The U.S. meal kit delivery market is on track to generate approximately $1.5 billion in sales this year and grow to a multi-billion-dollar market over the next five years, according to a recent report by market research publisher Packaged Facts entitled Meal Kit Delivery Services in the U.S.
And while more than 100 meal kit delivery companies are attempting to differentiate themselves by offering niche categories such as vegan, paleo and even Southern food, restaurant operators are beginning to see the wisdom of offering a grab-n-go meal kit or quick delivery kit that’s prepared by local chefs who consumers know.
Strip House in New York City sells 20 to 30 of its $250 “Steak to Go” kits per week, says corporate chef Michael Vignola. “I had an idea in 2013 to offer weekend steak kits to some of our regulars. These early interactions included me going to the farmers market and making weekend ‘Blue Apron’-type baskets for them (before Blue Apron was around),” says Vignola. “This was wildly successful, especially our Strip House steaks, which were included in them. We took this idea to where it is today, giving our customers the best steaks, seasonings and my pro grilling tips to help them each become the grill master they aspire to be.”
Vignola admits that the kits, which are promoted through the Strip House website and via word of mouth, aren’t easy to put together. “The kits take us a bit of time to prepare,” he says. “Once we source our high-quality meat, we create a deep flavor profile with our secret pepper blend and our signature ‘beef love,’ which is a mix of dry aged fat, rosemary, garlic, pink peppercorns, coffee, whiskey and Coleman’s mustard powder that we render slowly and clarify.”
Vignola’s advice: “Think about what you do well and how you can simplify it for the home cook, without compromising your brand,” he says.
Launched this past June at Dos Caminos in New York City, the Guac’Tailing To Go Kit provides everything a guest needs to make guacamole and margaritas (sans tequila).
“‘Guac’tailing’ was a term that was started by our servers for guests who would lounge around, sometimes for hours, relaxing and snacking on guacamole and margaritas,” says executive chef Ivy Stark. “We wanted to create a way for them to ‘guac’tail’ on the go, and enjoy making it part of their lifestyle, both inside and outside of our restaurants.”
Stark suggests operators listen and cater to their customers. “Rather than working to sell a new concept, sell your customers what they already love; in our case it’s a ‘guac’tail’,” she says.
Belinda Lee, manager of Katie’s Pizza & Pasta in Rock Hill, Mo., is co-owner of a new meal kit company, Vero Pasto, launching later this year. “We decided to start Vero Pasto because we saw a market out there for customers who want fresh, authentic pizza and pasta meals they can make at home,” she says.
New kits will be available each week and will include all the ingredients needed to create pizza or pasta at home, including handmade pizza dough and extruded pasta, along with raw vegetables and other components. “People will be able to order our kits online and will receive all of the ingredients measured with an illustrated instruction card as well as a link to a video demonstration,” says Lee.
Also launching in September of this year is BurgaBox, from the owners of Boston Burger Company. “Meal kits are really taking off and people love our burgers,” says BurgaBox founder and co-owner Chuck Sillari. “People from out of town are always telling us they wish there was a BBC near them; the next best thing is us shipping our burgers to them.”
While Sillari says creating a meal kit program has been fun, he warns against jumping in too fast. “I think only operators who can execute properly should consider meal kits; they’re a totally different world compared to running a restaurant. A lot of testing and tasting go into the creation of every kit. But, if you love making your people happy and can do it right, I say do it. It's great to see people get so excited about what we’re doing.”