A couple weeks ago, college was the latest potential growth market for ghost kitchens. Today, it’s big-box retailers like Walmart.
Recently an Ontario, Canada-based company called Ghost Kitchens launched its first-ever location inside a Walmart store in the city of St. Catherine’s. It’s not the first-ever ghost kitchen concept from the company, but it is Ghost Kitchens’ first time to operate from within the four walls of a major retailer. And it further blurs the lines between the restaurant, the grocery store, and the convenience mart.
Ghost Kitchens’ facilities carry a variety of items, all of which are relatively easy to prep and transport to customers. Those include CPG goods like Ben&Jerry’s ice creams, meals from QSRs like Salad Works, and shopping mall standards like Cinnabon. Customers can order these items through certain third-party delivery platforms or pick them up inside at the Walmart in which the facility is located. Additionally, customers can bundle different items from different brands into a single ticket.
And speaking of bundling, the Ghost Kitchens-Walmart deal is another example of a trend brought on by the pandemic but likely to stick around for the long haul: giving customers the option to digitally order multiple different food formats from a single place.
The idea got popular by necessity in 2020, after the pandemic forced restaurants to close dining rooms and businesses resorted to selling their food inventory as groceries to customers as a means of making extra money.
Since that time, ghost kitchens have become a kind of norm in the restaurant biz, digital ordering has increased (and will continue to), food producers everywhere have launched direct-to-consumer e-commerce stores, online grocery shopping has grown, and convenience stores have inked deals with delivery companies. All of those factors have converged to underscore a single point: consumers ideally want to find the majority of their food items, whether it’s a burrito or a bunch of kale, in a single place, literally and digitally speaking.
Ghost Kitchens’ Walmart concept is a bit like a real-life illustration of the above factors coming together, but it’s not the only company helping to blur the lines between the restaurant, the convenience store, and the grocery market. ClusterTruck, a virtual-only restaurant company, operates ghost kitchens inside Kroger stores. H-E-B has a food hall for delivery meals. DoorDash has its own “ghost convenience stores” that are basically like 7-Eleven without the storefront.
Sticking a ghost kitchen inside a Walmart makes sense because Walmart does big grocery business, in addition to selling every other physical object imaginable. It seems like only a matter of time before retailers like Target, Sam’s Club, and others follow suite.
To be clear, this won’t be the territory of high-end, or even sort of high-end meals crafted by chefs. Rather, it’s another example of the ghost kitchen’s ever-evolving role, which will eventually serve much more than the restaurant biz.
Restaurant Tech ‘Round the Web
There are drive-thru lanes, and then there are bike-thru lanes. Dunkin’ unveiled its first-ever version of the latter in Quezon City, Philippines, and has reportedly gotten rave reviews for it. The QSR says it will expand the concept to other Dunkin’ locations in the Philippines.
Yum Brands, parent company of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, acquired AI firm Kvantum for an undisclosed sum. Yum said in a statement the acquisition will allow it to improve its marketing campaigns and data analytics around consumer behaviors.
Many restaurant operators don’t expect to return to “normal business conditions” any time soon, according to new survey data from the National Restaurant Association. Thirty-two percent of operators think it will be 7-12 months, and 29 percent say it will be more than a year. Ten percent say business conditions “will never return to normal for their restaurant.”