How McKenzie Rockwood co-founded Citrus Pear
When I was 11 years old, my mom decided to go back to school to become a teacher. This meant she was taking full-time college classes, working a part-time job, and raising five kids. Looking back on this situation, I don’t know how she did it.
I remember watching her throw family dinners together for us while she either worked late hours or studied for her exams. As she cooked, I would often be close by, taking note of which seasonings and spices she threw into certain recipes—my plans were to prepare dinner on my own the next week.
At a young age, I recognized the value of a warm home-cooked meal, hard work, and the importance of a college education. Most of all, I knew I loved giving to others. As I grew up, I became fascinated with the human body and how it truly works. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always “a doctor.”
As I entered high school and college, I found myself taking more biology, chemistry, and human physiology courses. Through these, I developed an in-depth interest in nutrition. I loved learning about the different food groups and how our bodies develop, sustain, and change throughout life. I really enjoyed learning about how food can heal us, and in some cases, it can even reverse certain diseases. This was the moment when I decided I wanted to be a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).
After graduating from Utah State University with a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, I completed a seven-month internship. This internship included rotations at Logan Regional Hospital, Cache County School District, Bear River Health Department (WIC), Avalon Hills eating disorder facility, and Utah State University extension.
This opportunity gave me a wide variety of experiences. I felt ready to enter the dietetics field. When a job opened at Logan Regional Hospital, I knew that’s where I wanted to begin my career. I loved being in the hospital setting! I was able to work in multiple areas, including the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Gossner Cancer Center, Medical Care Unit (MCU), and Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
My job was to assess the patient’s nutritional status, give supplements and/or nutritional recommendations to the doctors, and educate patients on what to do when they got home from the hospital. For some, this included major lifestyle changes like following a low-salt diet, cutting dairy or gluten out of their diet, or carbohydrate counting to control blood sugars. However, most of the time, I only had about five minutes with the patients before another team member came in and started giving their instructions for care.
I felt like I was barely scratching the surface of what the patients actually needed, and I wanted to set them up for success. That’s when I saw a need to bridge the gap between hospital and home. If I could menu plan, grocery shop, and provide the essential tools for meal prepping, maybe it could make healthy eating more attainable. That’s when I had the idea for Citrus Pear.
Bridging the gap between hospital and home
After my initial idea, things began to come together quickly. I asked friends to bring their slow cookers to my house to taste test recipes. Between recipe development and taste tests, I was grocery shopping with my three children, who were eight, five, and two years old at the time.
I remember one particular trip to the grocery store that was a disaster. My eight-year-old lost his ring. I was on the grocery store floor trying to find it while my two-year-old was running up and down the aisles in his snow boots and life jacket, and my five-year-old had been banished to the grocery cart for breaking a glass jar of spaghetti sauce. I heavily contemplated throwing in the towel. It was certainly not easy. However, within two months, I had created 40 healthy freezer meal recipes and sold out two meal prep classes.
My first class was on March 19, 2016, at the Logan Country Club. I spent the entire day before the class trimming and portioning 400 pounds of meat. I am not a butcher. My husband, Mace, and I were up until 2 a.m. chopping onions (and crying) in preparation. Needless to say, it was a lot of work, but the first class was a huge success.
"At a young age, I recognized the value of a warm home-cooked meal, hard work, and the importance of a college education. Most of all, I knew I loved giving to others. As I grew up, I became fascinated with the human body and how it truly works. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always 'a doctor.'"
Entering grocery stores
This idea was genius. It took nearly all the prep work off my plate, and I was able to double the number of classes held in varying locations. Shortly after that, I decided to open a location in my husband’s hometown of Idaho Falls. After partnering with Broulim’s, a local grocery store, I realized the benefit and convenience of being in the grocery store setting. It was also important for the potential of scaling while continuing to support local businesses. This first partnership led to others, and within one year, we had four locations and were getting requests from other local grocery stores to expand our services. Today, we are in approximately 30 grocery stores across five states and employ almost 200 individuals (mostly women) and 30 RDNs.
Customers often reach out to express gratitude for the service Citrus Pear provides in their lives. Whether it’s someone sharing their fitness and weight loss journey or a parent thanking us for providing meals that are allergen-free and safe for their children to eat—that is honestly what keeps me going when times get tough.
Pivoting during the pandemic
The pandemic was difficult. Like many working parents and business owners, my husband and I were both juggling to keep the business afloat along with our newfound job of homeschooling three young children. To say times were stressful would be an understatement. We would rotate between roles; one was teaching math and reading while the other was answering employee and customer emails.
After a major pivot and 6-12 months of only offering pre-assembled meals, our teams were welcomed back to the grocery stores in hopes of resuming a state of normalcy. Class enrollment slowly began to increase, as did the cost of food. Other challenges like supply chain shortages, illness, and inflation continued to affect our business model. Through these tough times, I realized that with great challenges comes great growth.
The pandemic pushed our team to expand the business model by providing a variety of new services and products. Pre-assembled meals and meal delivery became a new service and are currently offered in select locations. We plan to expand these convenient service options to all Citrus Pear locations as soon as possible.
One of the greatest sources of recognition I have received is being recognized as an entrepreneur. I’ve learned so much over these last seven years. In 2021, I received the Young Dietitian of the Year Award from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. This organization represents over 100,000 certified practitioners. The Young Dietitian of the Year program honors those who demonstrate outstanding leadership and service to the nutrition and dietetics profession. I was nominated by a friend and former colleague at Utah State University.
In 2022, I had the great honor of being recognized as one of Utah Business’ “30 Women to Watch.” The magazine recognized me and 29 other women for being “movers and shakers that are starting, managing, growing, or otherwise furthering the work of their companies and making Utah’s future brighter by making it more female.”
I am excited to be known as someone who has disrupted the meal preparation industry by providing attainable solutions to healthy eating while also becoming a trusted voice in the nutrition and dietetics field. I want to utilize my business platform to correct misinformation surrounding food and nutrition. The future for Citrus Pear is bright, and I feel like I have so much more to share with families who want to focus on the importance of eating dinner together and how nutritious food fuels our bodies for good.