But people have to eat

I cringe when I see this phrase and it ranks right up there with people have to live somewhere.

While these may in fact be true statements (except for people who are starving and homeless) I don’t see how you can build a business or justify its existence on such a vague notion. And this statement has been cropping up when it comes to meal assembly for at least a year now.

It seems like when you run out of ideas on why you have a good business idea you whip this little gem out. People do indeed need to eat, but that doesn’t mean you have anything in your stable they want. Meal assembly was considered a non-essential luxury when times were good. Now that we have turned the corner I doubt anyone is even going to consider meal assembly an alternative to eating out no matter how many times you say this and no matter what your survey says. In their minds, now more than ever, they can make it cheaper at home.

They can make how many pounds of spaghetti for $5?
They can make the kids how much macaroni and cheese for $5?
Bulk ground beef for tacos is how much?
Soup and sandwiches will set you back how much?
Breakfast for dinner will put how much of a dent in the checking account?
Peanut butter and jelly is how much again?

That pretty much looks like eating to me and aren’t these meals what kids want to eat anyway? So let’s just have a look here. For $30 I can make everything above to feed the kids for a few days and keep them happy versus spending $20-30 on a single MA meal which will last one night. Are they the best meals? No. Are they exceedingly nutritious? Nope. Will the kids eat them? More than likely, yes. (And if not it isn’t that big of a waste). Are they cheap? Yep, and that’s all that matters.

By mid-summer when gas hits $5 a gallon, people will be grilling cheap burgers and hotdogs and the kids will love it. The cost savings is going to override all other concerns. Dinner may come from a box or can more frequently these days, but as long as it’s cheap it will get the thumbs up.

Sure, people have to eat, but you show me three good reasons why any of those people will be eating from meal assembly offerings. For those understood the process, buying in bulk was a benefit, the time saved was a benefit, having the meals done ahead of time was a benefit, but people sloughed that off over a year ago.

It’s all about saving money and spending $5 on pasta to feed a family of four is going to win every time over that pre-assembled MA meal…

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10 Responses to “But people have to eat”

  • I beg to disagree to a point. I do agree that people will be cutting back, but people will still be in two wage earner households that will need help getting dinner on the table. Summer will be easier to deal with that challenge, because it is quick to slap something on the grill. However, burgers and hot dogs and mac and cheese gets old quick. Where are people going to cut back, clothing, vacations, day trips, renting movies instead of going to the movies?

    I still feel that having a meal ready to cook will fill the convenience that the double wage earner household is looking for. Perhaps customers will want to buy less meals at a whack, I can see that happening. Or perhaps, they want something cooked that they can just reheat, as in home meal replacement. For those MAK’s with kitchens, it may be worth the effort to cook up a batch of chicken marsala or piccata meals and throw them in the freezer. Offer them to customers and see what happens. Chicken breasts can be cooked in large batches in the oven on sheet pans. Create some in-house rubs that you smear on chickie breasts, pork chops, anything that can be quickly thrown on the grill.

    People aren’t going to quit their jobs because gas hits $5.00 a gallon and they’ll still be as time pressed as ever.

    I never thought I would live to see lettuce chopped and sold in a bag, that section of the product department has grown tremendously. And what is that – convenience. Saving the customer the time to wash and cut up lettuce.

    If you can offer convenience, I still believe that people who are time-challenged will purchase – because, after all – they still have to eat.

    Lee Ann Price

  • guest2:

    Leann,

    Not sure how you possibly think coming to a MEAL ASSEMBLY WATCH WEBSITE for MEAL ASSEMBLY OWNERS saying that I (meal assembly owner) needs to ‘just’ cook and have the customers ‘reheat’ their meal?

    WTF?

    I bought a FRACHISE- Dream Dinners to be exact- and Spent $500,00+ on a prove business model that Isn’t working!

    I am telling yah, I think you and Lisa are on the wrong site?!? I am just trying to survive one day at a time and reading your post getting my blood all boiled , for You in return to say I am NEGITIVE!

