Despite the amount of text we dedicate to documenting its struggles, there’s still opportunity to be had in the meal kit sector. Grocery stores are selling kits in their aisles, others are integrating them with shoppable recipes, and, in a trend that picked up steam last year thanks to Chick-fil-A, restaurants are starting to sell their own branded kits via mail order.
As far as Chef Meal Kits founder Meg Ginimay is concerned, the restaurant meal kit category is a hugely promising one, especially when you combine it with the concept of a virtual kitchen and offer it to restaurants at a low cost.
Chef Meal Kits operates as a marketplace for restaurants wanting to sell meal kit versions of their popular in-house dishes to customers. Currently the service operates in eight U.S. states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho.
The website currently offers 220 kits for purchase. Customers can filter by things like protein type, diet requirement, or a specific city. You can also, of course, filter by the restaurant itself so long as it’s participating. Most dishes are portioned for between two and four servings. Price varies based on the restaurant, plus shipping costs. Depending on the kit you choose, the price is typically higher than, say, something from HelloFresh. But as Ginimav points out, the goal is to connect customers with “a premium service that [offers] better quality ingredients” and is in some way an extension of the restaurant experience itself.
Unlike many traditional meal kit companies, Chef Meal Kits doesn’t require a subscription to use. Once ordered, Chefs Meal Kit portions out and packs up the ingredients and sends them out, and they arrive at the customer’s door one to two days later. Ginimav says the company is also considering FedEx Air once it has the volume to justify that.
For restaurants, participating in Chef Meal Kits could potentially make extra money and grow a brand without incurring unmanageably high costs in terms of both time and money.
Right now, Chef Meal Kit works with independent restaurants and/or food entrepreneurs. The company connects each restaurant with a consulting chef who helps them choose recipes from their menu (between four and eight), typically, and convert them into a meal kit recipe. From there, Chef Meal Kit takes photos of each dish, creates a restaurant-branded “storefront” on its website, and manages the portioning, packing, and shipping of orders each week. According to Ginimav, the company currently has 300 restaurants signed up to participate on the platform. Around 30 of those are active on the Chef Meal Kit marketplace; the company is in the process of onboarding the others as we speak. And as for larger chain restaurants, Ginimav says they will look into including Cheesecake Factory-level brands “down the line.”
Down the line also includes goals ramping up the virtual kitchen aspect of the operation. Right now, Chef Meal Kit handles all the work in terms of preparing the ingredients for shipment, which it does from its virtual kitchen in San Diego. In future, Ginimav wants to be able to offer restaurants the option to manage this process themselves (and save money doing so) by bringing their own staff to a Chef Meal Kit virtual kitchen. This “self-fulfillment” concept would also work for food entrepreneurs just starting out who perhaps want to test a brand without incurring the risks and costs of doing business with brick and mortar.
“No longer are the days where you have to spend $200,000 to $300,000 minimum to set up a restaurant,” he said, adding that virtual kitchens can be a “very low-cost launchpad for your brand.” He also points out that this future scenario will still be meal kit focused, and that the virtual kitchen spaces will exist for picking and portioning ingredients, not doing any of the actual cooking. The meal kit, Ginimav explains, is its own important arm of the restaurant experience: “Now you have a third option, which is you can cook at home with our meal kit. We’re just trying to be that third option. We’re not trying to replace the others.”