Meal kits such as those offered by Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are a booming industry. The kits pair a recipe with pre-portioned and prepped ingredients for the buyer to cook at home. While just nine percent of consumers have tried them so far, another 25 percent of people surveyed by Nielsen said they would consider trying a service within the next six months. That means that 40 million U.S. households have tried or are likely to try meal kits.
While meal kits originated online and still hold two-thirds of the market, the popularity and availability of in-store meal kits are growing rapidly. Large chains are taking notice, with Albertsons acquiring Plated, Costco offering Blue Apron in-store, and Kroger developing its own private label meal kits.
“We did a large study on meal kits,” says Meagan Nelson, associate director with Nielsen Fresh Team. “One of the biggest things we identified is that the concept is actually nothing new. For example, Hamburger Helper has been around forever. The new thing is the fresh concept.”
What makes meal kits so appealing? In a nutshell, they cut down on planning and preparation while still allowing consumers to get a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table. That’s a benefit you can offer without the kit itself. As an IGA retailer, you already have everything you need to offer meal kit alternatives. “You have a million meal kits in the box that is your store already,” says Nelson.
Your million meal kit alternatives already have some advantages over the popular online and chain store kits. Among these advantages, you can offer a better value, a fresher, more local mix of products, a higher level of customization, and familiar, educated staff to guide customers through their options.
Here are four steps for competing with the kit to help customers get one more meal a week on the table during National Family Meals Month.
- Pull it together
You already have all the products you need to create meal kit replacements in your store. They key is to merchandise them together, along with printed recipes and instructions. Nelson recommends an endcap display, ideally partially refrigerated, where you can feature a rotating meal of the week that includes both fresh and shelf-stable ingredients. Display ready-to-cook meats, pre-cut produce, bakery, dairy, and shelf-stable items. You can even include suggested beverage pairings.
“It can be very simple, taking what your shoppers are going to do anyway and making it more convenient for them.” says Nelson. “For example, consider spaghetti and meatballs. Feature meatballs from your deli, jarred spaghetti sauce and boxed pasta, pre-cut salad ingredients along with a small selection of dressings, parmesan cheese, and bread from your bakery.”
- Keep it fresh and local
Home cooks are increasingly interested in plant-forward meals, but many are intimidated by the effort required to choose and prepare produce. This presents a great opportunity to build on IGA’s Local Equals Fresh brand promise, taking fresh and local to a level meal kit companies can’t compete with. “Fresh is going to become more of your store, like it has everywhere,” says Nelson. “Think creatively about how to keep the focus on fresh and local for your customers.”
For example, your display could focus on in-season pre-cut vegetables from local farms when possible. You can then up the convenience factor by prepping produce, especially in ways that require specialized kitchen gadgets your customers might not own, like spiralizing zucchini or sweet potato “noodles.” Add ready-to-cook proteins that complement the produce offered such as fresh burger patties, house-made or local sausages, ready-to-grill kebabs, or even marinated tofu. Fresh bread baked in-store or at a local bakery and sauces or condiments from a local artisan can round out the fresh and local selection.
- Choose a great location
Nelson stresses how crucial the placement of a meal display is. Meal kit customers are looking for, more than anything else, convenience and time-saving. The right location in your store can offer both attributes. “You will want it to be near the entry so your customers will see it before they have already made a lot of other purchase decisions,” she says.
- Spread the word
Target your promotional messages and media to your varied customers. For example, a social media and e-mail campaign for customers who often stop at the store on the way home from work can be scheduled for mid-afternoon to address “the 4 o’clock question.” “It can basically say, ‘Hey, stop at the store to pick up a fresh and fast dinner for tonight.’ Give them the recipe online, and tell them exactly where in the store they find it and how they can customize it,” Nelson says. “The message is, ‘Here’s how we can make your life easier.’”
For customers more likely to make planned trips to the store, tailor an ad to the concept of meal planning ideas when stocking up for the week. Nelson suggests running tests to see which messages and media work best for your store.
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