Archive for June, 2008

High Costs May Be Driving Restaurant Customers to Pre-Packaged Meals


Despite the economic trends pushing customers to meal prep, Tristano sounds a cry of caution when it comes to the new sector of meal prep franchise chains trying to take advantage of the shift in consumer behavior; namely, competitive venues – the big guys, such as supermarket chains – are already stepping in.

Tristano told Blue MauMau, “Meal prep franchises were of good value to consumers if you prepared it at the facility but growth was so rapid with the prep meal franchises over the past few years that it looked like a fad. We didn’t think it would be a long-term trend because the franchisors so quickly saturated the market that we expected a weeding out. One particular threat to the prep meal franchise chains are supermarkets, which can and are easily adding these products.  We also anticipate catering to step more into this market.”

High Costs May Be Driving Restaurant Customers to Pre-Packaged Meals

Hot Dogs Remain Summer Favorite


The council estimates Americans eat 7 billion hot dogs during peak season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That’s 818 hot dogs per second. Much of that consumption occurs at various sporting events. Research from the council’s annual MLB ballpark survey released on Opening Day shows that professional ballparks alone will sell 30 million hot dogs this season. That’s enough to round the bases 41,667 times–enough to stretch from Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Hot Dogs Remain Summer Favorite

The sound of silence

The August “menu” or schedule is just about here, which of course means one of the toughest months for restaurants and of course a make-or-break month for many in the meal prep business. Of course your web site needs to be up and running if you’re going to even have a chance of participating in the summer months.

Dream Dinners is going to play the Martha and Emeril card for the summer. Not a bad play, but is that really reaching the right market? I think Martha’s great and Emeril has a great flair for what he does, but are they really the icons of the soccer Mom? It might work, but it seems more cost effective grilling fair may have worked. We’ll see what they pull out for their August menu.

Super Suppers still seems to be MIA. I haven’t heard anything from Judy and crew for the past few months. They hit the ground running by offering pizza to a pizza-saturated nation and then nothing. And strangely, the pizza idea was done many many months earlier by Make and Take Gourmet. And not to be left out Dream Dinners offered their pizza variation a year or so ago. Kinda timely, kinda gimmicky, but this certainly isn’t the road less traveled.

But where is Judy? Where is the summer excitement? What is she going to offer that bring in the customers? For those who pay attention to the meal prep business the end of the month is an exciting time and the menu and flavors change. Why haven’t we seen anything? Why is she waiting until the last minute? MA should be trying to ride the coattails of the Fourth of July celebrations with all sorts of outdoor offerings. I can’t say I get the sense of any of that.

We right at the cusp of the summer downturn and instead of greeting customers with exciting ways to make summer fun and make it easier and more convenient to be outdoors, customers are being greeted with nothing but silence.

Now is not a good time to just be hanging out and hoping for the best or seeing how things play out. The main meal assembly franchisors really are taking a back seat to what very well could be the last summer for many of their stores.

Filling the need

Another misstep on the road of meal assembly was not filling the immediacy of the customer’s needs, specifically when it came to redeeming coupons or gift certificates. By and large each franchisor had a rather archaic and time-consuming way of discounting a meal when you tried to run a promotion. There was no instant gratification of the “I can save $10 right now!” mentality. You had the customer interested in the service, on the website filling out an order and then they had to call in or make some other arrangement to redeem their coupon or use their gift. Highly inconvenient!

Plus, each store was totally free to offer whatever sort of discount they wanted. Again, one store offers 5%, another offer $10 and yet another offers a free meal. Plus, there was no simple way for the customer to handle that through the site, so they had to call making more work for you and for them.

And since there was no unified way offering discounts the stores once again began to compete with each other, further driving down the cost and significance of the service and product.

I bring all this up because yesterday I received a discount coupon for a software program I bought a year ago. They have since released a major update and send me an email with a link for a massive discount. The email explained the features of the new version and how I could benefit then offered a link and a “Buy Now” button to get my heavily discounted product. In two clicks I had actually upgraded to the new version and was amazed at far we have progressed with such things. All I had to do was fill in my credit card information and the purchase was done.

Thinking I’d been the receiver of a really good deal I was quite satisfied, but there was more coming. About 15 minutes after my purchase I got a confirmation email from the parent company as a receipt of my purchase and low and behold it had another coupon I could use for any of their products on my next purchase.

Victim of advertising? Highly suggestible type? Who knows, but yes indeed I did go back to their site to see what else was of interest and yes I did make another purchase. A program that I was interested in, but had slightly too high a price previously was now hard to say no too. (And their shopping cart software made suggestions for related programs based on my selection and the discount would be applied to the whole purchase price).

But the process was so simple and so quick. What if I would have to make a call to finish the purchase? What if I had to write in the code and then wait for a credit to be refunded? Simple, I wouldn’t have bought anything.

Just an example where meal assembly needs act like they’re an e-commerce company and make it so easy for customers to buy their products that it’s hard for them to say no.

A sense of urgency

One thing that I believe lead to downfall of the meal assembly industry as a whole was the lack of urgency it created within consumers. When a single store was located in an area and the idea began to catch on, the sessions would fill up which limited the space available. As that space disappeared more people wanted to try the idea because “there must be something to it”. As those sessions disappeared it created even more furor and people wanted what they couldn’t have. Customer responded by showing up on time, booking early and making sure they were part of the program.

With the saturation bombing technique used to open as many stores as possible that urgency disappeared almost overnight. Customer were overwhelmed with choices and options, many of which they didn’t understand. Further, with so many choices out there the owners began to undercut each other offering more and more “benefits” to the consumer which only served to perpetuate the idea of “Your competitor is doing this for me, what will you to do to beat it?” Now instead of a loyal customer who appreciated the value of the service, you had flighty customers who were looking to score at a deal at the expense of the owner and dozens of owners who were willing to play along rather than lose a customer. Then when the customer wasn’t all but getting the meals for free, they figured they could make the same meals at home for less.

This whimsical undercutting served to downplay the importance of the service in general. If it was so cheap and easy to give away, why did anyone need it? Rather than show the importance of the idea and the long term benefits, owners and Zors moved for the quick sale which ultimately alienated consumers and left them feeling cheated because owners could satisfy them and their needs.

Pizza places do this all the time, but they have such a large pool to draw from and regardless of what someone may say they will eventually go back for pizza. You can’t help but see all the pizza boxes out on the curb on trash day.

It’s hard to say if things would have been different had owners and Zors played to the strengths of their product and held firm on it’s value rather than turning it into a second rate commodity handed out to the lowest bidder.

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