CHARLESTON, S.C. — A number of supermarkets are lining up at the table for a chance to enter the meals assembly business.
Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. here has reached an agreement with Dream Dinners that will make it the first supermarket chain to bring the meal assembly operator into its stores.
Meanwhile, McCaffrey's Markets, based in Langhorne, Pa., plans to bring a meal assembly center to its upscale Yardley, Pa., store. To be called the Studio Gourmet, the center is under construction, part of a 1,000-square-foot expansion of the store.
“This is another way we can help our guests serve quality meals to their families,” said Piggly Wiggly spokeswoman Rita Postell. “Depending on the meal occasion, Piggly Wiggly can provide them with quality product to make their own, to pick up a freshly made deli meal to go, or now, to be able to help them prepare, in advance, wonderful dishes that can just be heated up and served.”
Piggly Wiggly has signed on as a licensee of Dream Dinners in a 5-year agreement, purchasing rights to use its name and concept. All ingredients used in the operation are provided by Dream Dinners to maintain consistency, said Brenda Watts, director of store development for Snohomish, Wash.-based Dream Dinners.
“We've been very interested in working with grocers for a long time,” Watts said. “Many of them see us as competitors, but we don't see it as that. People are looking for convenience and this is what we wanted to offer them.”
Dream Dinners and Piggly Wiggly are working out the details involved in opening a site at the first store, at the Forest Park location in Columbia, S.C. There are plans to operate the meals program at stores throughout Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. An exact startup date has not been determined, though Watts told SN the operation is expected to be up and running within four to five months.
To participate, consumers will go online to www.dreamdinners.com  to choose up to 14 dinners. The menu changes monthly and prices vary depending on location. Shoppers then schedule an appointment to prepare the meals at a participating Piggly Wiggly store. At the scheduled time, shoppers will go to the store's Dream Dinners section to assemble the meals using the ingredients that have been prepared for them. Shoppers can then take the meals home and freeze them for later use.
Founded in 2002, Dream Dinners is considered the granddaddy of meal assembly centers. The company operates more than 200 franchise stores around the country. Fort Worth, Texas-based Super Suppers and Dinner by Design, based in Grayslake, Ill., are the other leading operators in the fast-growing meal preparation business.
More than 1,000 dinner assembly sites are operating across the country, according to the Easy Meal Prep Association, the industry's trade group. By one estimate, the centers generate close to $300 million in annual sales.