Archive for the ‘Meal Makers’ Category

MealMakers Reincarnation?

Has anyone else seen this on the MealMakers site?

LOOK WHAT’S NEW!!

New Owner,

New Concepts,

New Menu Items,

New Walk In  Schedule,

Let us be YOUR Personal Chef!!!

Unfortunately you can’t see where they have locations without making an account…

Is MealMakers attempting another run at it? Are there in fact new owners at the helm?

MealMakers

MealMakers – Down and Out?

This has been mentioned to a certain extent before, but I just looked at the MealMakers website and it seems things are really going downhill. From what I can see there are only two stores left open within the country. The main page lists many states which should have stores, but only 5 are actually listed and of those 3 show as closed. It seems MealMakers is on the verge of total collapse.

The comment has been made that the corp. owners have taken the money and made a run for it. While this doesn’t support that conclusion it certainly doesn’t look good for MM as a company. While it’s not a happy thought, the demise of MealMakers may be imminent (if it hasn’t happened already). A couple of owners are still hanging on by their fingertips, but this may be the first domino to fall. And it would seem that once falls, the others are probably not going to be too far behind. With Dream Dinners facing more than one lawsuit, mergers falling apart or never getting off the ground, and other franchises teetering on the verge I think we are about to see something significant happen.

MealMakers Faces Lawsuit

Although the details are not readily available a lawsuit has been filed against meal assembly franchise Meal Makers for “Torts-Property-Other Fraud – Diversity Fraud” according to papers filed in the Ohio Northern District Court.

The papers were filed on April 8, 2008 so it looks like another group of franchise owners feel they were sold a less than profitable system.

http://dockets.justia.com/docket/court-ohndce/case_no-3:2008cv00889/case_id-150362/

Are the corporate franchises sufficiently funded?

There has been a lot of comments/blame about owners not having sufficient funds to keep their stores open, create the proper marketing and get them through the lean times. But, on the flip side, do the actual corporate franchises themselves have enough money to survive this year?

I believe a lot of the money franchises made last year were through franchise sales rather than actual product sales (dinners sold). Now, if the sale of stores grinds to a halt and is no longer an income stream will the corporate offices be able to make it through this year?

And to add to that, what about franchises like MealMakers, My Girlfriend’s Kitchen and others which have made a mark, but have yet to achieve a national following. Will they have enough money to still be franchises at the end of the year? Will they still be supporting their owners at the end of the year?

There are rough times ahead for owners, but let’s nor forget that we might actually see some franchises closing as this year unfolds. So can the corporate offices handle that hit and what will they do to finically support and fortify themselves?

Where will the meal assembly industry be in 2008?

If you get any sort of magazine subscription you already know the November issue has come and gone and the December issue is probably going to show up today or sometime this week. And in those magazines are huge lists of all of the accomplishments for 2007 and all the exciting things to look forward to in 2008. Regardless of whether you enjoy cameras, computers, cars, wine, stereo equipment, big screen TVs, or most any other hobby I’m sure there is a big wrap up going on right now to reminisce about the past and get you all excited about the future.

For cameras and computers a whole new batch of models has just come out right in time for Christmas. For computers and cameras there is always buzz of faster processors, bigger drives, better displays, more megapixels, new lenses and new software. Canon and Nikon just hit the market with their big new cameras just in time for the holidays. For cars, its new styles, better gas mileage, better safety features and big new uses of alternative fuels, like hybrids, ethanol, bio-diesel, and other advances. New fuel types will be a big deal in the auto world for 2008 and a company not offering in a model in at least one of these areas is more than likely going to get left behind. The point is, right now we are seeing where we have been this year and what lies ahead.

So I bring this around to the meal assembly industry. What have been the accomplishments for this year? What solid innovations did we see this year and what can we expect for next year? What hurdles did the industry face and which of those did it conquer? What obstacles still lay ahead and how will the industry meet those challenges? (And you can’t tell me there aren’t any innovations to be made or challenges to conquer in this industry. A more streamlined process, less prep time at home, a wider menu selection, alliances with other food vendors, great media coverage nationwide, cooking shows, better cookbooks and other avenues to spread the word. There is plenty to do and very little time, if any, to actually do it).

First off, did the meal assembly industry actually accomplish anything this year (besides selling more stores)? Quite honestly I haven’t heard a thing out of the main franchises of Super Supper or Dream Dinners about the challenges they’ve had, how they solved them and what they look forward to working on for the upcoming year. How did they get more customers into the stores? What new features are they going to offer customers next year to help them save time and money? I haven’t either franchise say anything.

I think the biggest accomplishment Dream Dinners has had in the last couple of years was to split the meals and jack up the prices. Have they accomplished anything else? Oh wait, they allied with Redbook to offer a single new recipe this year. Southern Living helped work on their Side Dish Station for December. They did give out trinkets of plastic cups and bowls if you purchased enough meals or signed up early enough. They put Liz Claiborne magazines in their stores to help promote Liz’s clothing. It will be hard, but I will try to contain my childish glee at these major milestones.

Super Supper at least has some accomplishments they can be proud of. They have made alliances with Kraft, Pixar, Martha Stewart and Reynolds to promote themselves. They have offered pick up service, meals that are ready to go, walk-in sessions and several other offerings to placate customers. Hold me back, I think I may swoon with this vast array of offerings… I’ve said their method is to try everything and see what sticks, but it’s better to try everything than to try nothing at all. While nothing jumps out as truly being innovative or setting themselves apart they seem to be at least trying to gain ground and recognition with their customers.

