guilty Eats: Kevin’s Natural Foods has grown quickly. Did you always foresee the company growing to where it is now? 

Kevin McCray: In the early stages I knew we had something exciting. We would host focus groups and met with hundreds of shoppers showing them early product ideas and getting their feedback. At that point, I definitely knew then that we were meeting an unmet need by combining flavor, convenience and health.

However, no matter how much you prepare you never know how a brand is going to resonate until you get it out in the market. It wasn’t until the line launched in Costco and Whole Foods, about a year after coming up with the concept, that I could envision how fast the growth would come. Once thank you notes from shoppers that found the products started pouring in via social media, I knew it was time to ramp up.

Guilty Eats: I’d imagine you were doing everything for the company in its early days. How much of your work these days is really to choosing or preparing the food? 

Kevin McCray: As we have grown, there has been a lot of activities that I have been able to delegate. However, I am able to work from our plant every day and, when it comes to developing new products, that process hasn’t really changed. The real culinary firepower has always come from Kevin’s co-founder Dan Costa, and our chef Stanley Dimond. The three of us make a great team.

As chefs, Dan and Stan have been cooking up a storm together since 1985. The three of us determine together what products and culinary shortcuts our customers could use to make their lives easier and what flavors we think would hit home. With my background, I bring the nutrition lens and those two have the culinary chops to bring our ideas to life. What’s more, they have an unwavering focus on flavor and they love the challenge of making food taste amazing while meeting our strict nutrition standards.

Guilty Eats: Do you have a favorite of the Kevin’s Natural Foods offerings?

Kevin McCray: Hands down, our Thai Coconut Chicken. A little sweet heat, Thai spices, and heavy coconut notes. So good.

Guilty Eats: What is coming up for your company in 2020?

Kevin McCray: More flavors. We just launched our Chipotle Lime Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala this week and will keep developing products as fast as we can. We are always thinking about how to give shoppers more culinary shortcuts, flavors, and, ultimately, more meal solutions they can cook up on a busy weeknight.

Guilty Eats: When not busy with running a growing company like yours, where does your free time usually go?

Kevin McCray: My wife and I have a 1 and 3 year-old at home. When I’m not working, I’m spending time with them. I get a healthy dose of the local parks, the railroad museum and, our favorite family restaurant, Chipotle. Also, we have a large family — mostly Italian — so there is always a celebration or event on the books.

Guilty Eats: What was the last concert you attended? 

Kevin McCray: I caught a throwback hip hop concert last year with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Juvenile and Ginuwine. Brought me right back to high school.

Guilty Eats: Finally, Kevin, any last words for the kids? 

Kevin McCray: It’s so important to feed your kids nutritious meals made with clean ingredients every day. If anything, my message is to their parents: I want busy parents to know that it’s possible to provide those meals, and we’re here to help prepare them quickly and easily!

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Do you have a favorite meal offering from Kevin’s Natural Foods?