Retail Foodservice

As the Meal Kit Turns: The Latest Evolution

Evolving market finds more retailers are getting into the pre-portioned act

Like ready-to-prepare ingredients and components, meal kits tend to change with evolving tastes. After much ballyhoo, the subscriber-based meal kit marketplace continues to shake out, and more grocers are picking up on demand to provide meal kits to their convenience-minded shoppers.

As a testament to the shifts, one of the most well-known meal kit providers, Blue Apron, announced its intent to to offer kits in physical stores by the end of 2018, as subscription retention remains a challenge to further growth on that end of the business. "This new multichannel offering will make our brand more accessible to homes across the country," a Blue Apron spokeswoman told CNBC News in March.

Also this month, Walmart announced plans to offer meal kits in 2,000 more stores this year. Billed as an affordable alternative to subscription meal kits and those offered by higher-end grocers (with a price point of $8 to $15 for a meal for two), the products are also available through Walmart’s online grocery pickup service.

Walmart’s initial preportioned meal kit varieties include Steak Dijon, Basil Garlic Chicken, Sweet Chili Chicken Stir Fry and Pork Florentine. “These delicious meals give the best or worst of cooks a fresh, easy option for dinner tonight or later this week,” said Tyler Lehr, SVP and general merchandise manager for Walmart’s U.S. deli services group. In addition to its new in-store meal kits, Walmart is also offering an expanded assortment of meals and other specialty food items, including farm fresh crates and snack boxes, online.

Meanwhile, as big brands such as Walmart, Blue Apron, Amazon and Martha Stewart have adapted to the meal kit market, the quick pace of change is evident in other grocers that have added or expanded their own in-store meal kit offerings.

Louisiana-based Rouses Markets, for example, recently launched store-branded meal kits in several locations, with options such as Lemon Pepper Salmon with Kale and Beet Salad and Chicken with Greek Orzo Pasta, among others. ShopRite also got into the act with a new line of multicultural meal kits available in select stores within the retailer’s six-state trading area.

While there is some back and forth on how to best prepare, present and merchandise meal kits in grocery stores, they aren’t going the way of the TV dinner anytime soon. According to a report released in March by Nielsen, in-store meal kits racked up $154.6 million in sales in 2017, a growth rate of more than 26% over the previous year. The Nielsen study also found that 10.5 million American households have purchased a meal kit in the past year.

Come to think of it, perhaps meal kits are the mid-2010s version of the TV dinner—just with better ingredients and a different mobile, digital society.

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