    Gawd…

  • Lisa:

    Guest2, I bought a franchise too, Super Suppers to be exact, a proven business model that isn’t working, but I don’t have time or money to sit around and complain about it–I have to make it work–I have to make something work, and I will. We adapted, we asked our customers what they wanted and they didn’t want to assemble, so we do it for them. They want different recipes and have provided them, and we make them. We have not gone the route of cooking, but we do provide catering when DIY catering is not sufficient. I realized very quickly that I was not going to make it in the entertainment business, I needed to be in the food business, and we have adapted–we all need to adapt to what our customers want–I know MB says that giving customers what they want was the downfall of MA, but I could care less about building the MA industry, I have a business to build, forget the franchise.

    And no Kelly, I am not a chef, I never claimed to be, that was why I bought into the franchise based in a culinary school. I called myself a quasi-foodie and no I can not cook a roast, not every chef will claim to be good an everything–I’m Japanese, I don’t know roast–I can cook a bitter melon and have baked cookies for a living, but large cuts of American meat confound me and I have customers that can’t tell beef from pork or parmesan from mozzarella, or garlic from ginger, so they are not about to learn to cook from the internet!

    We all have to make the best of our situations, unless wallowing in bitterness is your game then have at it, but I can make this work despite the franchise, so you can bash me all you want, words can’t hurt me and I have nothing left to lose! I hope you all have a great day, Lisa

  • You go Lisa, you do whatever it takes to make a go of it. You are proof of acting and adjusting your business to the market – that’s what successful entrepreneurs do. The others sit and blame and do nothing and watch people like you succeed.

    So, while it is easier for an independent owner to cook meals, obviously if franchise owners want to make their business succeed, they’ll do whatever it takes, as Lisa is demonstrating.

    Your choice.

    Lee Ann

  • allthingsculinary:

    The point is being missed that the reason why bagged lettuce is convenient is because it is bought at a place where shoppers have to be anyway. It used to be an inexpensive way to save a step. Do I think that people who eat salad will go back to washing their own? In a heartbeat if it saves them money.
    Your mistake is in thinking that convenience will continue to be a commodity for consumers and I happen to think you’re dead wrong. In a good economy it was waning in this ecomomy, all bets are off.
    I can see that for a limited number of people it will, those who are indendently wealthy or who have jobs that are pretty safe as being recession proof- but for most folks it will come back to saving money-down to the penny.
    I had a customer who was a high powered exec with a national company who was a “regular” for 6 months, she stopped coming, why? Her family liked her cooking style better than Supper Thyme meals, it was familiar to them thus more preferable. Her children dictated what they would eat, not what made more sense time-wise for Mom. I don’t think she was the exception I think she was the rule. When economic push comes to shove, the kids preference on what to eat is going to rule the day. Kids like chicken nuggets, spaghetti, grilled cheese, hotdogs, PBJ and cereal. Why waste time & money making dinner that only part of the family will eat? Why would they spend the extra money for the “convenience”? I surmise they won’t
    Will there continue be women who just hate to cook, yes, but studies have shown that more men are cooking at home now that their wife works too. Let’s also not ignore that as people lose their jobs the jobs they get will not be at as high income in most cases as the ones they lost.
    There are just too many factors in this economy to lay out a blanket statement that all will be well if we stay positive and to pin your hopes on it.
    We have all done or seen survey’s in which customers tell us what they want, then fail to support our business when we gave them what they asked for.
    I don’t begrudge any of you making a living or “making it work” whatever “it” means. BUT
    The MA business no longer even remotely resembles what the original concept was. For all intent and purposes you all are running a catering business, a form of restaurant or carry-outs/grocery store. All of which already exist in some form or other or are services that can be gotten in a less expensive form somewhere else. What makes you unique?
    You’re all scrambling trying to figure out how to make your store’s floor space productive for 8-10 hours a day, renting out your space is great idea for extra income, but with that comes headaches all its own, not the least of which is health codes, will your renter treat your store with the respect you expect, will they clean up after themselves, will they help themselves to your supplies, will spoilage of food result because of carelessness in the part of your tenant?
    The fact is that you are all so focused on “making it work” that you are in depseration mode and following in the mistaken footsteps of Zors’s by just throwing stuff at the wall to see what will work.
    That’s not a bad thing if you have an overall master plan, a concrete idea of what product or service you are trying to sell or have unlimited time and resources to “figure it out”, and if you had access to adequate mutliple cross market numbers of customers with which to do thorough market research.
    Which none of you do, and then the question needs to be asked, as a franchisee why isn’t your Zor doing this stuff for you? They should be, but they’re not. They should’nt be leaving you hanging out to dry or be leaving you to figure it out for youself.
    Which goes back to an original point that Zors were caught with their pants down and didn’t have a master plan for growth except for the plan that simply included selling more franchises or churning franchises (I learnt a new term!).
    Have any of you noticed how FEW press releases are coming out of DBD, SS, DD, DAF, MGFK, M&TG? Why? There for a while we were on a steady diet of press releases.
    Why are these “experts & master marketers so quiet?”

