The grocery industry is no longer just about stocking shelves with essentials; it's utilizing local commercial kitchens in many ways to answer the needs for its customers. This transformation involves a multifaceted approach, encompassing endeavors such as scouting for innovative local products at local farmer’s markets and commercial kitchens, incorporating ghost kitchens into their premises, utilizing local commercial kitchens for their own product development needs (private label and more), sponsoring local commercial kitchens, and inviting customers to in-store events and cooking classes showcasing the latest culinary creations.
What is a Commercial Kitchen?
Retail outlets, while used to external manufacturing for their store and private label brands, may be unfamiliar with these entrepreneurial kitchens. A Commercial Kitchen (also known as a shared use kitchen, kitchen incubator, culinary kitchen etc.) is a place in which individuals or businesses prepare value-added food products and meals, usually paying an hourly or daily rate.
A New Commercial Kitchen Search Tool: The Contract Manufacturing Alliance (a partnership between The Association for Contract Packagers and Manufacturers and Conzumables) recently created a commercial kitchen search tool for entrepreneurs to be able to find the closest kitchen to them (www.CommercialKitchens.org). The CMA team is also helping find new kitchens (recruiting new locations) that fill in the areas where there are no kitchens to be found.
To expand awareness, the Contract Manufacturing Alliance which introduces manufacturing solutions for start-up, emerging and established brands as well as retailers and food service operators. Our solutions include guidance relating to contract manufacturers, private labelers, commercial kitchens, pilot plants and food innovation centers.
Local Product Sourcing: Supermarkets are keen on introducing locally sourced products. Category Managers actively engage with local commercial kitchens and farmer's markets to find unique local products. This local sourcing supports community producers and appeals to sustainability-conscious consumers.
Ghost Kitchens in Stores: Retail leaders like Kroger and Walmart are have been ghost kitchens. These kitchens, similar to commercial ones, focus on meals for delivery or takeout. They might host various virtual restaurant brands. These kitchens offer a range of dishes, from gourmet meals to sushi bars, allowing grocery chains to serve diverse customer preferences.
Ghost Kitchens provide an additional revenue source for grocery chains, supplementing traditional grocery sales with income from prepared foods, catering, and meal kits. More supermarkets will be adding ghost kitchens to their stores as well soon.
Local Kitchens for Product Development: We are starting to see a trend where local supermarket independents and chains are using local commercial kitchens to work out new concepts. These can include new private label products, new menu options for the service deli, new meat department sauces and recipes, bakery department concepts and new ideas for the produce department.
Supermarkets are Creating and Or Sponsoring Commercial Kitchens: Examples include California’s regional grocery chain Raley’s. They embraced Commercial Kitchens in a way that put them in touch directly with entrepreneurs and emerging brands. They recently sponsored the Raley’s Food Lab (https://www.agstart.org/raleysfoodlab.html), a certified food facility where innovators can develop new food products, ingredients and recipes for taste testing, sampling and small-volume sales. Raley’s then provides mentorship and support to help those businesses scale and hopefully sell to retail in the future.
Customer Education with Cooking Classes: Chains like Harmon’s of Utah and Giant Eagle of Pennsylvania host cooking classes and demos in their in-store kitchens. Future plans might involve collaboration with chain-based chefs to refine entrepreneur recipes.
Example of a Commercial Kitchen Chain: The Kitchen Station of Southern California is a prime example of a destination where entrepreneurs make their new products for local farmer’s markets and local supermarkets. Kim Hagaman, the owner of The Kitchen Station (https://thekitchenstation.com/) is hands-on with her clients understanding the extensive list of local supermarkets in the Inland Empire area ideal for their products. These include Jensen’s Markets, Clark’s Nutrition, Goodwin’s, Baron’s and Stater Brothers. Kim's locations include Chino, Murrieta, Temecula, Norco and Palm Springs.
Incorporating Commercial and Ghost Kitchens into grocery chains signifies an industry transformation. It's a strategy that addresses consumer demands and positions grocery chains to excel in a competitive market. By offering quality and diverse culinary options, these chains are evolving into experiential food destinations. As the grocery sector progresses, commercial and ghost kitchens will be instrumental for innovation and meeting customer needs. For more on commercial kitchens, external contract manufacturing, visit the Association for Contract Packagers and Manufacturers’ and the Contract Manufacturing Alliance's websites.