Archive for the ‘Meal Makers’ Category

More Moms Staying (and Eating) at Home

Now here’s something I hadn’t considered before – the decline in restaurant sales is due to an increase in Moms staying home. There is a lot of information which might be affecting the sales to restaurants and meal assembly stores. And once you read the article this site has its own interpretations which might be directly affecting the restaurant business. Specifically MA stores like Dream Dinners, Super Supper and Meal Makers are listed as having an impact.

And the article does support the idea that consumers want convenience and they want packaged meals not just packaged food.

So is there still room for MAs in the working mom and now stay at home mom lifestyle? There might be some life still left in this idea depending on the area, but it does seem that pricing and convenience will be the key factors in keeping the customers coming in. Offering to make the meals a thousand different ways is probably not going to be as much of a hook as many think.

And if you look at this article closely, the group that is increasing their cooking time is the men. That also makes you wonder if the marketing and target group may need to be changed. Men have clearly been left for dead as far as MA goes. Very little if any advertising is targeted toward them. You never know, they may be the next group who supports the meal prep industry.

Restaurants Feel the Heat as Number of Women in the Work Force Flattens

For the first time since June Cleaver donned pearls and aprons in the 1950s, the percentage of women choosing to work outside the home has been flat to down for several years running. Not coincidentally, the number of meals purchased at restaurants per person has stopped growing too, for the longest sustained stretch in the 23 years NPD Group has tracked the number.

For restaurants, it means an end to a demographic gold mine that fed decades of growth. For supermarkets, it means a reversal of a trend that fueled decades of decline and may even help savvier operators gain an edge in their long-losing battle against Wal-Mart. And for package-food companies, the trends offer a chance to gain ground on restaurants for the first time in decades.

‘Package meals’
But neither the labor nor restaurant trends are driving women back to cooking from scratch, he said. “The growth in the restaurant industry is in takeout meals,” he said. “This is not about package food anymore. It’s about package meals.”

The only segment of the population cooking more is men, who now prepare 18% of meals, according to NPD, even if they remain largely invisible to food marketers, Mr. Balzer said. “It’s young men in the new households being formed.”

Convenience, not price
An analysis Mr. Glass did last year showed Whole Foods Market is now the largest takeout casual diner in the country. “It does more takeout sales than Applebee’s, Brinker or Darden, ” he said, “and with far fewer stores.”

Its success isn’t about saving money, Mr. Balzer said, since not much at Whole Foods is cheap. “It’s convenience,” he said. “People want something they can bring home and reheat, not something that if it goes cold they’ll never want again.”

Casual-dining chains are more likely to be hurt by supermarket competition and women staying at home than fast feeders, he said, perhaps accounting for some of the relative fortunes of the two segments of late.

Mr. Glass also sees signs that package-food companies are seizing on the emerging trends to claw back some of the market they’ve lost to restaurants in decades past. He pointed to a recent TV ad for Campbell’s soup that clearly positions the product as part of an alternative to restaurant meals.

“Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier,” she said, “if we could have restaurant-quality food at home, in the office, wherever we want it, at a fraction of the cost?”

There is a lot to the article so you can read it in its entirety here:
Read the follow up article with some additional comments here:

The Lament of the Disenfranchised

In a lot of the articles I come across the meal assembly business is seen pretty favorably by customers. Articles usually give a positive review of the process and what it can do for people. Aside from the comments of “they don’t use fresh …” or “they use too much … “ they like the idea.

And when I read customer blogs they seem quite happy with the idea too. They think the meals are good, they save a lot of time and the idea of having meals on hand is a real help. Occasionally you run across one that doesn’t like the idea, didn’t like the good, had a bad experience or feels they can do it better themselves, but that’s to be expected. Not everyone has to like it and not all the meals are winners, but overall those customers that are going like going and will probably continue.

Then you read comments made by store owners and there is a whole different perspective. Owners aren’t happy, they aren’t making money, they aren’t spending time with their families, all the money is going to the franchise and they don’t keep anything for themselves, there is too much competition from other stores, construction/build out costs were double what they were told and a whole slew of other issues. And a lot of these comments are from 2006 before all the real trouble started.

