Longo’s has significantly expanded its meal-kit offerings at both the low- and high-end of the category.
The privately-owned chain had been selling “Express” stir-fry meal kits that could be prepared in under 10 minutes, serving two for $10.99. Now the company has added to that line with single-serve, heat-and-eat offerings in tin foil trays. The meals start at $8 and include chicken and steak as well as two vegetarian options.
But at the other end of spectrum, the new “Impress” line has eight meal kits which start at $19.99 and go up to $26.99. “These are a little bit more gourmet and take a little more time to prepare, up to 30 minutes,” said Longo’s vice-president of marketing Alex Green.
There are two vegetarian options and each kit comes with the pre-portioned ingredients and preparation instructions, as well as chefs tips to improve cooking skills. The kits, which are prepared by Longo’s chefs at its central kitchen in Vaughan, just north of Toronto, started appearing in February and have been available at all 32 location as well as for delivery though Grocery Gateway since March 5.
According to NPD Group, meal kits is among the fastest growing food segments in Canada, doubing in size since 2014 to a $120-million industry, with an estimated 600,000 meal kits being delivered each month.
However, according to Nielsen, the Canadian meal-kit market is also relatively small with just 4% of households having bought a meal kit in the last year, compared to 25% in the U.S. But the research also suggests growing interest in affordable meal kit options from local grocery stores. In other words, there is a real opportunity for grocery stores that assemble their own meal kits.
A positive outlook for meal kits is what convinced Longo’s to expand its offerings, said Green. “With our history of making meal kits and our credibility around fresh locally sourced food, we thought there was a great opportunity for us to win the marketplace,” he said. “The big thing for us will be the convenience and the flexibility of the offering.”
The meal-kit options will also change over time. “Our plan was to get a good variety into the marketplace quickly and then respond to feedback,” said Green. “Our plan is to refine the recipes that are on the shelf now as well as to launch seasonal recipes.”
And while there have been some concerns expressed about the packaging associated with meal kits, Green pointed out the problem is more acute with subscription/delivery options, though Longo’s is also working to address the problem.
“It does tend to be a somewhat packaging-intensive format,” he said. “We are definitely aware of it, we are sourcing recyclable packaging wherever we can.”
To promote the new meal kits, demonstration teams are in stores two days a week and coupons are being handed out to encourage trial. The meal kits will also be highlighted in fliers and through digital and social advertising and influencer outreach.