Albertsons, which sees its acquisition of the meal-kit company Plated as a bridge between the digital and physical food retailing worlds, is moving quickly to span the gap.
In an interview with WGB Thursday, Pat Brown, group VP of merchandising and strategic initiatives for Albertsons, said fast-moving innovations in packaging, recipe development and consumer testing are helping to bring Plated-branded meal kits to more Albertsons-owned retail stores. Now available in 20 Safeway stores in Northern California and another 20 Jewel-Osco stores in Chicago, that number will grow to 60 stores by the end of this month and as many as 650 stores by the end of the year, Brown said.
“From an Albertsons perspective, this is a real opportunity to create a true omnichannel experience with meal kits,” Brown said. “Some customers want it online, some customers want to buy it in the store, some customers want to order through e-commerce, so we had to think about how customers could buy meals kits, however and whenever they want to. It’s become a great opportunity for us to get a product out in multiple channels.”
The store rollout of Plated kits will continue in the NorCal and Jewel-Osco divisions, then expand to Albertsons’ Southern division in Texas, and then to its stores in Southern California.
Next week, Albertsons will add Plated kits to the selection of goods available for online purchase through Albertsons and its Instacart delivery platforms in select stores, Brown said. If that test goes well, the offering would also expand to additional stores quickly, he said.
Albertsons bought Plated in September and was testing kits in stores less than two months later, Brown said. “In the first 30 days after the transaction, we stood up a retail packaging team inside Plated and in the first 60 days we had our first kit in four stores in Northern California," he said. "Until just a couple weeks ago, we were very focused on understanding what the consumer liked about our package and didn’t like about our package and about our recipes.”
Testing during that period indicated Albertsons required a more durable package for the Plated kits than the paper packaging they originally came to stores in. The clear plastic packages now rolling out to stores can better stand up to both the weight of the ingredients and trips to the shelves, shopping carts and delivery vehicles, while also giving shoppers the ability to see products inside them. These were all less of an issue when Plated meals were delivered only by courier in cardboard boxes.
Customer testing also indicated a retail meal-kit offering would benefit from a more consistent product range than the faster-changing and wider varieties available for Plated’s subscription online customers, Brown said.
The lineup of six Plated meals now available in stores will change seasonally “and when consumers tell us to,” Brown said. Like the subscription boxes, they come with preportioned ingredients, providing only what’s needed to cook meals at home, and recipes from Plated’s culinary team, led by Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Elana Karp.
The current lineup includes:
- Crunchy Chicken Milanese with Honey Mustard and Arugula
- Roasted Chicken au Jus with Orzo and Peas
- Beef Noodle Bowls with Dinosaur Kale and Mushrooms
- Steak Frites with Creamy Shallot Sauce and Sauteed Spinach
- Skillet Grandma Pie with Parmesan-Kale Salad
- Pine Nut-Crusted Salmon with Creamy Tomato Farro and Roasted Green Beans
Brown, a former CEO of natural food retailers Mrs. Green’s and New Seasons Markets, and a former operations director for HEB and Central Market, joined Albertsons last year as group VP, overseeing deli, prepared foods, bakery and strategic businesses such as Plated. He is also lending a hand to Albertsons' Intermountain Division as it develops the Market Street Idaho store concept.
“That’s another opportunity for us to take a look at what the shopping experience of the future is going to be,” Brown said.