Commentary

What's For Dinner? Retailers Have A Better Answer Than D2C Brands

It’s 4 p.m., and about 85% of us are caught in the angsty haze of consumer decision-making. We’re hungry and have no idea what we’re having for dinner.

Given America’s general inability to handle this daily dilemma, meal kits should have been a smash hit. And they still might be. But new research from NPD Group confirms what my growling stomach has been telling me all along: While direct-to-consumer brands may have been first with this product, grocery stores now provide meal solutions that exceed what online providers offer in terms of cost, taste and convenience.

NPD’s research comes amid supersized shifts in how people eat. Since the recession, we’ve decided to eat out less frequently and order in far more often, whether it’s takeout from Grubhub or a grocery order from Peapod. Cooking at home is rising, with about 82% of U.S. meals prepared at home last year, up 2% from a decade ago.

But cooking is a chore that generates more stress than joy. Only 10% of Americans like to cook, a percentage that has fallen by about a third in the last 15 years, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review. And 45% say they hate cooking.

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Toss those stats with a growing portion of health worries -- 95% of us say we want to eat healthier -- then season with moderate amounts of guilt -- 39% of us feel terrible about wasting food. Theoretically, this should turn into a steaming kettle of opportunity.

“Meal kits are here to stay,” says Darren Seifer, NPD food industry analyst, with 93 million adults saying that while they haven’t tried a meal kit yet, they are interested. These prepackaged meal solutions are especially intriguing to millennials, families with kids and higher-income people.

Right now, the kits’ appeal is higher among those with younger children (13 and under) and higher incomes, he tells MediaPost. “When we ask these consumers what they would have done if they hadn’t used a meal kit, they say they would have made something from what it is already in their pantry.”

While Seifer thinks the bubble may be about to burst in the crowded meal-kit subscription field, he sees plenty of possibilities as grocery stores jump into the breach. Some of the D2C brands, such as Plated, are available in brick-and-mortar stores and through ecommerce sites, and many grocers are experimenting with their own versions.

“What consumers are seeking is solutions,” he says. Retailers, who already sell consumers almost most of their food, are in a unique position to help.

“'What’s for dinner?’ is a really stressful question a lot of the time,” he says. “Consumers will appreciate anything retailers can do to make it easier and more convenient.”

And as a woman who has spent what feels like decades of her life wandering through supermarkets, wondering what the hell to feed those hungry people at home, that’s the best idea I’ve heard since … well, since my supermarket started stocking bananas in the cereal aisle.

As Amazon weighs opening grocery stores and traditional chains experiment with new formats, the meal-kit winners will be those who understand that I don’t usually want to dig up a pot roast recipe,  hunt through the aisles for Himalayan salt or pay $4 for chervil sprigs that will die a sad death in my fridge.

My needs are simple. Please, just tell me what’s for dinner

1 comment about "What's For Dinner? Retailers Have A Better Answer Than D2C Brands".
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  1. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, March 18, 2019 at 2:29 p.m.

    I’m often tempted to Google “what’s for dinner” although I know I’ll never actually “get it done.” Yes, meal kits should be a “steaming kettle of opportunity.” I tried one for a couple of weeks. Too much food for two people and, gotta admit, I like to shop for groceries when I have time!

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