The Grocer

Meal Kits Should Be Huge But They’ve Proven A Tough Sell

Meal Kits Should Be Huge 
But They’ve Proven A
Tough Sell

It’s December, and there’s a press announcement.  Unilever are launching into Meal Kits.  Sold from an outlet at Waterloo station.  Options include Beef Stroganoff and Thai Chicken.  It’s £6 for one person, £11 for two.  The year?  It’s 2000.

Ever since, companies have come into this space and often fallen out again.  In ambient, for example The Spice Taylor.  In Fresh, with full solutions such as Grubby, the plant-based kit in Tesco.

There are reasons that companies keep trying to get this right.  “What shall we have tonight / this week?” is a question that dispirits many consumers.  They’re bored of the same old meals but lack the energy, inspiration or skill to do something different.  Retailers observe the success of HelloFresh and others – sales have dropped back from late COVID peaks, but they remain significant.

So Sainsbury’s are trying again with Kits, in partnership with SimplyCook.  In some stores this means fully boxed solutions with fresh meat and vegetables plus pastes, oils and sauces.  I’ve been trying some.  They’re pretty good.  What can we learn from them?

First, make kits be different but not too different.  Consumers know how to do their Spaghetti Bolognese and are often happy with that.  So the Kit has to be a bit different.  But let your food developers get too excited, make it too different and it becomes niche.   The Sainsbury’s kits are things like South Asian Inspired Chicken Noodles and Wild Mushroom Penne.   Probably about right.

Second, make kits completely idiot proof.  The subscription companies have mastered this.  Choosing meals and writing instructions that simply cannot go wrong is harder than it might sound.  We humans can be morons.  It’s amazing the ways we find to misunderstand.  I thought that the Sainsbury’s kits were good at this but not quite as good as the subscription boxes.  If you’re going to tell me to separate the white from the green parts of the spring onion, it’s best to tell me when I chop it, not further down the text.

Third, get the price right.  Kits are primarily used as weeknight meal solutions, so they need to be affordable in that context.  Sainsbury’s are charging £7 for two or £9.50 for four.  Probably about right.

Making full solution kits work in store is hard.  Location is a big question – if you are next to Ready Meals in the flow and after fresh Meat and Vegetables, you may have missed your moment.  Product life and wastage are difficult to manage.  Some of the shops where the shopper need is greatest have the least space – think convenience stores near railway stations.

But there’s a reason retailers and food companies keep trying.  We are a consumer-focused industry and there is a clear, widespread consumer need.  So we will keep trying, even though the road to success is full of challenges.

​Jeremy Garlick is a Partner of Insight Traction, consulting with FMCG and Retail companies. He was formerly Head of Insight at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Premier Foods.

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