Seafood showing up in more meal kits, including new Weight Watchers offerings

The meal kits that Weight Watchers and Blue Apron plan to launch in supermarkets this year are both expected to include seafood, providing a potentially significant new market for seafood suppliers.

The addition of meal kits at most major grocery chains in the United States over the past year is the latest in the evolution of meal kits, which broke through in 2017 from a trend into the mainstream.

Meal-kit companies such as Blue Apron and Plated accounted for an estimated USD 5 billion (EUR 4.1 billion) in sales in 2017, according to Packaged Facts. Hungry to get into the burgeoning market, numerous retailers and grocers have either acquired or partnered with existing meal-kit companies, or have begun creating and offering their own meal kits to customers.

In March 2018, retail giant Walmart launched a line of meal kits, and online giant Amazon also has announced plans to launch its own meal kits, likely later in 2018. Albertson’s and Publix, among other grocers, have also entered the meal-kit fray in recent months.

Now, both Weight Watchers and Blue Apron said they will launch meal kits in U.S. supermarkets sometime this year. While a Weight Watchers spokesperson did not reveal the grocery chains it will be working with, the spokesperson told SeafoodSource that the kits will likely contain seafood.

“While specific meals [and] recipes are being developed, there will likely be a seafood option(s),” a statement Weight Watchers provided to SeafoodSource said. “We can only confirm the meal kits will be rolling out in the second half of the year at grocery retail; we do not have…pricing or additional details at this time.”

Seafood is expected to be included in the Weight Watchers kits since the kits will be optimized for Weight Watchers’ Freestyle program, which ranks seafood highly in its nutritional program, the spokesperson told SeafoodSource.

To help develop its meal-kit line, Weight Watchers is partnering with FreshRealm, LLC, a five-year-old company specializing in direct food delivery, which has been contracted to create the Weight Watchers-branded quick-prep, pre-portioned meal kits as well as several individual fresh food products, the company said.

"There has been a shift in what people demand as it relates to the food they consume; people are busier so they want convenience, but they also desire fresh foods – whether they are on-the-go or at home with their family," FreshRealm Founder and CEO Michael Lippold said in a press release. ”We’re working closely with [Weight Watchers] to deliver on all these points with a distinguished product line of healthy and delicious quick-prep meals."

Meanwhile, Blue Apron confirmed to CNBC that it is also adding meal kits in unnamed U.S. supermarkets this year – a move expected to help stem customer losses and bolster shares in the meal kit firm’s stock. The company’s stock price has been falling in recent months as it has struggled with operational challenges and increasing competition in the category.

"This offering is part of our strategy to leverage the strength of our brand and the quality of our product to expand to new channels and new consumer segments," a company spokesperson told CNBC.

While Blue Apron did not say whether the kits would include seafood, they are likely to, based on their current meal-kit model. In addition to beef, poultry, and vegetarian meal kits, seafood from suppliers such as Anchor Inn are a mainstay of the company’s menu. 

A Blue Apron spokesperson did not respond to SeafoodSource’s request for comment.

Even though most major supermarket chains now provide meal kits, consultants believe Weight Watchers and Blue Apron can still be successful with the kits.

“Blue Apron and Weight Watchers believe that they have established brands with enough of a point of differentiation to garner incremental customers without requiring a subscription through direct retail store sales,” Steven Johnson, grocerant guru at Foodservice Solutions, told SeafoodSource. “All indications from Foodservice Solutions Grocerant Scorecard interviews indicate that they are correct. Consumers like each brand, like fresh food better than frozen, and it’s the pre-order and pre-scheduling of cooking dinner that is the problem. This format removes that obstacle.”

The supermarket meal-kit market is just beginning to take off, partly due to its expansion into seafood, Johnson added. 

“Sales within retail outlets will propel this category to levels no one would have ever dreamed possible,” he said. “How will that happen? New categories such as salmon meal kits, tilapia meal kits, cod meal kits, and catfish meal kits.”


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