The long running thread on Franchise Pundit about the meal assembly business shows a lot of distress about this industry and if you can make money in it. (With most people saying no…)

Although a year later, I still see a lot of those same comments and quite honestly I haven’t really heard from any owner who says they are happy with what they’re doing and they are making a great living with it. I’ve seen quite a few comments from owners who “break even” every month which isn’t too encouraging. I’ve seen comments from owners who aren’t making anything because the franchisor gets their fees and the store keeps going into the red. Not to mention the owners who are taking out loans to keep their stores running, or owners who have their stores listed for sale just so they can get out.

Overall it’s not a pretty picture from the owner viewpoint. But on thing that does actually strike me as unusual is that none of the major franchises such as Dream Dinners, Super Supper, Meal Makers, Dinner by Design or My Girlfriend’s Kitchen have addressed any of these issues. Now, I have seen individual owners who have one of these franchises make comments and offer help, but I have never seen anyone from the corporate offices of these companies try to diffuse these situations. Even to just acknowledge that there “could” be a problem or things “could” be better would probably make a world a difference. But as yet, they turn a blind eye to the whole thing.

And I know they are aware of the comments. I know they are aware of all the negative comments on Franchise Pundit and I know they are aware of this site and others like it. My point is, why hasn’t anyone from these offices addressed these concerns, asked for feedback, asked for solutions or even thanked people for taking the time to write their comments down. If you take the time to write down your complaint for others to read you do so because you care. You want that store to do better. You want them to learn from that mistake. You want help in understanding why something the works or happens the way it does.

It seems to me that if you had so many people complaining about a product you helped create you might take a moment to stop and see what all the noise was about. One or two owners who aren’t happy with their store or the industry is nothing to worry about. It’s the same as one or two customers who aren’t happy with a meal, it just happens. But when you have dozens upon dozens of angry owners from coast to coast that seems like something you might want to pay attention to. Simply ignoring them gives their argument more validity.

Does anyone think there might be a correlation between rising owner frustration and lower customer attendance? In my opinion the franchisors have created this hostile environment, they probably should do something about, besides ignore it.

It’s great that customers still say they like the MA business, but you can’t dispute that there are far less people interested in this business now than there was just a year ago. And with each month the number of customers is growing less and less. It really does appear that the franchisors need to do a lot of work to make their owners happy. I don’t see how you can expect to run a successful business without them.

This could certainly be an interesting gimmick.

I found this article of mealMakers pairing up with a wine outlet to have a wine tasting in their store during the month. I can see this as a pretty interesting route to take since quite a few people ask about wine pairings with the meal assembly food these days. You can make it quite the social affair with several food choices prepared ahead of time and several wines to compliment those meals.

And who knows, if you get enough wine in them, they’ll sign up for a session! :)

Seriously, has anyone else tried something like this? I think it would be a pretty big hit.

Speaking of customer loyalty

The topic of customer loyalty comes up quite a bit, so I thought I would offer my opinion on the topic.
The type of loyalty program that the industry needs is one that is integrated within the stores own customer database, with no action required by the store owner other than to be notified of this very important customer.
Some examples, (I guess the timer starts…. NOW, to see which franchise/meal prep software vendor, implements some of these ideas. Hey we aren’t just here to watch, we want to help too)
1. Every customer that comes in and does a minimum of X number of meals for 3 months in a row should automatically get a free meal on their order. It should just pop up on the screen “Hey thanks for your loyalty, you have earned a free meal, please make your additional meal selection” then for each subsequent month, they should get that free meal. If they skip a month, they have to come in for 3 months again to get on that free meal program.

2. Want to run a promotion? How about using promotion codes, every other eCommerce site on the internet does it. Want to reward special customers, give them a code. Put it in your magazine ads, whatever. Don’t want the “special” codes to get out? Make them expire after a certain amount of time. Make them unique. It’s very easy to do. The key here is that when the customer is placing the order, they enter the code and it gives them a free meal (or whatever) automatically, no further action required on the store owners part. It shows up in their order, you know how much extra food you need. It would be in the database for your reporting of promo/giveaway items that you should be tracking for accounting purposes.

