Archive for July, 2007

General observations on the Independent meal assembly industry

I decided to go for a trip on the Internet today, looking at a wide variety of meal assembly stores to see what they had to offer. I’ve made some very general conclusions about my travels and what the different stores offered me.

To start my journey I went over to our friends at Easy Meal Prep and started to randomly click through their list of directory names. I chose only stores that had 1 or 2 locations. I didn’t visit any chain stores. I wanted to see what the innovators were up to.

First off, it’s time to start coming up with some different names for these stores. I think we’ve beaten “Dinner”, “Supper”, “Kitchen” and “Simply” to death! And in the beginning using alliteration for your store name was probably the “In” thing to do, now it’s so over done it almost causes convulsions!

Second, some stores present a very professional and business like store front. They have easy to navigate menus, clear and efficient descriptions, and for some they offer pictures of the meals so you can see what they look like.

Others have chosen to go a different route and display pages that look like they were done by a child. Garish color schemes that look like they came from a template that was part of a web design tool in the $5.99 bin. In all truth some of the sites should never had made it to the web as personal sites let alone something you are trying to run a business from. Site design is paramount for this business and some places need to get with a media design company as soon as possible. At the very least, spend the $50-100 on a decent business template. Some places look so amateur I didn’t even bother to see what was on the menu.

Another strong trend is the use of chicken. There are a lot of chicken recipes out there! Most places stick with the ever popular, but perhaps overused menu of chicken, beef, pork and the now famous, tilapia.

There were a few which deviated, offering their own creations. Some broccoli bakes, stratas, variations of pasta, and some sandwiches and casseroles did show up. True there are only so many variations you can come up with, but some menus looked almost exactly the same from one state to the other. It would have been neat to see some “local color” make its way into the menu.

A great many stores now offer assembly for free and quite a few offered delivery. It also seems quite a few have gone with pick up times to just come in and grab something. This clearly started as a meal assembly business where customers make the meals, but a lot of people are deviating from that plan.

Pretty much everybody uses the same wording to describe their store and how they work. 12 meals, 2 hours, a month of worth of food, we clean up, look at how simple life is. Time for the PR folks to breathe some new life into this one…

  • So what did I learn?
    Some stores have a nice presentation and look very professional, while others look pretty amateurish. It’s fun to let the kids draw pictures for the fridge, not your store.
  • A lot of the stores look the same on the inside, even showing off the famous red and yellow.
  • The menus show a lot of repetition from state to state.
  • The naming scheme for a lot of stores is dreadful. And so many stores sound almost the same.
  • A few have added side items and every now and again you find some desserts.
  • There are a couple of stores which have decided to try their hand at catering. Perhaps hedging bets on whether the meal assembly business will still be around in the not too distant future.
  • A lot of stores have added the options of assembly the meals and having customers just pick them up.

So all in all, it seems like many of the independent stores are just as similar as the major franchises. There are a few which have gone against the grain, but on the whole most are following the same plan.

Again, these are broad generalizations and there are always exceptions.

Dinners Ready Lands In Vancouver, B.C.

Right from the Dinners Ready website:

We are pleased to announce that Dinners Ready will open its first location in Canada. The new Vancouver location is the first international kitchen of our planned expansion. Now our Canadian friends will be able to enjoy restaurant quality meals at an affordable price just as their neighbors to the south do today! We will announce the Grand Opening soon, so stay tuned!

Chefspace also offers the complete package in meal assembly

In continuing my search for stores that offer something different I came across Chef Space which also offers meals assembly from appetizers to desserts. Their offerings include:

Entrées (Pork, Chicken, Pasta, Fish, Beef, Soups, Low Carb and Vegetarian)
Side Dishes (Rice, Corn, Potatoes, and vegetable sides)
Breads (Flatbread, Baguettes, Cinnamon Rolls)
Brunch Items (Hash Brown Strata, French Toast Bake, Rustic Frittata)
Desserts (Pineapple upside down cake, Apple Strudel and Cheesecake)
Appetizers (Ham and Cheese Spirals, Artichoke Dip, Bruschetta)

Another unique item they offer is a “Kids in the Kitchen” kit. It’s a pre-measured set of ingredients with simple instructions the kids can follow and put the meal together themselves. Not a bad way to teach the little ones how to cook and a way for the family to get that little bit of extra time together.

And of course, what kid isn’t going to eat the meal they just helped make?

You can read more about Chef Space and their offerings by going to their website at:

On a completely different note. An impressive store design

On a completely different topic I have to say I was rather taken aback by the design and layout of this Make and Take Gourmet store in New York. The store has an impressive open layout with plenty of room to move around and space for people to gather and chat. It looks to be ideal for Private Parties and the like.

Quite honestly it looks more like a gallery than a meal assembly store. Just for fun you can see more of their store here:

Adding something a little bit different

Let’s Eat have been offering something a little different to their meals for some months now. Back in 2006 they offered sauces and dipping oils to accompany their dinners. The list of offerings has grown and now includes Bruschetta toppings. A few samples include:

Artichoke Parmesan Bruschetta Topping
Sundried Tomato Bruschetta
Tomato Pine Nut Parmesan Pasta Sauce
Raspberry Mustard Dipping Sauce
Sundried Tomato Dipping Oil
Spicy Tuscan Dipping Oil

But in going one step further, Let’s Dish also offers a variety of options to complement the meals such as:

Side items such as bread, salad, rice, vegetables and mashed potatoes
Salad dressings, Bleu Cheese Pecan Balsamic Vinaigrette, Garden Herb Vinaigrette
Hors d’oeuvres, Smoked Chicken Quesadillas, Spanakopita
Deserts, Chocolate Mousse, Key Lime Pie, Cheesecake

They really do seem to be offering the complete package. They are based in Florida so I have no idea how the other sides are offered. I would assume these are pre-made items but I’m not sure what portions you get. (If anyone from the Florida area has visited a Let’s Dish, perhaps they could offer some insight to the rest of us).

And as a final touch, when you look at the menu for the month they even have suggested wines to go with each meal.

Let’s Eat really does seem to be a soup to nuts kind of shot. It’s an interesting blend of meal assembly and gourmet entertaining/party take out.

This franchise certainly seems to have a unique offering to support their menu. I would be very interested to hear from anyone in the Florida area who has been able to pay this store a visit. I would love to hear how it all works and how it turned out.

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