Family Meals To Go | NACS Online – Magazine – Past Issues – 2015 – December 2015
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Family Meals To Go

Time-starved customers can turn to their local Square One Markets convenience store for a quick, healthy meal.

​By Chris Blasinsky

Meal delivery services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are helping Americans set their dinner table with fresh, healthy meal solutions. Ranging anywhere from $60 to $80 for two to four servings, these subscription-based meal services deliver ingredients and recipes for both beginner and expert home cooks.

But what if you could provide your customers with a dinner kit that included all the ingredients for a healthy meal on the way home from work, the gym or soccer practice? That’s what Square One Markets set out to do through a 10-week pilot launched late September. The test brought The Six O’Clock Scramble Fresh & Fast Family Dinner Kits to convenience store customers at the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based retailer.

The all-in-one meal kits, complete with ingredients and recipe cards, contain everything time-stressed families need to prepare a fast and fresh meal. The dinner kits sell for around $20 and are designed to feed a family of four. So at $5 per person, the kits are less than half the price of meal delivery services, and without the packaging waste and carbon footprint of shipping.

To build awareness about its new dinner kit offer, Square One Markets hosted cooking demonstrations and recipe sampling. A new meal was offered each week and customers were surveyed to determine which meals worked best, and why.

“Our customers are excited to be part of this pilot test and look forward to redefining convenience with these meal solutions,” said Square One Markets CEO Lisa Dell’Alba at the pilot’s launch. “It makes so much sense to create this program for drivers already fueling up.”

Aviva Goldfarb, CEO of The Six O’Clock Scramble, cookbook author and Today show contributor, said that her company’s dinner kits allow families to recapture traditional family dinners, and do it in a nutritious fashion. “As more families have two working parents and busy schedules, it can be a challenge to plan for healthy meals, let alone make an extra stop to purchase the ingredients,” she said.

According to a NACS consumer study conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, families say the biggest factors that keep them from cooking a meal together are busy schedules (43%) and fatigue from their day (31%)—key obstacles Square One Markets would like to overcome. The NACS study also found a demand for meal kits, with 85% of weekly convenience store shoppers indicating they would purchase a dinner meal kit.

“The evening hours are when families stress about dinner preparation plans. This evening rush is also the most popular time to buy gasoline. This is a great way to combine two trips into one,” said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives.

Testing…1-2-3
Square One Markets tested the concept at one of its nine locations, selecting a store that also had curbside customer service, where store employees pump gas and customers can order in-store items to be delivered at the pump while they wait (see the June 2015 NACS Magazine).

The pilot revealed that meal preparation demonstrations and sampling at the store were very important to building interest and awareness. And interestingly, male shoppers purchased many of the meal kits to bring home dinner to their families. The test also demonstrated that customers don’t need to meal plan in advance, noted Goldfarb, adding that at the $20 price point for a family of four, the meals are a great alternative to the fast-food drive thru.

While good information was gathered, that’s not to say that the program was without its hiccups. Dell’Alba had to overcome distribution challenges to obtain specific ingredients for the meal kits, as well as the packaging of each kit, a time-intensive process. Merchandising and marketing a new concept that consumers aren’t expecting to find in a c-store environment also presented challenges.

As convenience stores continue to seek ways to grow the dinner occasion, the meal kit concept may prove to be another option to serve harried consumers on the go.

Chris Blasinsky is the NACS director of editorial projects. She can be reached at cblasinsky@nacsonline.com.