Grocery mega-retailer Kroger announced today it is launching ghost kitchens at two of its Kroger retail stores. The kitchens will be done in partnership with delivery-only restaurant service ClusterTruck and provide Kroger customers prepared meals free of delivery fees, according to a press release sent to The Spoon.
Kroger and ClusterTruck have been piloting their partnership since 2019. Through it, ClusterTruck sells its restaurant-quality meals via the Kroger Delivery Kitchen website.
To be clear, the ClusterTruck platform is not a tool for selling meals from other restaurants. Rather, ClusterTruck handles the entire meal delivery process, from conceptualizing a menu to ordering the ingredients, cooking the food, and getting meals into customers’ hands. The company also uses its own proprietary tech stack to update menus and process orders and payments. ClusterTruck, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind. and has a sizable presence around the Midwest, brings this end-to-end delivery concept to the Kroger ghost kitchens. The ClusterTruck menu will be available via the Kroger Kitchen Delivery site.
According to today’s press release, the new concept repurposes roughly 1,000 square feet at each store (a typical Kroger store is about 160,000 square feet). This repurposed space will be dedicated to ClusterTruck staff, who will prepare meals for delivery and in-store pickup.
In theory, at least, that means Kroger would not have to rely on third-party delivery services like DoorDash and Postmates for any part of the delivery process for these ghost kitchens. Interestingly, this comes at a time when some of those third-party delivery services are trying to diversify their platform by offering grocery delivery.
For Kroger’s two new in-store ghost kitchens, one will be located in Indianapolis and the other in Columbus, Ohio. These will follow an on-premises ghost kitchen already open in Fishers, Ind., and one in Dublin, Ohio, which is set to open later this year.
Today’s news is also another piece of evidence that the lines between grocery store and restaurant are overlapping. In addition to the aforementioned third-party delivery services shuttling some grocery orders to customers, Texas-based chain H-E-B recently opened a food hall that delivers restaurant meals, and grocery service Cheetah added restaurant meals to its available offerings. And though the blurring of the lines between restaurants and groceries is a direct result of the pandemic’s closing restaurants and keeping people at home, the trend is unlikely to reverse, even when restaurants can operate at full capacity once more.
One reason for the continued merging of grocery stores and restaurants is the surging popularity of ghost kitchens. Euromonitor recently predicted that the ghost kitchen market will be worth $1 trillion by 2030. That number factors in not just ghost kitchens for restaurants but also spaces for food producers and retailers. The $1 trillion figure may seem a little absurd now, but if more partnerships like the Kroger-ClusterTruck deal emerge, it may soon seem a less outlandish number and more a reality for both the restaurant and grocery industries.