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Homemade made easy: FreshRealm, Gelson’s, The Fresh Market

For years, a number of trends have converged to create ever-growing demand for fresh meal kits in grocery stores. And retailers and meal kit suppliers don’t see that changing any time soon.

“Consumers are looking for fresh, quality ingredients and convenience when shopping for fresh meal kits,” said Michael Lippold, founder and CEO of meal kit specialist FreshRealm, which helps retailers with their kit programs in addition to shipping meals directly to consumers. “Meals are a way for grocers to take a larger share of the stomach away from restaurants that can add up financially for consumers. Grocers want to add more value to their consumers.”

Health has been one of the main drivers of demand for fresh meal kits at retail, said Tony Phi Dang, executive chef at Southern California retailer Gelson’s.

“It can be easy to fall into a trend of choosing to grab something from a fast food place, which can lead to adverse health effects,” Dang said. “Meal kits allow people to have better quality options while also saving time and money.”

In recent years, Gelson’s approach to meal kits has evolved as tastes and diets have changed, Dang said.

“Today, our meal components have more diverse flavors and also include plant-based options.”

Gelson’s plant-based roasted chickpea garden pasta meal, for example, is delicious on its own or as a side dish, Dang says.

When they’re shopping for meal kits, customers are not only looking for delicious, high-quality options, Dang said. They also want value. “What’s 4 Dinner” and “Dinner 2 Night,” he said, are intended to deliver just that.

Keeping it in-house

All of retailer The Fresh Market’s Market Meal Kits are made fresh in-store daily, said Jeff Earl, the retailer’s director of meat/seafood, merchandising.

“These are delicious, flavorful and ready-to-cook recipes developed by our in-house chefs,” Earl said. “They feed two people and are ready in 20 minutes or less.”

The Fresh Market does all the prepping, planning and packing. All shoppers have to do, Earl said, is pick out their meal and follow the step-by-step instructions on the Market Meal Kit package.

The company’s meal kit lineup has evolved to meet the needs of its customers, Earl said.

“Our guests are looking for a premium restaurant-level experience at a great value.”

Demand for kits is definitely increasing, he added. Shoppers are busier than ever, but they still want nearly effortless meal solutions to create a home cooked meal.

“There’s an incredible sense of fulfillment that comes with serving a meal cooked at home, and we want to offer that feeling to our guests in a way that also creates a sense of ease in their life,” Earl said. “It’s all about inspiring our guests to make every day eating extraordinary.”

The retailer offers nearly 20 varieties of restaurant quality meals, with selection varying by store location.

Options range from Chicken Parm to Thai Coconut Shrimp to Creamy Gorgonzola Steak. Chicken Marsala and Korean Beef Stir Fry are two of the most popular. And more are on the way in the next few months, Earl said.

The Fresh Market also has a line of seasonal Market Meal Kits. On tap for this year: A Bangers & Mash kit for St. Patrick’s Day and a Lamb with Herb Gremolata kit for Easter.

The retailer also offers a revolving weekly Little Big Meal, which is similar to the Market Meal Kits but feeds a family or group of four. Like the Market Meal Kits, the Little Big Meals are assembled fresh in-house each day.

At $25, Little Big Meals offers huge savings when the items are purchased together, Earl said. Coming soon are exciting new recipes through Mix & Match, an offshoot of Little Big Meals that gives Fresh Market customers even more versatility to purchase multiple meals in a week.

The latest addition to The Fresh Market’s meal kit repertoire is a line of kits for select holidays.

“Our guests love our Thanksgiving and Holiday meals for pre-order, but many asked for an option for two people,” Earl said. “We developed our Holiday Turkey Market Meal Kit for 2 that includes Turkey Breast Medallions, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Wild Rice Pilaf, Peppercorn Gravy, Green Beans, Seasoning and Olive Oil.”

The kit was available for ordering in advance or for pickup in stores in the Meal Solutions case.

Meeting all needs

FreshRealm provides an “end-to-end solution” for grocery stores’ meal kit programs, Lippold said.

Say a retailer has some idea of ​​what their customers want when it comes to meal type, cuisine, price point, or cooking experience. They may even have a culinary team working on taste profile.

FreshRealm’s role, Lippold said, is to help make those plans realistic.

“We work on taking ideas and visions and turning them into meals that can hit target price points, meet quality standards, achieve food safety requirements, offer a good cooking experience, and can be manufactured at scale.”

Once those meals are developed, FreshRealm commercializes and manufactures them at one of its five regionally located facilities across the country.

“We are 100% focused on meals and every aspect of what makes a quality meal. Our national infrastructure, our ability to scale, and our expertise in both ready-to-heat and ready-to-cook meals also sets us apart. We also have the unique ability to deliver products to stores and to consumers’ doorsteps via DTC capabilities.”

As the fresh meals category continues to grow, retailers will need “an optimized solution to enter, grow and scale,” Lippold said.

FreshRealm, he says, is building the most sophisticated meals platform to help retailers do just that.

“We believe we’re poised to transform the meal solutions space because we can offer our partners an end-to-end, customizable platform that provides unmatched scale, operational excellence, culinary expertise, and an innovation and development engine to deliver fresh meal solutions .”

This article is an excerpt from the March 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Meal Kits feature and more in the digital edition here.