“For 42 years … we have had easy options to put dinner on the table, but [those boxed entrees] are missing the nutrition,” and are flavored not with nutritious ingredients, but rather “seasoning and chemical additives that are not fundamentally good for us,” Keith Lauver, founder of The Healthy Pantry, said.
As a result, the center of the store where these meal kits are stocked “has become a bit of a food ghetto. It is not safe to walk down these aisles because people are getting killed when they do” from eating unhealthy ingredients, Lauver said.
He has made it his mission to “redevelop” the center store by creating meal kits that “take the busy work out of cooking, but in a way that delivers a nutritious meal.”
Healthy ingredients, fresh flavors
He explained that his meal starter kits are based on leaner proteins, low sugar and more fiber than then traditional meal kits, so people feel full longer. His kits also are bursting with flavor that comes from ingredients other than salt, fat and sugar, he said.
For example, Cooksimple’s Cowboy Chili is made with red and black beans, quinoa and dried vegetables including tomatoes, onions, peppers, zucchini and spinach. It does have some salt, but only 300 mg per serving, compared to Betty Crocker’s Hamburger Helper Chili Cheese, which has 450 mg per serving.
“In many ways, our products are a garden in a pouch. … The ingredients have been harvested at the peak of flavor and preserved for us at home” to give consumers fresh, nutritious and flavorful food, he said.
Like with competing meal kits, Cooksimple’s kits recommend adding in fresh ingredients, such as meat and canned or frozen vegetables. This easy option for customization is on trend and likely will appeal to adventurous millennials as well as parents trying to serve picky eaters.
Lauver notes that Cooksimple kits come in many family-friendly flavors, including Skillet Lasagna, White Bean Santa Fe Chili and Tamale Pie.
More exotic flavors are available online, including Punjabi Coconut Curry, Alaskan Salmon and Tibetan Dal. Lauver opted to withhold these flavors from in-store distribution to focus instead on his core mainstream shopper.
He also is preparing to roll out two new flavors: stroganoff made with black bean pasta that complement the mushrooms and provide plenty of fiber but fewer carbs, and an alfredo made with garbanzo bean pasta that provides “nutritional goodness in a mainstream friendly flavor.”
Cooksimple’s kits also are made with only non-GMO ingredients and are certified gluten-free and kosher, which Lauver said is an essential component of ensuring the products sold in the center of the store are safe.
Convincing consumers to visit the store center
Given that the consumers to whom Cooksimple is targeted do not tend to shop the center of the store where the meal kits are traditionally shelved, Lauver has become creative in his outreach to consumers.
This summer he took a nine week cross-country road trip with his wife and children to talk with consumers about the kits and give away samples to more than 6,000 people in 33 states, he said.
“That grassroots effort is what customers need to see [to realize the kits] are safe and to try the products and discover” they are convenient and taste great, he said.
He also is working with retailers to create “meal solutions” that include in one display the kits, plus the extra add-in ingredients the call for, such as tomatoes, spinach or meat. This makes shopping easier for consumers because everything they need is one place, and it drives up basket size, which retailers like, he added.
Displaying the kits at the end of aisles, in the produce and in the meat departments also has helped raise consumer awareness, he said. Positioning the product in the parameter of the store helps link it with freshness, he noted. Directional signs on the floors and shelves also help drive traffic to the center store where the boxes are sold.
Despite Lauver’s overt efforts to make a healthier product, he says he is only “whispering” the health message to consumers, because many people do not want to be nagged about eating healthy. He adds that health messages also can frighten away shoppers who associate it with tasteless foods.
“Health isn’t the No. 1 marketing benefit, because we are not going to make a difference in the health of the nation if we are sold primarily as healthy. We have to sell it as convenient to succeed” because that is what most American’s prioritize, he said.