Meal Assembly – A New Marketing Platform for Brands
By Rick Moss
New types of retail store formats pop up all the time, but of the concepts of the past few years claiming to be truly unique, meal assembly centers may actually have a point to make. In a sense taking the middle ground between grocers and restaurants, at meal assembly centers, customers follow simple recipes, putting together pre-cut and per-measured ingredients provided by the center; then bringing the fully assembled meals home for final heating and serving, or to be frozen for later use.
There are social and even educational aspects involved with the center environments that are more akin to cooking classes than food shopping or buying take-out. And based on this week’s announced pairing of Kraft Foods with Illinois-based Dinner by Design, the meal assembly business may demonstrate some interesting brand marketing talents as well.
According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Dinner by Design, which had been using some Kraft products in its recipes all along, approached the company’s food service folks last fall about a collaboration. The meal assembly chain, with 75 franchised outlets around the country, in the deal announced earlier this week, will be paid by Kraft to use the food company’s branded products in its assembly line, including Oreo cookies, Stove Top stuffing and A-1 Steak Sauce. The branded items will also appear on chain menus and in marketing materials. Additionally, couponing to chain customers and product sampling are being considered.
The timing seems right for brands looking for an entry point into the meal assembly business. According to the Easy Meal Prep Association, there are currently over 850 outlets
in the U.S. run by around 300 companies. Industry sales last year were approximately $117 million and the association predicts that figure to approach the $270 million mark by
end of 2006.
Discussion Questions: What is unique or more advantageous about meal assembly that might open new opportunities to brand marketers? Do you see risks
for these businesses becoming over-reliant on brand funding?
Kraft likens the Dinner by Design marketing opportunity to co-branding methods traditionally used in food service, such as the inclusion of Oreos in Dairy
Queen and Sonic menu items and Kraft Mac & Cheese at Bob Evans restaurants.
However, there appears to be a fair amount of creative thinking going into this new type of collaboration. For instance, a spokesperson described how Kraft
may provide the chain with samples of test products, a new cheese blend, for instance, that would be both worked into recipes and sent home with customers. Presumably, the feedback
would be beneficial and there would be an opportunity to create some advance buzz on a new product. In this way, the meal assembly companies may augment manufacturers’ own test
kitchens and focus groups, possibly giving a more uninfluenced “read” on a product’s viability in the marketplace.