Chef’d, the producer of chef-designed meal kits, is coming back to life, a week after it shut down and laid off its employees. And it’s going to try a new focus that seems to fit better with where American diners are headed. Instead of selling its kits online, it will focus on grocery stores and other retail outlets.
Chef’d was purchased on Wednesday by True Food Innovations, run by the investor Alan True, who is based in Newport Beach, California.
True Food already has its own meal kit operation, called True Food. Its kits are sold in some Costco stores and Basha’s grocery stores in Arizona.
“We believe the retail channel will continue to grow and we will concentrate our efforts on that portion of the Chef’d business,” Robert Jones, the president of True Chef, said in a statement. Jones used to be with Chef’d as well as KPMG’s Global Strategies partnership.
Chef’d was supposed to be an upscale twist on the meal-kit business, hoping it could set itself apart from competitors like Blue Plate and Hello Fresh, as well as dozens of other competitors trying to enter the crowded niche. Calling itself “the first and only meal store,” Chef’d touted a lineup of participating chefs, including entrepreneur Wolfgang Puck, cake master Duff Goldman and Virginia Willis, the cookbook author who focuses on Southern dishes.
Chef’d allowed customers to order its kits in different sizes, with meals for two or for four. However, Blue Plate and Hello Fresh offered aggressive competition, with free box offers and other deals, plus ubiquitous web and social media advertising.
But last week, Chef’d suspended operations, laying off about 350 employees. In addition to its home base in El Segundo, California, it has warehouses in Los Angeles and New York. It supplies about 25 retail customers, including Walgreen’s and Duane Reade drug stores in New York City, and has about 200 licensing partnerships, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The grocery store effort, rather than home-delivered meal kits, might be more in tune with where American consumers are headed.
“People have become more interested in being involved with their food,” says Susan Schwallie, executive director of food & beverage consumption for the NPD Group. But, they don’t want to spend much time thinking about it, or preparing it, according to NDP’s National Eating Trends surveys.
“The average American doesn’t wake up thinking about what they’ll eat that night,” Schwaillie said last month, at the annual Camp Bacon seminar held by Zingerman’s. “The average person starts deciding at 4:30 pm what they will have for dinner.”
Meanwhile, “for the average American, you are not going to spend much more than 30 minutes for your dinner,” Schwaillie says.
Despite its shift in focus, Chef’d faces plenty of company in the grocery store meal-kit business. A number of home-delivery meal-kit companies are in supermarket aisles, as well as the grocery stores’ own kits.
Even fast food’s Chik-Fil-A has begun testing its own meal kit in Atlanta, offering a box that customers can purchase at its drive-through window, at the counter or via its app. It is planning to sell five different varieties, each in a box with an instruction card and pre-measured ingredients. So, if you do want to cook, but don’t want to dine out, you’re going to have many places vying for your attention.