A New Kind of Assembly Line

Discussion
Jul 22, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Too little time and too much to do is becoming the mantra of generations of Americans – especially female heads of households – and a new generation of food businesses have sprung up to help a frazzled nation cope.

A report from the Washington Post says that “meal assembly” businesses, such as Dream Dinners, Let’s Dish!, Dinner My Way and My Girlfriend’s Kitchen, are opening up to save meal preparation time for busy people so that they can spend more time on the important stuff, like sitting down to eat with their families.

The concept behind these businesses is to allow home cooks to assemble prepared raw ingredients for multiple meals and package them for use at home.

Jane Korrow, who prepares meals for her family at Let’s Dish! in Timonium, Md., told the Post she finds the service to be convenient (no shopping, chopping or cleanup) and fun (music, snacks, drinks other mothers to talk to).

Elizabeth Marcotte, owner of a Let’s Dish!, said another advantage is that, unlike buying prepared foods, the assembly concept allows home cooks to “tailor each recipe to your own family. If they don’t like garlic, you can just leave it out.”

Gregory Fairchild, a professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, said these meal assembly ventures are playing to a growing national trend “to reconnect the family around the dinner table.”

Moderator’s Comment: Do you see a continuing demand for the type of meal assembly businesses in the Washington Post report? Do you expect to see
traditional food grocers start their own meal assembly businesses along the line of those described in the Post article?

George Anderson – Moderator

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8 Comments on "A New Kind of Assembly Line"


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David Livingston
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

After reading this discussion and the other one about immigration, I got to thinking how people in other modernized countries with a huge middle class handle meal preparation. If people in Mexico, South Africa, etc were making the same kind of salaries many of us in the USA make, they would hire domestic help to prepare the meals. When you stop to think about what many of us are paying for daycare and meal preparation, if there was enough cheap labor around, maybe we could just hire someone to help us at home. But until that day comes, I see continued growth in the meal preparation business. Take a stroll through the frozen foods department at HEB. Even an idiot like me could put together a nice meal from their expanded private label frozen meal solutions. After I got divorced, I hired a Mexican maid to do my cooking. But then I married her and now she doesn’t feel so obligated to cook for me.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Actually I’d quite like this to be a fad that makes people realise that it isn’t all that hard or time consuming to prepare and cook a meal for the family. And to see the value in encouraging the family to sit down and eat together. Viewed in that way, as a first, gentle step towards reviving shared mealtimes, it can be quite a good thing. On reflection, I suppose the inevitably higher cost is balanced out by reduced wastage and the convenience of having someone else do the initial shopping and preparation. But, once on the right track, perhaps the person doing the cooking (hopefully not always the Mom) will enjoy it enough to move onto the next stage.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 7 months ago
This week we marked the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the TV dinner, the epitome of “meal assembly.” To characterize meal assembly as something new is naive. You want meal assembly? – visit your frozen food aisle. If grocers are not in the “meal assembly” business, in what business are they? That’s where I and everyone I know assembles meals, and have been all our lives. If cutting stuff into itty bitty pieces convenient for tossing together into a gourmet feast worthy of sitting down to, then grocers will do that, too. Precooked or partially cooked? – grocers do that. Complete, balanced meals for the number of diners you choose? – grocers have been doing that for decades. I have a theory: The same multitasking mothers who drive the supposed demand for “meal assembly” are those who put together elaborate homemade lunches for microwaving at work, regularly attend their scrapbooking club meetings, and watch Oprah. Make a meal with all that kitchenware you’ve purchased from Williams-Sonoma, sister, and get some pleasure from filling your… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

I agree with Citrusking. This is a great opportunity for grocers. Some of the comments do not value the social interaction “fun” aspect of these new businesses.

As a comparison, part of the success of big box book stores is the social interaction in the cafe and in the aisles.

neil bourjaily
Guest
neil bourjaily
15 years 7 months ago

What’s the matter? Can’t anyone say anything nice about ventures that solve a lot of problems at the same time: social interaction, fresh food, recipe variety? All I read in the comments are sour grapes. If, as one commentator said, groceries are in the ingredients business, too, then why haven’t they done a better job of connecting to these customers? These ventures provide a service. Grocers are concerned with operational efficiencies. They’re going broke saving money.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 7 months ago

I’m always a little surprised at how afraid many people are of cooking. These services cater to the food-phobic as well as the intensely busy. With all the press about healthy eating and the need to avoid processed food, those who can’t cook, in addition to those who have little time, can take advantage of these services and feel good about what they’re serving their families.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 7 months ago

Given the X, Y and Millennium generations had little experience in seeing grandma, mother, and /or a domestic helper cook meals, these people are prime targets for such assembled meal businesses. Makes sense!

As for soccer mothers, etc., this may be an occasional purchase. Keep in mind, the generations above spend more disposable dollars eating out than any other generation.

Finally, and in general, the supermarket industry has made a very poor effort offering items and/or products in one location, to be considered by these generations, or viewed as assembled products! Hmmmmmmmmm.

Mary Mcc
Guest
Mary Mcc
14 years 11 months ago

I’ve been shopping, prepping and cooking for decades! If I was a richgal, I’d have a personal chef – but I’m not. Meal Assembly has been around for centuries, but to commercialize it is the bomb. I would love to see more independents getting started – the franchise groups are a wee bit boring with the selection & repetition.

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