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In an industry where delivery is the topic du jour, this might sound counter-intuitive. But brick and mortar grocery stores could be the future of meal kits. 

Jillian Kramer
March 22, 2018

It’s no secret that meal kits are a tricky business. Take, for example, Blue Apron, which experienced one of the worst IPOs in history when the company went public in June. Even though these services promise to make cooking easier and affordable, some have struggled with customer retention. (As the old adage goes, "teach a man to fish...) But now, two meal kit companies have concocted one possible solution to reaching more customers, and it's something we didn't see coming: Blue Apron and Chef’d have announced they’ll make meal kits available in stores.

Food Navigator reports that Chef’d has opened a multi-million-dollar facility where it will produce meal kits made for grocery stores—with its SVP Sean Butler telling the website that, “meal kits in-store are likely to become a top growing category in 2018 for all retail grocery.” Indeed, last week Blue Apron suggested it may start to sell its meal kits online and in grocery stores nationwide by the end of this year.

Chef’d is already selling meal kits in about 300 grocery stores, according to the Food Navigator report, which lists Costco, Hy-Vee, and Food Lion as some of its partners.

Chef’d has plans to expand its offerings, and is focusing on the placement of its meal kits in stores; its heart is set on seeing its kits at the front of stores, where shoppers have yet to begin collecting their produce. (If kits are placed at the back of stores, Chef’d argues, customers will likely have completed their shopping by the time they spot the kits and would be unwilling to put all that food back to make a swap—even for something that could make cooking easier.) Chef’d is also working to develop a same-day delivery option for people who order online or prefer to buy in stores.

We’ve tried our fair share of meal kits in the past, including giants Blue Apron and HelloFresh. The meals were, as promised, delicious—and both opened our eyes to new ways of cooking, such as using beets to create a pasta sauce and miniaturizing meatloaf into individually-sized patties.

But one holdup, admittedly, was cost: In some cases, the kits are a more affordable option than eating out, but they're not always more affordable than buying groceries. Blue Apron’s two-person plans start at $52 per week for two recipes (four meals total) that don’t make enough for leftovers, for example. HelloFresh is slightly less expensive, with two-person plans starting at $7.99 per serving—when you order two recipes per week. And one Chef’d meal for two people starts at about $20.

Even if you can get around the cost, however, it can be tough to come home from a long day of work to cook a meal that won’t even make enough for lunch leftovers tomorrow.

Of course, for people without the time to go grocery shopping but who do want to cook healthful, wholesome meals at home, these meal kit services can be a gamechanger. But that poses the question: If taking the burden of grocery shopping out of the equation is part of the appeal, then where does that leave this new strategy of in-store sales? The answer, Butler says, is that Chef'd isn't looking at it as an either-or scenario. "It's not about one or the other, but both," he says. "Chef'd wants to have options for consumers wherever and whenever they want to shop."