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Walmart's Blue Apron is one of the top brands in the meal kit market. Others include HelloFresh, Home Chef, and Sunbasket.

Supermarkets capitalize on meal kit craze

The deli category has been riding a wave

Meal kits have been in demand at supermarket delis since the early days of the pandemic, but now recent data from Statista indicates that the U.S. market will exceed more than $10 billion by 2024, compared to just $6.9 billion in 2021.

And studies have shown that those aged 18-34 consider meal kits as part of their weekly grocery routine, so the numbers aren’t expected to decrease anytime soon.

“Supermarkets recognize the opportunity meal kits provide, as most people are eager to find ways to ease the stress in their life, food preparation included,” said Nihal Advani, CEO of QualSights, a consumer insights platform. “The pandemic kickstarted meal kit popularity when shoppers’ ability to dine out was restricted. And now a huge portion of the population recognizes the value the kits offer.”

Whitney Atkins, vice president of marketing for the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, noted that consumers also value personalization — another element that plays into the meal kit popularity. Ideal personalized options include those with a focus on paleo/keto, busy lifestyles, and healthy at-home options.

A recent trends piece from IDDBA indicated that, perhaps unsurprisingly, as life’s hecticness resumed following the pandemic, the eternal battle between time, convenience and money has intensified.

“This has resulted in very complex consumption and shopping patterns,” said Atkins. “We see the same household take to scratch cooking one day and value-added or deli solutions the next.

We see ultra-premium and pure value items in the same basket. We see consumers switch seamlessly between quick frozen meal solutions or fresh meal kits and spending hours on cooking meat on the smoker.”

“There is no one-size-fits-all way to handle inflationary pressures in 2022,” she said.


An evolution

Meal kits have also trended towards more diverse foods, a move which has only added to the category’s growth. 

Christine Andrews, director of retail North America at NSF International, noted that, since the pandemic, meal kits now target a variety of different lifestyles and dietary needs, including vegan, gluten-free, pescatarian and more.

QualSights CEO Advani added that meal kits have become more creative as the concept becomes more familiar.

“Meal kit creators are exploring different pairings and seasonal themed dishes that were not previously offered,” he said. “A major element that’s shifted is affordability. Before the pandemic, many consumers viewed the meal kit option as a luxury with a premium price tag. Now, meal kits are for everyone. They are cheaper per serving than you’d pay at many fast-food establishments.”

The kits are also more ubiquitous, Advani added.

“It’s become a staple offering of virtually any store that sells food,” he said. “I’m even seeing it in Walgreens around the city. Pre-pandemic, I can’t imagine that being the case.”   


Partnering up

For many consumers, hearing the term “meal kits” suggests the subscription-based food delivery model where a company sends customers pre-portioned ingredients and recipes to prepare meals at home.

Some supermarket chains have either acquired or partnered with third-party meal kit programs, allowing them to leverage product expertise and even brand recognition to sell the kits to their consumer base. Earlier this summer, Blue Apron launched single-purchase multi-serving meal kits and ready-made “Heat & Eat” meals at Walmart, and in October, Kroger rolled out co-branded meal kits with TV chef Rachael Ray.

Supermarkets have also been leaning into delivery when it comes to selling their own meal kits.

“One new development is that many supermarkets now design and offer meal kits as part of their home delivery services,” said Andrews, of NSF International. “Offering this service via home delivery provides the convenience of a meal kit without the associated subscription, which can be seen as more palatable to the consumer.”

Mark Saylor, senior brand manager at organic chicken producer Farmer Focus, sees an opportunity to work with retailers to help educate consumers in better understanding of the various claims-based marketing they encounter throughout the grocery shopping experience.

“For example, retailers can work to provide consumers with meal kits or in-store bundles that go beyond telling the consumers what to cook but actually selling the products together enabling the consumer to feel success in their everyday cooking,” he said.


Getting eyes on the prize

Supermarkets that do offer meal kits may need to do some savvy marketing to ensure that customers are aware of their existence.

“Whether online or in-store, use prime real estate to spotlight meal kits, like product displays or demos in-store and website banners, email, and social media,” said NSF’s Christine Andrews.

“Consider using promotions such as coupons or weekly discounts to increase interest,” she added. “With the holiday season coming up, take advantage of busy schedules by spotlighting meal kits as a fast, convenient way to prepare fresh meals.”

The everyday grocery store is competing against private labels offering endless options to the modern consumer and in mass quantities, so supermarkets are up against competitive pricing, delivery incentives, niche health concepts, and more.

“Stores can lean into their community demographic knowledge, offer competitive pricing, and may offer what others lack while being known as the dependable alternative right up the street,” Advani said. “What’s more, incentivizing collaboration across store departments will help bring together all of the essential components of the ideal meal kit; produce, meat and pantry items.” 

Meal kits are quickly becoming a staple offering in most stores, with some even attempting to evolve the concept. Most importantly, consumers who were previously dining out with regularity are now embracing home eating, and that’s where the meal kit wins the day.





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