Putting the kit into kitchen, SA gets trendy
New meal package deals cooking up a storm globally
● Whether it’s a green Thai chicken curry or a Greek leg of lamb, consumers are now unboxing their way to their supper, as convenient meal kits become the latest fad in grocery retailing.
Global retailers have expanded from selling basic food products to offering timestrapped consumers convenient solutions for gourmet home-cooked meals.
Meal kits have become a global phenomenon for people who want preportioned and sometimes partly prepared ingredients along with a recipe to cook a meal at home.
This new market category was traditionally offered on subscription and could only be ordered online.
Now it has made its way into the physical world of retail.
In SA, Shoprite’s Checkers brand is emerging as an early adopter of this alternative way of buying food.
In a 2017 report, research firm Nielsen describes the development as a “small category with big potential” after in-store meal kits raked in $154.6m (about R2.18bn) in the US, up 26.5% on the previous year.
According to the research, retailers identified young families and singles who enjoy cooking and trying new recipes — roughly 44% of US households — as the target market for this food category.
“These households are often strapped for time and could be enticed to purchase with further customisation, for example offering a meal kit with appropriate family portions or exciting new recipes that are also healthy,” the research says.
But in SA, it’s a matter of scalability and how consumers will be able to access this market category.
The Shoprite group said “there will always be room for individual grocery items”.
Locally, online stores such as UCook and The Pantry Box have been ahead of big grocery retailers, becoming well known for their meal kits.
Until Checkers introduced them last month, the local meal-kit category had been developed by regional players and smaller businesses with online order capabilities, delivering the kits to homes.
But with Checkers’s 213-store footprint, limited access to this category of food has become a thing of the past.
Maryla Masojada, CEO at Trade Intelligence, said: “We believe demand for the category is set to grow.” She cited the launch of the Checkers Ready to Chef range and the increased awareness of the benefits of meal kits as a result of Checkers’s national marketing campaign.
“It is early days for meal kits in SA … I doubt it will be long before our other food retailers follow suit with variations on the theme, given the success of the category for global food retail players,” Masojada said.
In 2017, 9% of US consumers bought meal kits either online or in stores, meaning that 10.5-million households were consuming these tailor-made solutions, the Nielsen report says.
Masojada said: “People are realising the value and enjoyment of preparing their own meals, along with the health, organic, local sourcing benefits that many meal-kit service providers bring — meal kits tick a number of boxes.”
She added that the increase in interest in cooking or preparing meals, as opposed to buying ready-to-eat meals, was being driven — particularly among men — by the likes of programmes such as MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules.
I doubt it will be long before our other food retailers follow suit with variations on the theme
CEO at Trade Intelligence
With these trends dictating the spending habits of millennials, retailers have had to change their stripes to meet consumers’ demands.
In the past financial year, Checkers launched 104 new convenience products and continues to expand its range of fresh, convenient and added-value foods.
Last year the retailer introduced its own ready-to-eat meals, following competitors Woolworths and Pick n Pay, which had gained significant traction in the category.
Reflecting on the challenges of introducing a new market category, a spokesperson for the group said: “As with any new product category, educating consumers about meal kits, how it works and what the benefits are, has been the biggest challenge.”
Masojada said the key elements retailers needed to get right were “portion sizes, relevant taste range, price benchmarking and the question of home delivery or pick-up in store”.
SA’s experience has been one of trial and error, with a great number of retailers adopting international practices that may not translate well in a market sharply divided between the haves and the have-nots.
Many retailers already package basic food staples such as rice, maize meal, fish oil and some vegetables.
Masojada said: “For lower-income consumers, meal kits exist, they just show up in a different way.”