In today’s go-go-go world, we’re all looking to make our lives a little easier, and increasingly people aren’t willing to sacrifice health in the process. No wonder the meal kit category is booming. These handy boxes include recipe cards along with pre-portioned ingredients that take the stress out of planning, shopping and prep, making it a cinch for consumers to get fresh, wholesome home-cooked meals on the table. Better still for health-conscious folks: Many services now contain organic ingredients or cater to specialty diets, making it easier than ever to serve up a nutritious meal worthy of Grandma’s home cooking.

The meal kit concept began in Sweden in 2007 and quickly expanded to other European nations before hopping the pond and becoming a billion-dollar business in the U.S. It is estimated by Packaged Facts that the market had sales of $2.6 billion in 2017 and will grow almost 22% by the end of 2018 to reach $3.1 billion. That growth is predicted to slow to single digit gains by 2023 (1). Still, the demand is significant—meal kit spending is growing more than three times as fast as other channels (2).

Subscription services that mail the goods straight to subscribers’doorstep—including HelloFresh, Sun Basket, Plated and Blue Apron, which is dominating with 40% of the market (3)—helped kick off the trend. Now they face competition from Amazon, which jumped on board with their own service last year after acquiring Whole Foods Market. The category continues to evolve with stores like Albertsons and Costco selling discounted meal kits. This all serves to drive awareness, and increasingly independent retailers are using that to their advantage and giving the trend a go, offering kits in-store so consumers can opt for a one-time box as needed.
A Peak at the Mainstream Offerings:

Blue Apron was being sold at Costco at a discounted rate. Due to earnings being lower than predicted, over the holidays Costco decided to put their partnership on pause. However, the companies are looking for ways to resume with more success.

Plated began being sold at Albertsons in-store, online and via Instacart. The grocery chain revealed in internal research that 80% of customers would like to be able to purchase meal kits in-store. Being one of the meal kit pioneers, Plated is also available in Safeway, Acme and more.

Sun Basket, Home Chef and Takeout Kit (international meals for those wanting more variety) are now being offered in Walmart. Walmart introduced their own meal kits in 2018 available in stores and their online grocery pickup, ranging from more ready-to-eat options to quick meals requiring more preparation. Walmart has also partnered with Gobble kits that sell exclusively online. Weight Watchers is also launching a meal kit service available in store.

Prep+Pared, Kroger’s in-house meal kit could lead as a growing trend. Kroger also features Home Chef which can be delivered right to door or picked up in store.
The opportunity for retailers Currently only 22% of shoppers have tried meal kits, but the interest is high right now: More than 30 million households say they would consider trying a meal kit in the next six months. Not surprisingly, health-minded millennials are keen on kits; FMI reports that this experimental cooking at home is especially intriguing for those between the ages of 25 and 44 with higher household incomes and living in primarily urban environments (4). And 51% of shoppers are interested in their primary store offering a meal kit version of their own (4).

That said, consumers aren’t always happy with what the big players are offering. “The meal kit market is highly dynamic and prone to fluctuations, with the top meal kit providers falling in and out of favor since their introduction in the past few years,” says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. Further complicating things, he adds, is the expectation that market expansion will be much more reliant on alternative purchase venues—such as one-time orders and in-store sales or online-ordering—than on the traditional subscription delivery model (1). Indeed, studies have shown that consumers may be wary of subscriptions for fear of being “locked down” to a service. In light of this and the cost it takes to acquire customers, market leaders HelloFresh and Blue Apron hold on to only a fraction of their customers for more than six months (2).

This can be good news for retailers who may be concerned about direct-to-consumer subscription meal kits potentially drawing business away from them. Retailers can offer one-time in-store sales or online-ordering—all of which are suited to smaller businesses that can more quickly adapt to their consumers’ interests and needs. What’s more, purchasing at a local store means kits are less expensive and don’t require a subscription, which is appealing to consumers who may feel less pressured when they are able to buy one meal kit at a time to test out their preferences.

Resources for success Since meal kits may be less accessible to independent retailers, programs are emerging to help with the process and competition. iGrabit, an artificial intelligence-powered personal grocery shopping assistant, is launching a meal kit program to help independent grocers compete online. In addition to this program, iGrabit features home refrigerator and pantry tracking and grocery list-sharing. Founder and CEO Prem Balwani says he wants to help independent grocers join the ecommerce revolution. “We not only want to help independent grocers compete with the e-commerce grocery giants in general,” he notes, “we also want to find ways to assist them in getting into new, potentially cutting-edge categories like meal kits.”

The iGrabit program initially is being rolled out in Florida and Georgia in partnership with meal kit maker and distributor Strong Foods, which will offer a selection of meal kits that grocers can feature and offer for sale on their iGrabit digital storefront and in-store. The company is looking to bring other meal kit providers on board as well. “We plan to take a targeted, regional approach, using chefs and purveyors from local markets to create meal kits that serve the needs of independent grocers’ specific market regions,” Balwani says. “In talking with independents about the program, we concluded this approach will provide a real competitive advantage to our grocer-partners.” This technology is exciting in a time where independents are flourishing and can compete alongside larger chains.

For smaller retailers who are unable to distribute meal kits in-store, there is still an opportunity here. Debra Stark of Debra’s Natural Gourmet, Concord, MA, teaches customers different ways they can create a “ta-da dish” without breaking the bank. She shares healthy recipes with customers in newsletters and encourages them to follow along. Only having a 3,200 square-foot-store with a 200-square-foot kitchen, she supplements traditional meal kits with these tips and helps customers achieve a similar outcome with quick, healthy dishes.

This approach gives retailers the advantage of personalizing and offering that human interaction that many consumers seek, and it helps educate consumers on delicious ways to make use of the bounty of fresh ingredients available for purchase. If given guidance, shelf talkers or even recipes, customers will be more likely to want to fill their bags with good-for-you ingredients and create a healthy from-scratch meal.

Whether you are able to incorporate meal kits into your store or not, you can cater to those customers seeking convenience with healthy, quick recipes. As an industry, we can continue to watch the newest exciting trends unfold and see how meal kits and technology develop further. WF
References: 1. Statista, “Value of the fresh-food meal-kit delivery service market in the United States from 2016 to 2022 (in billion U.S. dollars),” 2. Packaged Facts, “Meal Kits: Trend and Opportunities in the U.S., 3rd Edition,” 3. Stein, Rick, “What Do We Know About The Meal Kit Consumer?” 4. Wells, Jeff, “Albertsons: 80% of customers want meal kits in store,”—albertsons-80-of-customers-want-meal-kits-in-store/534038/