Grocers Could Get a Leg Up on Take-​Home Cooking Kits

BY Courtney Huckabay
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"In the span of a few short years, more than 100 companies have jumped into the meal kit game," Kim Severson wrote in The New York Times. "Millions of cardboard boxes arrive on urban and rural doorsteps every month, holding everything one needs to cook dinner, down to the rice wine vinegar and panko."

"Ingredients are packaged in exact proportions, ready to be chopped or sautéed according to well-​illustrated recipe cards. In less than an hour, even a mediocre cook with salt, pepper and cooking oil can produce an Instagram-​worthy meal."

"Technomic Inc., a food industry analyst, predicts that at the current rate of adoption, the United States meal kit market could grow by as much as $5 billion over the next decade. Blue Apron, the company that has emerged as the Starbucks of the meal kit business, said it now ships eight million meals a month."

For most Frequent Grocery Shoppers, cost is a concern. Meal kits typically run on the higher end of expenses for consumers. But grocery stores and markets should be aware that AudienceSCAN found 67.8% of Frequent Grocery Shoppers are willing to pay more for higher quality on most products.

"Some analysts say meal kits show classic signs of a bubble that may already be leaking air. They make comparisons to the rise and fall of the grocery delivery service Webvan in the first wave of the tech boom, or meal assembly storefronts, where cooks pick recipes online and then show up to put together what are essentially fancy casseroles from precut ingredients. Such companies once opened at a rate of 40 a month in the early 2000s but have faded from view."

"Others say this is different. Like frozen foods or the microwave oven, meal kits may be a kitchen innovation that fundamentally changes how people cook at home."

"Meal kits seem to have arrived at just the right moment, burrowing deep into the everyday life of a digitally fluent nation whose tastes have been honed on restaurant meals, farmers’ markets and food television. The kits appeal to people eager to learn more about cooking with chickpea flour or organic escarole but less enamored with their procurement."

Supermarkets can emphasize the local ingredients they use in their meal kits. AudienceSCAN reported 55.6% of Frequent Grocery Shoppers are willing to pay more for healthy, organic or locally grown food products.

There is a feeling of a lack of accomplishment, especially among millennials who feel like it’s a solid effort just to get frozen ravioli cooked and a bagged salad together,” said Melissa Abbott of the Hartman Group, which researches eating patterns. “They say these meal kits are teaching them how to cook so they can participate in the conversation and feel empowered.”

"Grocery stores are trying to figure out how to get in the game, and although there are three big meal kit players on the national scene, the regional variations are, by some estimates, more than 100 and growing, each seeming more specialized than the one before."

I can’t even get fennel or shallots at my local grocery store sometimes,” said Toni Byrd, a federal public defender who lives in Lewisburg, Pa., and who subscribes to the Purple Carrot. “And as a single person, I used to waste food.”

"Andrea Nguyen, a cookbook author, isn’t enamored with meal kits because they do not provide the human contact and pleasure that come from hunting for ingredients and exploring the market.

Cooking is a whole sociological thing,” she said. “I even like talking to the cashiers.”

This is where grocers can step in and fill what's lacking within the meal-​kit space. According to AudienceSCAN research, 81% of Frequent Grocery Shoppers make a point of shopping where salespeople are helpful and friendly.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.