    In my opinion at this point Zors are purposefully trying to stay out of the limelight by keeping their heads down in hopes that you’re all so busy trying to save your own hides and investment by doing whatever it takes to stay in business, while they sit quietly in the corner and hope that THEIR responsibility to YOU is forgotten all the while they continue to collect royalties & marketing fees or update websites. Or they send out lame marketing suggestions.
    The bottom line is MA, HMR, Kitchen Outsourcing whatever you want to call it, is already dead, you all don’t even know what you are anymore, how can/will you market that?

  • Lisa:

    Kelly, That was a sound and unemotional response and I appreciate it and agree totally with what you said. My business does not resemble anything close to what I thought it was going to be and yes, I resent the fact that I was hung out to dry. But, I wanted a business and I wanted the opportunity to prove that I could run a business and by gosh, I got it!

    I found that people did not appreciate my MA kitchen, but they do need help getting dinner on the table and I CAN do it cheaper and offer great tasting healthy alternatives. Sure you can eat hot dogs and mac n cheese, but sometimes you gotta have something different–and if eating out is not an option, then maybe my store will be. Our meals are not $21. Our small entrees easily feed me, my husband and my 10 & 11 year old boys, and sometimes we have leftovers. We have been smart about making full meals with low-cost sides that people appreciate and save them even more thought–rice and noodles are what kids want and a small serving of vegetables is perfect for the one person who eats them.

    And yes, I sure could use some help making it work, and that was why I wanted to start a support organization. I am willing to pay someone to help me design recipes and marketing materials and all that stuff, but I would rather pay someone who knows or have a proper group to vet vendors and purchase great services together. You are a foodie and you know that no matter how bad the economy is, SOME people still splurge a lot, and ALL people splurge sometimes.

    We tell our customers that we sell time, in the form of meal kits and coming to our store is like grocery shopping out of a cookbook. It’s easy, really easy, and it is a niche industry–just like restaurants and personal chef services, and I would advise someone to do a lot of things different, but I love my business and I am not about to give up just because Bill Byrd screwed up! People have been saying that independent movie rental stores would be out of business in a year since the first one opened over 15 years ago, but ours just got a new and better location and is still going strong.

    And if we are not supposed to use this board to talk about what we are doing to adapt now that MA is dead, what is it’s purpose? Is this just a long, drawn out electronic wake? As long as there are people here maligning my business, and Tuckerbox doesn’t kick me off, I will defend it so that the customers we have know that some of us intend to hang around, Lisa

  • Go west:

    Just a comment about the term “proven business model” that several posters have thrown around in reference to meal assembly.

    This business is about as far from “proven” as one can get. I understand that is the thrust of the lawsuits that have been filed against the franchisors (that they sold something that was ‘guaranteed to work’ and didn’t). The rule of thumb in franchising is that a concept that can be successful and live through it’s first 5 years has a greater chance of succeeding in the future.

