Acouple years ago, at the dawn of the age of the meal kit phe- nomenon, I received a sample meal kit from one of the origi- nators 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” instruc-
tions 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
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.
TALES FROM THE ASSEMBLY LINE
As the meal kit phenomenon grows, retailers can take simple steps to ensure they stay in the mix.
By Richard Turcsik
Richard Turcsik is executive
editor of Grocery Headquarters