Is MealMakers still in business?
Where is My Girlfriend’s Kitchen?

I can’t remember the last article I read about either of these two. And I mention them because they have a presence in this region. But that just proves that none of the brands are making a splash or giving a reason for customers to come in the door.

Again, my point is, where are these companies and what are they doing? Did they forget they were consumer oriented and thus should keep consumers informed of what they’re doing and how they can help them in their daily lives?

Microsoft and other large companies who thought they didn’t need to bother themselves with customers soon realized the error of their ways and after losing a huge customer base to competitors, they changed their method and did everything they could to keep themselves in front of the customer. Only now is Microsoft starting to get customer loyalty back after several years of keeping them informed of just about every aspect of their business. And Dream Dinners and Super Suppers don’t have anywhere near the customer base to lose or money that MS used in trying to get those customers back.

You cannot deny that the MA business is in trouble – serious trouble. Stores are closing left and right, sales have dropped to a trickle of their former glory and owners are becoming increasingly frustrated at the current state of affairs.

From the initial indicators, Thanksgiving and Christmas may be a dud from the MA side of things. With stores barely breaking even under normal circumstances the next couple of months are traditionally where people really do cook for themselves and could spell the end for dozens of owners if customers don’t come in. If you’ve been paying attention, a couple of owners here have already decided to move on to other endeavors. And I also posted my observations of how many stores were already going up for sale each month.

Honestly, what are Super Supper and Dream Dinners doing to get customers interested in this industry again? At this time almost every other industry unveils their new products, procedures, offerings, innovations or at the very least they give plenty of details what they have in the works and when customers can expect it. What is the enticement for all the customers who have walked away from meal assembly stores in droves to come back?

Obviously I don’t think either of the two major franchises has made a significant impact on this industry during 2007. They are doing business as usual and their involvement with the customer is almost non-existent. I think customers and owners can expect very little from these franchises in 2008. If anything, it will be up to the local owners to market heavily, adapt their daily business and do whatever it takes to keep customers coming back – provided they actually have any money left over each month to accomplish any marketing.

For anyone who might be interested I read and look over 500-600 websites a day that have some relevance to the meal assembly industry. I have a several search tools that scan any new content that gets added to the web – and no I don’t just search Google for “meal assembly”. These searches are done for the web itself, blogs, newspaper articles, Press Releases, business news, and marketing sites. I may not catch everything, but I see quite a bit. The majority of the news of this industry is still customers asking if going to an MA is something they should try or a news article describing a new MA store opening in their area. Not exactly show stopper stuff.

And because of that I am going to offer my predictions on what I think is going to happen to this industry in 2008.

First off I believe at least 500 stores will close their doors in 2008 (franchise and independent). At a rate of 60 MA stores for sale each month right now (and I expect that will probably hit 100 a month or higher by March of 2008) I expect that half of the stores currently open across the country will be for sale, or closed by the end of 2008 – if it even takes that long. And that is conservative. I wouldn’t be surprised if 2/3 of all open stores will be closed by the end of 2008. In reality, I expect it to hit the 500 mark by July/August when the usual summer slump drives a majority of stores into the ground.

Out of those 500 stores I believe 250 of those owners will be declaring bankruptcy of some sort. They won’t be able to sell their store and will simply have to close in order to fend off the debt. I bet a vast majority of those owners will be walking away from this industry at least $50k in debt. Currently, if you get out with less than $100k in debt I think you’re doing pretty darn well.

Independent store owners should fair better than franchises because they can adapt quicker. They can offer customers what they actually ask for and tend to their changing wants and needs. However, I believe this will be a short lived reprieve. Hopefully owners can recoup some loses and get a chance to walk away with less debt.

I believe 2008 will also see super markets and grocery stores start their own meal assembly ventures – although on a smaller, perhaps temporary basis. As the franchise stores close, the grocery stores can fill in that void and give a compelling reason for customers to come in. They will offer the same call ahead and pick up service in a similar capacity to what we see Super Suppers and many independent stores doing now.

MA stores will still dot the country and I’m sure there are places where the MA business can still work and thrive for the people in that area. But as an industry across the nation I think the time for this business has come and gone. The peak for the MA business was last year in 2006 and it’s been on a steady decline ever since. Customers are visiting far less frequently (on the whole), the interest and uniqueness of this business has waned, the prices outweigh the benefit and in the customers eyes the MA store really isn’t filling a void anymore. Most customers already believe they can do the same meal prep at home and unfortunately there is little coming out which negates that theory. They have already returned to their regular routine of the grocery store and take out. Even those stores offering the pick-up, call ahead and pick the meal from the freezer options are still only just breaking even. You can’t run a business on just breaking even.

Super Suppers, Dream Dinners and the rest have waited too long to change consumer opinion. Customers bought into the idea completely last year, but they see little reason to keep investing their time and money. There is no “need” to go the meal assembly store. The “desire” has tapered off and they haven’t been offered anything to rekindle that interest. Franchisors have been off selling more stores rather than keeping customers happy, building services are creating that “want” which will keep them coming back.

I’m sure some will disagree with my assumptions, but I see plenty of indicators to support my predictions.

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