    Note that I say “rule of thumb” and “greater chance”. Folks, there are no guarantees in business. Look historically at some businesses that I would argue more in favor of being “proven”…Xerox, IBM, Sears, etc. A good example of a proven business model in the franchise world is McDonald’s. Expensive to buy in? You bet. Why? Because you can project–probably to the DAY–when you will break even on your investment and begin to be profitable.

    Meal assembly is high risk, and many bought in because of the potential for high rewards. This could have gone either way (maybe), but it didn’t. Franchisors flooded the market with offerings that confused the customer. This cycle is typical for business; normally we’d be watching the industry settle while the brand leader(s) emerged. But, the shakedown in the industry happened coincidentally to an economic downturn (maybe), which took a lot of customers out of the cycle.

    When the case study is written 5 years from now, there will be myriad factors that influenced our position today. But, I would still argue that the franchisors should have waited longer to franchise their model, and franchisees should have taken more heed about this. Shame on both sides for wanting beyond all rational thought for this to succeed.

  • allthingsculinary:

    While I admire your tenacity,
    The problem in my opinion is that you are defending something that admittedly no longer exists. As I see it, what you are really defending is your right to own a business and to see that it succeeds. We don’t have any disagreement there. The double edge-sword is that we stridently disagree that there is a place for ? (what do we call it now) I’ll just respectfully call it “your idea of fast-food”- long term in the marketplace.
    I agree with Tuckerbox, my vote is no.
    Will women go back to cooking from scratch? No, most won’t, there is no need to.
    Will they start to seek out cheaper alternatives such as dinner in a crock-pot, frozen family entrees or use speed scratch cooking or Take & Bake from their local market? Yes, I believe they will, all those scenarios leave your style of business out of the loop. You may be forming loyal relationships with customers, but I will almost guaran-dam-tee you that when the economic hammer falls, that “loyalty” will come at too high a price for most people.
    I don’t for-see Tuckerbox kicking you off, not that I have a vote mind you, but I have been allowed to prattle on here for quite some time now and be as obnoxious as my heart could stand and I have been given the privilege of being able to stay.

  • guest:

    Lisa:

    If you’re still reading this site, good luck to you in your business endeavors. I find many of the posts on this site surprising: i.e. anger because franchisors haven’t provided solutions for a changing business model and scorn against owners trying to evolve the business model themselves.

    Allthingsculinary talks about the economic hammer falling. In many places it has and will probably get worse. Communities devastated by economic conditions may not be able to support your type of business. However, there are many economically healthy communities with high earning two-income families who may be excellent candidates for your evolution of a food service model. Please note I use the word “may” – nothing in the business world is guaranteed to either succeed or fail. From your insightful posts I get the feeling that you understand your demographic and are willing and able to evolve your business model to try and make yourself successful.

    I find it surprising that individuals that don’t know you, your financial situation, the demographics of your territory, the profit and loss financials of your business, and the long-term outlook for your community feel they are in a better position than you to evaluate the viability of the business you are working hard to evolve.

    You are a calm and level-headed counter-point to the prevailing theme on this site and I hope you continue to respectfully communicate your point of view.

    Again, good luck.

  • Lisa:

    Thank you guest! You know I believe in karma and what comes around goes around. I think my franchisor dealt me a bad hand, but I didn’t think they were horrid until they dealt other people the same bad hand well after they knew the deck was stacked with jokers!

    I was prepared for the risk and understand what Go West says–there are no guarantees in business. But, I also know that it’s HARD and there are days when I feel so defeated, I don’t know how I’ll go on, and I know that I have so little to lose and so many others that are so much smarter and so much more talented than me have already lost so much, but everything happens for a reason. And I believe that I have to do whatever I can to help hold up the spirits of those that need it and do my part to right the wrongs. I had a crappy week for a lot of reasons, but I also launched another related (SS it is not competitive, don’t worry, no breach here!) business venture that I am really excited about. If you keep working hard, and keep focus, good things DO happen. The destination may not look anything like what was in the plan, but it all works out. The last line of the last song on the last Beatles album was something like–and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make… Thanks so much, I needed that today–went to see Iron Man, and I think my arc reactor is recharged! Lisa

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