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Maine Independent Gets In On The Meal Kit Craze

Zack Monteith holds the latest Sleeper's Fresh Family Meals.
Zack Monteith holds the latest Sleeper's Fresh Family Meals.

by Mike Berger/editor–Northeast

Caribou, Maine, grocer Sleeper’s Market recently introduced its newest meal offering for busy families—Sleeper’s Fresh Family Meals. For around $15 to $17, the meal kit will feed a family of four.

David Sleeper tells The Shelby Report that these meal kits include Sleeper’s fresh trimmed meats, cut-up veggies and all the spices and ingredients needed to make the meal (minus salt and pepper).

The goal is to create a nutritious meal for a time-pressed family and at 50 percent savings.

According to the company website, “If you are busy and tired of not having the right ingredients to make your meal or don’t have time to do the prep work, let Sleeper’s do all the prep for you. We pound the chicken, we trim the meats, we cut the veggies, all you do is follow the step by step directions and you have a homemade meal for your family at a fraction of the price of eating out.”

Sleeper said the idea began with the success of its meals program in the deli. Knowing the recent popularity of online meal kits, Sleeper felt his store could do it better and for about half the cost.

Sleeper said the program, launched in late September, has caused some buzz in the market and on social media.

So far, the market offers three entrees—Sausage and Pepper Grinder, Lemon Chicken and Chicken Piccata—with more planned.

Zack Monteith, who is in charge of the deli and has a culinary background, is working with Sleeper on more meal kit ideas.

Sleeper said when the program is fully developed, there will be four to five main kits per week and 20-25 recipes.

“As we go, I think we might try more ethnic meals. I am sure we will get feedback from our shoppers,” he said.

Ingredients, he said, are not a problem, but packaging and presentation remain a little bit of a challenge.

“We are looking at Ziploc bag options,” he said.

A unique history

Sleeper’s history as a family-owned store dates back to 1914. Today it not only serves as a grocery store but a clothing and accessories store as well.

The current Sleeper's store.
The current Sleeper’s store.

In 1910, Joseph Sleeper Sr. boarded a boat in Lebanon and began his journey to the U.S.

Like many others, he arrived at Ellis Island with a few dollars in his pocket and a desire to work hard. Joseph planned to reside in Colombia, South America, but soon after arriving in Colombia he found the weather too warm and decided to visit some extended family in northern Maine.

Upon his arrival, Sleeper quickly began peddling small items in a backpack to local farms and surrounding towns of Woodland, Stockholm and New Sweden, Maine. Soon, he saved enough money to purchase a horse and buggy and began to transport larger merchandise.

Family members recall that Sleeper often was invited to spend the nights with local farm families during the coldest parts of the harsh northern Maine winters. In 1914, he purchased a small store across the street from the current Sleeper’s location and, in 1922, he purchased a larger store directly across the street.

Many area residents remember Joseph Sleeper’s generosity during the Great Depression. Sleeper’s became a gathering spot in the area of Caribou known as “the flat.” Soon, Joseph’s young family members began learning the family business. Joseph and his wife Alma raised seven children—Mitchell, Enid, Norma and Natalie (twin daughters), Joseph Jr., Nelson (Ike) and Dottie. All were active in the store.

In 1957, Joseph Jr. and Ike took over the family business after returning from military service in the Korean War. Ike was a Bronze Star recipient for his service in Korea, while Joe served in the Navy in European waters during the war.

Joe and Ike grew the store rapidly with 14 expansions and several remodels, and Sleeper’s is believed to be the first store in Caribou to purchase a frozen food display case. Prior to that, ice cream and other frozen foods typically were not sold during the winter months. While Ike focused on expanding the grocery section, Joe continued to expand the clothing department to a mix of durable work clothes as well as casual wear.

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