Much Ado About Nothing (Part II)

In continuing my rant on the meal assembly industry I will say my comments so far have been mainly directed at the 3 major players in the business. The cookie cutter stores with the Starbucks mentality that having a location on every street corner is a way to increase your brand visibility.

But as we step back for a moment and look at the Independent stores, do we see a difference? At first glance I would have to say no. Same concept, same way to order, same setup, same style of menu, same, same, same. I can’t say this is true for every meal assembly store out there, because I haven’t seen them all. But the few I have seen seem to all follow the same pattern. A dozen or so menu items, some sort of side dish, etc, etc, etc.

So the question still remains, knowing nothing of any meal assembly store, what makes one different from the other? Really the only factor you can use is the food. And not some hype about how “Our customers say our food is the best”, but actually going in and trying it. But, going to half a dozen different places, buying 6 meals and hoping you like them is a pretty big gamble. And if by chance your first two outings don’t meet with your satisfaction, I venture to say the deal is off and you’ll never go back into a place like that again.

If anything, I think the Independent stores have the upper hand here. They can adapt more quickly to the market than a nationwide franchise. They aren’t stifled by the idea of what is available on the East coast must be available on the West coast. They can pick and choose vendor to satisfy a need or a niche. However, I really don’t see them doing that. They seem to plod along in the same food steps as the big chains, trying show the merit of assembling meals ahead of time, convincing people it’s a good thing to do and trying to be just like the “big” stores.

Dare I say the Independent stores should go against the grain and show their individuality. They should be bold and state they’re different, and not just with the cliché notion of fresher food, better customer service, more convenient design. This will just be seen as marketing hype. Something more substantial and tangible such as:

  • The use of organic meats and produce.
  • Use of local growers and markets. The food is grown and sold here.
  • Seasonal and local menu items. Something more than a Thanksgiving or Christmas dish.
  • A soup to nuts approach. Here is the main entrée, here are the side items, here is a desert, and a salad to go with it. We even have the right wine pairing if you’re interested.
  • Experimental dishes created by the local culinary school. May not be available in all places, but in my opinion could certainly build some great relationships.
  • Or even a meal assembly place that specializes in a certain style food.

Something, anything to show some originality!

My point is this; all the meal assembly places look and act the same. If someone says, “Boy, I would love a really good steak”, choices will be thrown out on where to go. Or, “I’m in the mood for some authentic Mexican food”, you will get an answer. People will throw out, “Go here and try this! It’s fantastic!” “Or this place has the best…”

You can’t say people are saying that about the meal assembly industry. There might be some favorites people point out, but very rarely will someone say “You have to go here!” I’m sure it happens, but not to the same degree or with the same enthusiasm.

For example, when discussing the crème de la crème of steak places a name jumps to mind. For the best seafood, another name jumps to mind. For this industry that doesn’t happen. There isn’t a brand that has risen above the rest in quality, offerings, etc.

No one has defined themselves. Sure, one store claims to be the originator, another store the innovator and another the leader. But there is no pinnacle, no “King of the hill” as it were. Every store does the same thing that customers seem to be losing interest. Meal assembly stores are becoming nothing but fast food hamburger joints. They’re not bad, but they aren’t great.

This idea hit the market like a thunderbolt. It was so new, so convenient, so inspiring, everyone had to check it out. And now that they have, I feel the thrill is gone. Customers have been inundated with stores that look, act and even sound the same. Can someone come up with an original name????

I honestly feel that unless there is a change in the way this business operates, and each store offer the customer something new and different and makes a name for themselves, this industry will disappear as quickly as it appeared.

How is a customer not supposed to have this mentality? I can get the same thing at each store, so I’ll make an appointment sometime tomorrow.

And tomorrow never comes…

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2 Responses to “Much Ado About Nothing (Part II)”

  • URWhatUEat:

    The big three? Dream Dinners, Super Suppers and who?

    My Girlfriends Kitchen, Let’s Dish, Meal Makers . . who exactly are you including in the top 3?

  • Tuckerbox:

    I suppose you have a good point. Upon further reflection, there isn’t really a 3rd major player in the game. I guess that will change from city to city. I guess I had Meal Makers or My Girlfriends Kitchen in that spot since they seem to pop up in an area after the other two stake their claim.

    I still venture to say you will have 3 franchises in your area, but that 3rd one is going to be ever changing and depends on who gets out there first. But from my experience, wherever you have a Dream Dinners you have a Super Suppers, followed by Meal Makers and My Girlfriends Kitchen. But if we talk sheer number of stores, that 3rd place is way down on the list…

    But a very good point…

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