As the meal kit phenomenon grows, retailers can take simple steps to ensure they stay in the mix.
Weis Markets is among the chains creating simple meal solutions for shoppers, in this case, boneless chicken breast, canned green beans and cole slaw mix.
A couple years ago, at the dawn of the age of the meal kit phenomenon, I received a sample meal kit from one of the originators of the concept so I could test it and write about it in this magazine.
My maiden voyage with meal kits began when I got home from work and saw the massive white cardboard box sitting on my porch. I eagerly dragged it through the front door and into the kitchen, where I opened it up and found three meal kits packed in foam, along with several ice packs and easy-to-follow recipe cards. From what I recall, the box contained just about every ingredient I might need, including spices, except for things like cooking oil to brown the meat in. Two of the dishes were relatively easy to make and enjoyable, but the third turned me off.
It was a thin crust pizza topped with butternut squash, onions and goat cheese. Because that one sounded the most appealing to me, I decided to save it for last so I could savor it – and because it had the least perishable ingredients. Thinking it would be easy, I started making it after a long day at around 7:30 p.m., only to discover it was one of the most arduous meals I’ve ever prepared!
For starters, the kit contained whole butternut squash, with “simple” instructions to peel and prep into half-inch-thick slices. However, for someone who had never peeled a butternut squash, it was anything but simple! My potato peeler couldn’t properly penetrate the squash’s hard surface and I had to use a knife. What I thought would be a 1-2-3 task took far more time than I bargained for – and which also explains why I could never be a contestant on Chopped.
Next monster to slay: The instructions stated to stretch the dough and put it on a pizza pan – another thing I did not own – so I opted for a cookie sheet. But as much as I tossed and stretched it, the dough just would not cooperate, and kept retracting into a ball. I finally gave up, threw the ingredients on the mangled dough formation and tossed it into my preheated oven prior to encountering the next snag. Because the dough ended up being thicker than it was supposed to, my “gourmet pizza” took much longer to cook than per the instructions.
I remember finally sitting down to eat at 9:45 and thinking that the pizza was actually delicious. But I was so frustrated I vowed never to use a meal kit again.
Supermarkets can – and should – learn from my lesson. Instead of just selling traditional tomato sauce-and-mozzarella cheese pies, take it one step further by adding ready-to-bake gourmet pizzas in the deli made with unusual ingredients that simply need to be assembled and tossed in the oven – or on the grill.
Then there are the meal kits themselves.
Wegmans does an outstanding job of offering meal kit-themed menu items from a cooler front-and-center in the produce department in the front of the store.
A few Sundays ago, I took a ride out to the country and stopped by a Weis Markets I happened to pass. In the meat department, they had a freestanding cooler set up with a simple meal suggestion: boneless chicken breast, bags of coleslaw mix and cans of private label organic green beans. While the intentions were good, I think Weis could have done a little bit better job by offering printouts of simple recipes on different ways to prepare chicken breast and putting some bottles of slaw dressing out, along with, say, a recipe on how to make coleslaw dressing from scratch.
In the high stakes grocery game, the same old/same old no longer cuts it. To be sure, the price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.