Albertsons, the second-largest grocery chain in the country, has purchased meal kit brand Plated for an estimated $175 to $200 million, TechCrunch reports. It’s the first major acquisition of a meal kit by a grocery chain, representing retail’s growing desire to get in on a part of the $2.2 billion meal kit industry. For meal kit brands — once held up as the ultimate disruptor of traditional the grocery-shopping experience — the acquisition might signal an acknowledgment that not everybody wants groceries delivered to their door.
The New York-based Plated, which launched in 2012, follows the same model as other meal kit brands like Blue Apron and HelloFresh: subscribers receive a box containing recipes and pre-portioned ingredients delivered to their home. But with this acquisition, Alberstons will offer Plated meal kits at its nearly 2,300 U.S. locations (which also includes the Safeway chain), in addition to the usual subscription model. As Plated founder Josh Hix told the Wall Street Journal, that in-store placement means “we no longer have to play the game of just spending money in the media to go out and reach folks. It uniquely positions us in the market.”
Hix has a point. Earlier this year, Blue Apron was the first meal kit brand to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, where its performance has been lackluster at best. But one of the most staggering numbers revealed in Blue Apron’s IPO was the massive costs incurred in the process of attracting new subscribers: The brand spent $144.1 million on marketing in 2016 alone. In-store sales and marketing directly to Albertsons customers could give the Plated brand a boost.
For Albertsons, meanwhile, the acquisition represents an attempt to attract younger customers and stay relevant in the wake of the Amazon-Whole Foods merger, Bloomberg argues. Amazon — which officially acquired Whole Foods in August, then immediately slashed prices at the chain — is also primed to get in on the meal kit game. Kroger, the country’s largest grocery chain, is experimenting with its own designed-in-house meal kits.