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Cooking up a Storm

The global pandemic that wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry and shuttered restaurants, some permanently, had one unexpected bright spot: more people started cooking at home and brushing up on their culinary skills. Since people were homebound due to lockdown orders, home cooking became a necessary and popular trend. Social media platforms became rampant with individuals trying out newer recipes and posting pictures of a plethora of home cooked meals.  Restaurants remained closed during periods of lockdown and some found it difficult to even sustain in these trying times.  Work from home policies led many to eat home cooked meals, which they might have otherwise eaten in company cafeterias or at restaurants near their workplaces. Furthermore, supermarkets also struggled to keep their shelves stocked and supply chains experienced disruption making the availability of groceries and pantry staples a challenge. Meanwhile, some individuals completed avoided visits to the supermarkets due to the fear of contracting the virus. In these times, when people shifted to online grocery shopping, the meal kit market also saw a swell in demand for their services. A meal kit is a subscription service model where a company sends customers pre-portioned food ingredients along with the corresponding recipes to prepare home cooked meals.

A report issue by Grand View Research, a U.S.-based market research firm, in June 2020 forecasts that the meal kit sector will grow to $19.9 billion by 2027. Meal kit services may appeal to people during pandemic times because they offer a variety of benefits whilst not requiring consumers to step out of their homes. There are a large variety of subscription options, most of the recipes take only about 30 minutes to cook, they come with fresh, high-quality ingredients and with simple, clear cooking instructions. Menus are available weeks in advance that can enable consumers to plan their family meals and not rely on last-minute restaurant deliveries. Meal kits are designed for different family sizes by portioning the ingredients required for cooking the meal that further reduces the amount of grocery wastage. Moreover, delivery methods for the meal kits are minimal to no-contact which ensures that social distancing norms and sanitization standards are maintained. A few companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, even have their own wine programs so members can pair their weekly meals with a nice bottle of wine. When grocery shopping became increasingly difficult at the start of the pandemic early this year, and supply chain issues threatened the availability of kitchen ingredients, meal kit delivery services jumped in to provide bulk packs of pantry essentials, acting almost like online grocery stores. The pandemic proved a boon to the meal kit industry, reversing a period of slower growth and years of faltering sales. 

However, the pandemic also has brought a new set of competitors from the restaurant sector, where popular restaurants and fast food brands such as Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A and Shake Shack are taking advantage of and experimenting with the meal kit format. Many a times, takeout and delivery aren’t always the best way to enjoy restaurant food. Fried foods might become soggy, dishes with many layers may fall apart, and the food presentation might not always be as appealing as in restaurants. Also, due to the temporary closure of many restaurants, consumers missed eating their favorite dishes. By receiving the individual ingredients in the right proportion, customers can make a hot and fresh meal that’s similar to their favorite dish from a particular restaurant and enjoy it within the comfort of their home. Many restaurants have adopted this trend and are now offering some of their popular items as prepackaged meal kits.

So now the question arises is whether meal kit popularity will last beyond the lockdown or not.

As lockdown norms have relaxed, many consumers have started to eat out at restaurants again. Moreover, these services are expensive than visits to the grocery store because they include the costs of shipping, recipe curation and packaging along with the ingredients. The pandemic has caused individuals to rethink and prioritize how they want to spend their money, and meal kit companies looking to keep their cost conscious customers loyal may need to rethink their strategies to win a permanent place at the dinner tables.

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