Boxed Up

What’s to become of the meal kit?

Cardboard box labeled

Meal kits like HelloFresh—already a thing before the pandemic—became a quarantine darling. (According to JLL’s 2021 Grocer Tracker, HelloFresh made $705 million in the fourth quarter of 2020—a 99 percent increase from 2019.) But the restaurant version, with a mised-for-you meal in a box, well, that was something new entirely. Now that dine-in has returned, will the kits continue?

As with most things, it depends who you ask. Jeff Osaka of Denver’s Osaka Ramen, Sushi-Rama, and the Empire Lounge & Restaurant in Louisville, is on the fence about continuing his ramen kits. “I think [they’re] going to fall off,” he says. “People crave the interaction and experience of dine-in.” But at Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine, which launched At Home With (AHW) shortly after shutdown, brand director Erin Pommer recently surveyed 1,200 customers who had purchased the kits. What she found surprised her: Forty-three percent said they were highly likely to order AHW even when bars and restaurants return to normal. Frasca currently sells about 75 kits (which include a video component from culinary director Eduardo Valle Lobo and tasting notes from master sommelier Bobby Stuckey) a week, with a high of 200 early on.

The takeaway: The changed restaurant experience yields opportunity. “Our mantra for 2021 is, ‘Outside of the four walls,’” Pommer says. “Guests trust us, and we have the trust to do something different.”

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