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With about 50 percent of meals coming from restaurants, social researchers have been sounding the death knell for home cooking for years. But in every crisis there’s an opportunity, and a crop of entrepreneurs are working to make “meal replacement kits” the biggest thing in prepared food since sliced bread. Many of these kits are a step or two away from fully prepared and cooked food, but they’re positioned to reconnect people with their kitchens.
Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Plated, three New York City-based companies, are leading the pack of pre-packed and delivered meal systems, but competition is heating up as specialized brands enter the market. San Francisco-based Scrumpt was created to streamline school lunch packing for busy parents, while Atlanta-based PeachDish focuses on locally sourced ingredients and Southern food. Din, another San Francisco start-up, collaborates with popular Bay Area chefs so home cooks can re-create popular restaurant dishes at home.
“I see meal kits as another way that people can plan their weekly meals, which may also include some retail prepared food, some actual cooking, some restaurant usage and a meal kit or two,” says Christine Keller, who directs the trend practice area at San Francisco area-based CCD Innovation, a food and beverage product development agency. “Being able to pick up these kits in the supermarket is a way to provide more service to your shoppers.”
Keller, who has also worked for Safeway, says she has seen retailers try various forms of meal kits through the years, but not as part of the prepared food operations, where she feels it makes more sense.
“You need to get trained chefs involved and produce these kits out of fully equipped kitchens,” she says. “You can’t approach this market as just another bagged salad. If a supermarket doesn’t have the resources to do it right, it would make more sense to partner with a local chef or an existing meal kit provider.”
- In-store prepared foods and ingredients mixed and matched to create store-branded meal kits
- Existing cold storage to hold kits until customer pickup, eliminating the dry ice and extensive packaging used by delivery services
- Partnering or co-branding with local chefs for innovation and a unique selling point