Grocery store chains like Kroger and Albertsons have acquired meal kit companies like HomeChef and Plated, respectively, giving shoppers the option to purchase packaged meals, with their promises of time-saving simplicity. However, industry consultant Brittain Ladd, who works with grocery retailers and food companies, believes that consumers are getting tired of the novelty of meal kits.
Does this mean that grocers should forget about offering grocery store meal kits? Not necessarily. Ladd says that shoppers are "looking for healthy meals that need little preparation." In fact, a close cousin of the meal kit is the "heat and eat" (a.k.a. meals to go) meal.
This type of grocery store meal to go definitely fits the bill for requiring little hands-on prep. The meals also use less packaging than the traditional meal kit, which is a common consumer complaint with meal kits.
This article offers 5 tips to consider when offering grocery store meals to go to shoppers.
1. Use Fresh, Healthy Ingredients for Grocery Store Meals (Most of the Time)
Nowadays, even though consumers love to save time, they're less willing to sacrifice their health for quick meals. Meals that are considered "healthy" (according to criteria such as "Dietician's Pick" and "Dieticians Choice") generally keep calories, sodium, and saturated fat below a certain level.
However, it's not necessary for all meals to conform to a dietician's criteria. Some shoppers might be craving indulgence or certain comfort foods, so it's better to offer a balance of both healthy and decadent options.
Tip: For recipe inspiration, look online for popular, highly rated recipes (including Ready. Chef. Go!’s own variety of recipes) and seek input from your in-house dietician or food specialist. Another aspect of choosing recipes is variety. You can experiment with the vegetables, spices, and sauces of various cultures.
Another aspect of preparing intriguing grocery store meals is making sure the food looks fresh, as shoppers will avoid food that looks limp, discolored, or otherwise spoiled. Once the meals to go are displayed, closely monitor them and remove any before they become unsightly. Remove does not necessarily mean “throw-away” as many grocery stores offer clearance or discount prices to reduce food waste. Learn more about discounting flawed or near expiration food from our “5 Things to Learn from Sustainable Grocery Stores” blog post.
2. Presentation and Store Location Are Key
Food industry consultant Bob Goldin says, "Presentation is one of the most important elements of grab-and-go." He also adds that it's important to allow the colors of food to shine through and keep the display cases well-stocked and clean.
Most grocers have found that displaying meals to go in the front part of the store grabs shoppers' attention as they come inside. However, you can also experiment with other areas, such as the deli, fresh meat, or other perimeter areas. Larger stores that have a designated area for prepared foods (e.g., sushi, sandwiches, soups) might find that the meals sell best from there.
3. Offer Grocery Store Meals to Go in Various Serving Sizes and Diets
As each grocery store has a unique demographic, it's also important to observe the meal needs of your shoppers. For example, in more urban areas, you may find that your meals for singles and couples are a big hit. In the suburbs, family size meals for four or even six might drive sales.
As mentioned above, it's a good idea to have a balance of meals (for example, healthy meals and indulgent meals). The balance should include offering a variety of serving sizes, with the serving sizes that drive sales being the most common, and another aspect of choosing recipes is variety. Give shoppers choices like vegetarian, gluten-free, low-carb, or Paleo meals.
4. Offer Grocery Store Meals for the Holidays
Getting ready for the holidays can be stressful and busy, and that includes preparing food! Help customers out by offering popular holiday sides as meals to go. You could also try offering meals of varying portion sizes with the traditional protein (turkey or ham) along with sides like mashed potatoes or stuffing.
5. Package Prepared Meals in Easy-to-Use Packaging
One advantage that cook-and-eat meals have over meal kits is that they use less packaging and require less cleanup. The simplicity of using a single bag for cooking a meal appeals to both time-pressed and eco-conscious shoppers.
Use packaging that is either compostable or recyclable. Nowadays, it's possible to find these types of sustainable cooking bags and containers that can be used in the microwave, slow cooker, grill, and oven. Shoppers will also appreciate having clear and concise cooking instructions printed on the cooking container.
Offering grocery store meal kits and meals to go involves a lot of moving parts that require careful planning and coordination. Participating in a cooking bag program gives you access to many industry experts who are eager to see you succeed.