- In an effort to win over the growing number of consumers gravitating towards restaurants, takeout and meal kits, supermarkets are turning to value-added services and events, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- Hy-Vee offers meal-prep parties in its store kitchens, while Coborn’s has produce butchers in its stores. Price Chopper stores in New York offer a “choose your own adventure” meal assemblies in their meat departments.
Less successful efforts to win over restaurant and meal kit consumers have included drive-thru windows and sit-down restaurants, according to a retail analyst interviewed by the Journal. Bristol Farms in California, for one, recently shrunk its in-store restaurants down from nine to just two.
In its story, the Journal cites a Harris Poll conducted for Nielsen of just over 2,000 consumers that found 25% had bought a meal kit at least once during the past year.
Figures like this combined with all the media attention meal kits have been getting lately have led supermarkets to conclude that the trend poses a major threat to their business. But other statistics paint a more complex picture. According to research conducted last year by The NPD Group, only 3% of consumers, or 8 million people, have tried meal kit services — and about half of those that have quickly canceled their subscriptions.
As Neil Saunders, retail analytics CEO with Conlumino (now GlobalData) told CNBC: "Meal kits have become more popular over recent years, but their rise has been far from meteoric and they remain a relatively niche part of the food sector.”
This is not to say that meal kits aren’t a threat or a trend worth watching. Rather, it suggests that meal kit services may be having their own difficulties in delivering on consumer demand for unique and convenient meal solutions. All the more reason, then, for supermarkets to try and capitalize on that demand.
In addition to Hy-Vee’s cooking parties and Price Chopper’s “choose your own adventure” meal assembly, H-E-B staffs in-store “cooking coaches” that prepare dishes and let customers taste them, then hand out recipe cards. Giant Eagle, meanwhile, has its own pre-packaged meal kits called “Fresh In: 30.”
What grocers are looking at here is essentially a marketing exercise. They’ve always had the fresh meats, vegetables, spices and seasonings to make meal kit and restaurant-quality meals. They just need to help shoppers put everything together. The programs mentioned in the Journal article are a certainly innovative, but they exist outside of the typical grocery shopping experience, and so consumers may need incentives to get them to try these programs.
Shoppers also need to taste, smell and see the dishes they’ll be making. Telling consumers they can make a delicious chicken marsala is one thing, but showing them what it looks and tastes like through an in-store demo or sampling is something else altogether.