How indies are taking on food box giants

27 January 2021, 08:44 AM
  • Meal kits offer consumers a simple dinnertime solution, and by playing to their own strengths, independents can compete with the big names in D2C food
How indies are taking on food box giants

Covid-19 has changed our relationship with our kitchens. While many of us dug out our recipe books with a newfound zest for scratch cooking, others turned to recipe kits and food boxes in the hopes of an easy answer to the question that looms towards us all the end of the work day: what’s for dinner?

While there are already a number of big names in the meal box market, such as Hello Fresh, Gousto and Mindful Chef, fine food retailers that can offer their consumers easy mealtime solutions – in the form of a box of ingredients ready to be whipped up into a meal – stand much to gain from the current popularity of the food box.

“Currently there are no dine-out options, meaning people are having to redirect their time and money with regards to the food sector. Pre-selected food boxes, like our meat, fish, fruit and vegetable boxes are popular due to their ease of purchase – you don’t have to spend a lot of time scrolling through a website to find what you want,” Anna Elliot, sales and marketing director of Eversfield Organic, which has been selling food boxes for nearly two decades, tells Speciality Food.

The convenience of having everything delivered to your doorstep is also key thanks to the pandemic. “People who have never shopped online before have now discovered the advantages of doing so,” says Lord Newborough of Rhug Estate.

Rhug Estate extended its meat box range when Covid-19 broke out in the UK so that customers could make “the easy choice”. One of their popular options is a barbecue box, which contains an array of meat, including steak, beef and bison burgers, pork racks and more, as well as baps, condiments and cheese from the Snowdonia Cheese Company.

The shop also capitalises on holidays. Its latest launches are Valentine’s specials complete with starter, main and pudding, plus a bottle of wine and a candle to add a special touch to the evening.

Although Lord Newborough believes demand for meal boxes will tail off slightly once people feel safer shopping in store and can return to restaurants, he thinks sales will remain at a higher level than before the pandemic, even after the impacts of Covid-19 fade.

The pandemic has fuelled a surge in direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales models, with the likes of Hello Fresh recording a 128% increase in sales in the third quarter of 2020. But indies are challenging the larger players with a more bespoke service, offering greater flexibility and high quality food.

Indeed, Booths has recently joined in on the action with the launch of its Let’s Cook recipe kits. The Northern retailer’s boxes are made for two and include fresh ingredients in made-to-measure sizes, as well as a recipe card with simple, step-by-step instructions.

Kate Rathbone, Booths brand development manager said the boxes are ideal for those looking to learn new skills in the kitchen or try a new recipe. The current range includes recipes such as Moroccan Courgette, Red Pepper and Chickpea Tagine and hearty Creamy Chicken and Leek Mashed Potato Topped Pie, but it will be refreshed regularly in-store.

What makes them stand out amongst the competition? “Booths are able to tailor our menu boxes to suit local tastes and use unique and local ingredients or regional flavours,” Kate tells Speciality Food. “We’ve been able to work with our customers directly on what recipes they would like to cook and we’re very excited to bring a range of seasonal recipes throughout the year.”

Anna says indies need to play to their own individual USPs to compete with the bigger food box brands: “Taking Eversfield Organic as an example, we love to keep customers up to date with our herd of Aberdeen Angus and our newly instated Market Garden in which we continue to grow our range of home grown greens. Telling stories, especially of the journey from field to fork, is also important for capturing an audience.

“Organic certified status, PFLA certification, and awards are also things small businesses need to shout about to gain a wider consumer base,” continues Anna. “Customer relationship management is also important for small businesses – keeping those customers acquired on board is so important. We love giving a personal level of customer service and allowing our customers to make changes to order quickly and efficiently with the help of our lovely customer service team.”

While the rise of the D2C model can be a worry for traditional retailers, by adopting those businesses’ successful strategies and adapting them to their own strengths, independents can offer an ideal service for their local customers.

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