By Grete Lavrenz, Carmichael Lynch Relate Executive Vice President, Food & Nutrition Practice Chair
Blue Apron. Hello Fresh. Home Chef. Freshly. For consumers who still haven’t tried prepackaged meal kits, the dearth of options can’t be what’s holding them back. Meal kits are available almost everywhere: they’re convenient, user-friendly, and save consumers time. And yet, Chef’d closed its doors without warning. So, why is the meal kit business booming—but at the same time facing so many challenges? Can this solution to the dinner dilemma last if meal kits go to grocery?
A last-minute save by True Food Innovations, the packaged food consultancy that swooped in to buy Chef’d’s assets a week after it closed, seems to show that our interest in meal kits hasn’t dissipated—yet. However, True Food’s decision to suspend the online side of the business while continuing to sell Chef’d meal kits in grocery stores, proves that at the very least our interest in kits is shifting from an e-commerce model to a brick-and-mortar one.
For consumers, especially families and busy couples, meal kits offer myriad benefits, most prominently that they save time. A preordered and delivered meal kit means less time spent shopping for groceries, less time planning meals, and, in the case of most delivery services, less time rinsing, mincing and measuring. No parent wants to eat fewer dinners with their family, but they would love to spend less time preparing the meal. Busy working professionals don’t always want to rely on takeout or refrigerator mashups; they want simple options that are on-trend with today’s diverse and adventurous palates. The business of meal kits—and it’s a big one, with over 170 operators in 2016—is one devoted to giving that time back. Once given back, that time is put to much better use than it would be hemming and hawing at the grocery store, and instead spent over a meal with loved ones at the table. But when you have to plan, shop for, and cook said meal, you’re a lot less likely to share it.
Enter meal kits.
Meal kits do so much more than save time. They allow consumers to experiment with new flavors, meals and food trends. They give aspiring home cooks the opportunity to break out of a rut and try something new. Meal kits allow us to eat not only more adventurously, but better, with more awareness and control over the food we’re putting into our bodies. Meal kits provide a recipe that can be followed to the chef’s chosen degree. They’re a safe, unintimidating way to get back in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, those benefits may not be enough to keep meal kit services afloat. With Chef’d changing its business model, and subscriber counts for big brands like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh dwindling, we need a way to make meal kits a sustainable service. One option is to move away from the original subscription model and instead make meal kits a packaged commodity, available like other prepackaged meals in grocery stores. Chef’d was at the forefront of this trend, and sold its kits at select brick-and-mortar grocers; hopefully, the strategy is successful enough to pull the company out of the red.
Speaking of red, Chick-fil-A recently announced its entry into the meal kit sphere. The fast-food chain is testing a new twist on the trend in the Atlanta market, with five different meal kits featuring its signature chicken. The kits can be made in 30 minutes or less and purchased at the drive-thru, indoor counter, or through the company’s app. They have a planned run through November, at which point Chick-fil-A will either extend or shut down the service. Either way, it’ll be an interesting insight as to whether restaurants should move into the meal kit sector.