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Meal Kits: Who Will Take Lead of this Rising Category?

With the meal kit market poised to hit $10 billion in 2020, according to statistics portal Statista, consumers are demonstrating that this model is more than just a passing fad. Meal kit spending is rising three times faster than grocery delivery and online grocery shopping, but a clear leader in the meal kit space has yet to emerge. While meal kit brands compete for market share, opportunities are emerging for the services to carve out their own niches and tweak their format to respond to consumer demands.

One such opportunity is presenting itself in the form of retailer meal kits. Removing the commitment component of a subscription service and transforming meal kits into impulse purchases at the grocery store not only diversifies the revenue stream for meal kits, but also allows consumers to try meal kits before they commit. Depending on the retailer, the average cost of the meal kits can be much less than a subscription service—and the items included are often fresher than those that spend extra days in transit.

Recent acquisitions, including Kroger’s acquiring Home Chef and Albertsons’ acquiring Plated both in the last year, support the promise of upward potential for meal kits in the retail space. These acquisitions follow 2017 Nielsen data showing year-over-year growth of more than 26 percent for in-store meal kits, while center-store sales dipped 0.1 percent.

As trend watchers, at FullTilt Marketing we expect to see increased importance shifting to retail meal kits moving forward. However, the current competitive landscape has the potential to become oversaturated very quickly. In order to emerge as a leader within this space, contenders will literally need to think outside the box to engage with consumers and build brand loyalty.

Meal kit spending is rising three times faster than grocery delivery and online grocery shopping, but a clear leader in the meal kit space has yet to emerge.

Consumers who choose meal kits say they do so for the increased convenience within their busy schedules, but also to mix up their mealtime routines and gain exposure to new types of food. Increased exposure to new foods is a win for the producers and suppliers as it creates opportunities for brands to engage and educate new audiences.

We know that current meal kit purchasers tend to be young, highly educated, high-income, and urban, which aligns with the demographics more likely to choose organic produce and more willing to spend money on brands that share their values. While all signs point to continued success within this demographic, entering the retail space gives meal kit providers the opportunity to target new demographics where the subscription model hasn’t proven as successful.

Publix and Walmart, for example, offer meal kits with much of the prep work completed for a fraction of typical subscription prices. Kroger, on the other hand, places their Home Chef meal kits adjacent to a chef demonstration that draws shoppers in with tantalizing sights and smells. Shoppers can then choose an impulse purchase of the kit or the immediate gratification of chef-prepared takeout. More and more, we see the the deli format expanding with prepared foods and offering options for consumers who make mealtime decisions after they’ve entered the store. The growth of the meal kit is a natural extension of the success in this arena.

Where do meal kits go from here? The industry is relatively nascent, and while the market develops it isn’t surprising to see players emerging in niche markets like vegan, paleo, and keto meal kits, as well as kits focused on meat or premium ingredients. What remains to be seen, however, is how in-store meal kits will differentiate themselves and become more than just an in-store pickup version of their online counterparts. Or, the ironic Blockbuster to the online meal kits’ Netflix.

In order to emerge as a leader within [the meal kit] space, contenders will literally need to think outside the box to engage with consumers and build brand loyalty.

In-store meal kits have the benefit of the impulse buy, to be sure, but they can also respond more directly to widespread menu trends in a way that was once reserved for restaurants. From #MeatlessMonday to #TacoTuesday and of course #KaleYeah, in-store meal kits have a unique platform to monitor and respond to consumer interests. Pair that with customer data mining and purchase history, and on an aggregate scale retailers are positioned to offer unique and on-point recommendations to their shoppers. Envisioning a world where shoppers can pick from a list of recommended meal kits online, customize their kit, then pick up in store? You may not be far off.

How do meal kits create new opportunities for suppliers? FullTilt Marketing conducts annual food trend surveys with industry bloggers, and our most recent results for 2019 demonstrate an increasing value placed on authenticity and transparency. This isn’t news. Consumers have been hungry for the real stories behind their food for years. Meal kits are an excellent opportunity for suppliers to gain new audiences as consumers are introduced to new produce items, but it will take more than a killer recipe and fresh product to make an impact.

Brands that know how to tell their stories and can share their values—whether in the form of literature included in meal kits, videos, or even playlists to enjoy while cooking—are poised for success in the competitive meal kit landscape.

The meal kit movement is young, and much remains to be seen. Many players have struggled to become profitable, but with the backing of major retailers we will likely see a surge in experimentation, further definition of categories, and new tactics for engaging consumers in meaningful ways. Now is the time to get ahead of the curve, think outside the box, and position your brand for success.

 


As a transplant from the tech industry to the colorful world of fresh produce, Jodi Hogerton bridges two worlds that increasingly overlap. At FullTilt Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in fresh produce, Jodi focuses on emerging trends, storytelling, branding, and multi-channel engagement. She carries that love for fruits and vegetables over into her spare time; Jodi loves to cook and couldn’t live without leafy greens, beets, and limes.