Ben Canary (left) and Nathan Canary, co-founders of HercuLean Meal Prep.
Indianapolis-based HercuLean Meal Prep follows the philosophy that food can bring about body transformation all while tasting great. The Canary brothers, Ben, a food scientist and chef, and Nathan, a bodybuilder, founded the company in 2017. Together the two design fully cooked, frozen single-serve meals that assist with gaining muscle and losing body fat. 

MEAT+POULTRYspoke with Ben Canary to better understand the HercuLean Meal Prep program. 

M+P:How did you bring HercuLean to market?
Ben Canary: HercuLean was never supposed to be a business. At first my brother and I were just trying to get back in shape. When our friends and family heard what we were doing and saw the results, they wanted in. Then through word of mouth, others heard about what we were doing, and they were requesting our meals. In June 2016, Nate and I decided to drop out of grad school and do this full time. At first, we were renting time at a commissary kitchen and delivering food to gyms and people’s’ homes. It was in September 2017 that our brick-and-mortar store opened on one of the busiest streets in Indianapolis. We are now expanding our own kitchen and scouting locations for our next two stores, as well as shipping nationwide. 

Lean, low-sodium meat and poultry is combined with seasonings, vegetables and smart carbohydrates to provide the consumer with 350 to 500 calories and 35 to 50 grams of protein.
There’s so much conversation on plant-based diets, yet data shows Americans are eating more meat than ever before. How do culinary-inspired frozen prepared meals such as yours help keep meat on the center of the plate? 
Canary:It’s all about quality and nutrition. We use only lean proteins void of added hormones and always antibiotic free. These lean cuts, while costing substantially more, have less fat. That is the goal of our meals, to maximize the protein while minimizing unnecessary fats. Our customers appreciate this. They also value high-quality protein and recognize the importance of vitamin B12, which is only found naturally in animal-based foods. Iron from animal sources is also better absorbed than iron from plant sources. We communicate to our customers that HercuLean is a standalone nutrition philosophy based on sound principles that work in the real world.  

M+P: What’s the secret to sourcing high-quality meat to ensure great taste when reheated? 
Canary: It’s all about the cut of meat and the cooking process. We buy from proven suppliers with state-of-the-art traceability to ensure we have the best and safest proteins on the market. Many of our dishes use choice and prime cuts. All components in the fully cooked meals are carefully prepared for consumer safety without excessive heat. Through hundreds of hours of testing and tweaking, our cooking process and blend of custom spices meets food safety time and temperature requirements, while delivering the most flavor and maintaining moisture. Food safety is our first priority in every step of the production cycle. The meals are best enjoyed direct from freezer to microwave or oven. We use oven-safe trays and lidding and instruct consumers to not pierce the film in order to keep flavors and moisture inside. 

2 Culinary
HercuLean meals are sold in the company's Indianapolis-based store and are also available through a mail order subscription program.
How do you come up with your flavor profiles and accompanying ingredients?
Canary:We test tons of recipes with our development team. Once we like the flavor, we test and calculate the macronutrients. If they are off, we adjust to get them in range and determine if it worthy of the HercuLean logo. We believe people should aim for a balance between protein and carbohydrates, with a small amount of dietary fats. When we design a meal, we will often have the protein a little higher than the carbohydrates to give people room for snacks that have carbohydrates. All of our meals are high in soluble fiber, which helps slow down the absorption of the carbs, as well as low in sodium, which we feel is overused by the food industry. Our meals range between 350 and 500 calories, with each meal providing 35 to 50 grams of protein. 

M+P:What are some of your most popular offerings?
Canary: We have a number of breakfast offerings, including shredded round steak with seasoned diced potatoes topped with scrambled egg whites, and a turkey scramble made with our lean turkey meatballs, sweet potato hash browns and scrambled egg whites. For lunch or dinner, that same shredded steak and those meatballs come with brown rice and broccoli or green beans. The pesto chicken and barbecue chicken is shredded lean meat with low-sodium seasonings. Sides are brown rice with quinoa and mashed potatoes, respectively, along with broccoli. We are developing several vegetarian- and vegan-inspired dishes using plant proteins.