Family’s ‘Real Food’ Feeding Tube Company Signs on With CVS

Posted: Updated:
The company currently sells four meals, such as "Orange Chicken, Carrots & Brown Rice." The company currently sells four meals, such as "Orange Chicken, Carrots & Brown Rice."

A business born in a Hoosier family’s kitchen is now a multi-million dollar company—and recently cooked up a national deal that’s extending its reach. After her son was placed on a feeding tube, “a huge lightbulb moment” led Julie Bombacino to create Real Food Blends to broaden what she was already doing in her kitchen: replacing traditional feeding tube formula with real food.

Co-founders Julie and Tony Bombacino originally followed doctors’ and nutritionists’ advice to give their son, AJ, commercial formula for his feeding tube. But when a long list of problems plagued him, Julie says, “We got desperate and frustrated enough to make a change.” Julie began blending food for AJ in her kitchen, putting “real food” in his tube instead, and says “it was like a veil lifted in our household” when he showed great results.

Next came a family vacation to Disney World, and the harsh reality of grocery shopping, packing the blender and preparing AJ’s meals while traveling weighed heavy on his parents.

“We thought, ‘Is there a pouch of a shelf-stable meal that’s 100 percent real food?’ And there wasn’t,” says Tony, who is Real Food Blends chief marketing officer. “Soon thereafter, we were crazy or desperate enough to say, ‘Okay, let’s make that.’”

“When something happens to a loved one health-wise, you’re always looking for a reason why or wanting to make sense of it,” says Julie, who is Real Food Blends chief executive officer. “We thought, in the bigger picture, maybe this is our ‘why’ and has come to us for a reason bigger than just us.”

Noting they both have “an entrepreneurial spark,” the couple created Real Food Blends in 2012, and after two years of research and development, began shipping meals in 2014. The company has now sold more than a million meals, each one with no preservatives, synthetic additives or corn syrup. Due to a high-heat process during production, the meals are shelf-stable with no refrigeration required and carry names like “Salmon, Oats & Squash” and “Beef, Potatoes & Spinach.”

Julie notes that it’s reflex for doctors and dieticians to prescribe formula for tube-fed people, but she says the vast majority are placed on feeding tubes due to neurological dysfunction or an inability to safely get the food into the stomach, not because the stomach or digestive system isn’t working correctly.

“Our meals are a simple concept: putting real food into real stomachs,” says Julie. And for the Italian family, food transcends sustenance, also carrying an emotional aspect.

“When you think about breaking bread, it’s the talking, the connection, the sharing. When you have a feeding tube, you lose some of that, and it becomes this clinical or robotic approach. It becomes, ‘What time is your next feed?’ You talk about it as a ‘feed,’ not a meal,” says Tony. “That takes something from you as a person and from the caregiver. [Real Food Blends] is about pulling your loved one back up to the table for a meal; that’s how we think about things.”

Tony says the company has grown 100 percent each year, and Real Food Blends recently inked a partnership with Coram CVS Specialty Infusion Services, the infusion provider for the national drugstore chain and the largest home infusion and nutrition company in the U.S.  Real Food Blends says its meals are covered by medical insurance through durable medical equipment (DME) companies, which tube-fed people are typically assigned to.

“Coram holds about 75 percent of the Medicare contracts in the U.S. to service people who are at home with feeding tubes. Coram is opening that door for Medicare coverage to so many of our customers; that was a missing piece,” says Julie. “Coram is the largest DME with the biggest reach we have carrying our meals at this point, which helps us in a lot of other places where we didn’t have a great DME partner.”

The Bombacinos believe the partnership also helps legitimize “blenderized” diets for tube-fed patients and dieticians, “who have always been taught that ‘feeding tube equals commercial formula;’ we’re trying to break that mold.” The company is optimistic about further growth, noting that medical advances are extending the lives of people with conditions that necessitate feeding tubes.

“We get emails and calls every single day now, and we have almost 70,000 people in our Facebook community telling us how we helped their child or loved one,” says Tony. “We don’t have a cure for cancer, or ALS or brain injury, but if we can in some small way improve things from a nutrition and quality-of-life perspective, that’s very rewarding.”

Julie says Real Food Blends’ approach of creating a variety of meals—instead of formula—is unique in the market.
Tony says Real Food Blends works with university scientists and other food and nutrition experts to develop the meals.
Julie believes the company has “barely scratched the surface” of the marketplace.
  • Perspectives

    • Focused Collaboration Leads to Effective STEM Leadership

      As a woman who has built a career in a STEM field, technology, I have come to realize that collaboration is an essential ingredient for organizational growth and survival. As my year serving as president for Women & Hi Tech comes to an end, one of the most impactful takeaways for me has been how a shared vision and strategic partnerships can help change the landscape for women studying science, technology, engineering or math in Indiana.

    More

Subscribe

Name:
Company Name:
Email:
Confirm Email:
HTML
INside Edge
Morning Briefing
BigWigs & New Gigs
Life Sciences Indiana
Indiana Connections
INPower
Subscribe
Unsubscribe

Events



  • Most Popular Stories

    • Airports in Indiana Secure FAA Grants

      Seven Hoosier airports and the Indiana Department of Transportation have received support for projects from the Federal Aviation Administration. Funding through the Airport Improvement Program will be used for infrastructure work including runways, terminals and firefighting and snow removal equipment. Nearly $660 million was distributed throughout the country in the most recent cycle.

    • Caesars now owns Indiana Grand in Shelbyville and Hoosier Park in Anderson.

      Acquisition of Indiana Racinos Complete

      Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. (Nasdaq: CZR) has completed its $1.7 billion acquisition of Centaur Holdings LLC in Indianapolis. The deal adds Hoosier Park Racing and Casino in Anderson and Indiana Grand Racing and Casino in Shelbyville to Caesars' portfolio. The company says it will invest $50 million into various property improvements and IT upgrades at both facilities. Caesars says it plans to add table games to both properties, pending necessary approvals.

    • Holcomb says he hopes the state can serve as an example of "fair chance" hiring.

      Holcomb Names Board, Commission Appointees

      Multiple statewide boards and commissions will have new or reappointed members. Governor Eric Holcomb has announced appointments to the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board, Indiana Uniform Law Commission and Ports Commission. They include...

    • Study: Hoosier Graduation Rates Continue to Rise

      A new report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education says graduation rates among Hoosier college students are higher than ever. The 2018 College Completion Report says 38.5 percent of students graduated on time, up 4 percent from the previous year and nearly 14 percent over the past five years.

    • Indy Tech Vet to Lead DePauw Center

      DePauw University has tapped an Indianapolis tech veteran to become a part of its leadership team. Steve Fouty, who most recently served as chief financial officer of ClusterTruck in Indy, has been named director of the McDermond Center for Management and Entrepreneurship on the Greencastle campus.