3. Giving out items to the customers doesn’t create loyalty, it creates a mentality of “what do I get this month”. Giving out free meals, makes sense, the problem was that it isn’t consistent, and it isn’t AUTOMATIC.
Other businesses need customer loyalty cards to track purchases because their customers can purchase anonymously (does Skippy behind the register at the local sub shop know who you are? No, so they need a loyalty card/key ring etc to keep track) the meal assembly industry already has that tracking system in place; they just don’t use it, effectively.

4. Past purchase tie-ins. You know that the last time you had your super braided dream steak, it was a hit, and you know exactly who purchased that item. Now 3 months later you are A. putting it on the menu again or B. doing something similar. You could query the database and send out an email notifying everyone that purchased that item that it’s back or that “if you liked the super braided dream steak you’ll love the next months even more super dreamy steak”

5. Give the customer a free meal, automatically in their order if they sign up for next month, within the first few days of this month. Again, simple to do, give them a big notice on the screen thanking them for their loyalty, and ordering early.

6. Have some customers that have been in several times but now have been absent for a couple of months? Put a free meal in their account; send them an email saying that as an incentive to come back, you are offering them a free meal on their next purchase.

7. Send out surveys that the customer can fill out and earn a free meal on their next order. Have that free meal show up automatically and remind why they are getting the free meal. “Hi, don’t forget you earned a free meal for filling out our survey back in January and helping us better serve you”

8. Are you running some type of fundraiser where the customer might prefer to donate their free meal credit to some other school/family in need etc? If it’s in the database, it can happen automatically

9. Have a refer a friend program? If it’s in the database, the friend could refer a customer via a email web link, if the friend uses the link to sign up, the referring friend would earn a free meal on the next order and it would show up automatically. Be sure to put a comment on their order of why they got the free meal and send them an email to let them know they earned it.

10. Private party or sample party host earning a free meal(s) have it in the database so that the meal just show up in their next order.

Make these things happen automatically, and REMIND your customer why they are getting the free meal. Print it on their order put it on the printout they use in the store while they are making the meals. Make sure they see it and are reminded of it.

These are just a few things off the top of my head, I’m sure there are dozens of more great ideas out there.

By having these items shows up automatically, (you have noticed I keep mentioning automatically right?) you know how much extra food you need. You are less likely to get caught on Saturday night running low on an item. You spend less time making manual adjustments to orders/inventory/spreadsheets/note cards etc. It would be in the database for your reporting of promo/giveaway items that you should be tracking for accounting purposes.

Should you use all of these promotions at the same time? No, but a mixture of them would probably help.

I’m sure someone somewhere in the industry has done one of two of these things, or are about to, some I claim as my own ideas, the issue is, why haven’t they been doing this all along? It’s not like this is such a difficult thing to figure out. You’ve got a giant database of customers, and you know what they like to eat, why not use it effectively? Also remember that these are things the franchisor or the independent software vendors need to do, not something the individual store owners can do. We certainly don’t expect the store owners to know how to work with the database, but they should have the tools needed to run their business in the most efficient manner.

You are probably saying “well we do some of these things it’s just not automatic” Well then you are spending too much money on the promotion. A free meal the customer earns which requires no further intervention on your part costs very little. Taking10 minutes, or even 5 minutes of your time to enter a free meal onto your customers account multiplied by 100 loyal (hopefully more) customers a month is costing your some real money. Your time is money too. Don’t ever forget that.

There may be all kinds of incentives offered to your customers, but how many of those happen automatically? Please don’t comment about “knowing your customer” etc. Making this process automatic would help you spend more time with the customer, marketing your business etc, and knowing that your loyal customers ARE being rewarded without any manual intervention on your part.

The Meal Blogger

Cooking, Henry Ford-style

Cooking, Henry Ford-style

From Financial Times

“Like most Americans, I was brought up thinking of food as fuel: something that should be prepared and consumed as quickly as possible – an unfortunate distraction from the hard work of living.

Now I demand much more of my meals – but I have even less time to cook them. As a single parent, part-time commuter and full-time wage slave, my dinner options on the average workday are limited: we can have leftovers or we can have cereal. Every weekend, I cook up a big pot of something that keeps well (curry, or tuna-noodle casserole) and we eat that as long as we can stand it. By Friday, Cheerios and red wine sounds more appealing.”

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