Meal kits creep into foodservice sector: Boston Burger Co. tests the water with its BurgaBox of the Month Club

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

BurgaBox meal kit doubles subscribers each month since Aug 2016 launch

Related tags Meal kit 2016

Boston Burger Co. is an institution for Beantown residents, especially for the city’s many university students and tourists who learned about the joint from Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives TV show.

“I’ve seen ridiculous in the burger world, this may have to be a contender,” Fieri said about the restaurant on his show​. “If you’re going to go for a big burger, putting mac n’ cheese on it is pretty gangster.”

And a mac-and-cheese burger isn’t a dish most Americans would associate with a meal kit service—at least not yet. “I think that the customers that are buying from us aren’t the same people that are buying the other meal kits out there, like Blue Apron or HelloFresh,” ​Chuck Sillari, co-founder and co-owner of Boston Burger Co.​ and its new meal kit arm BurgaBox​, told FoodNavigator-USA.

BurgaBox joins a small section of the foodservice sector which is taking grocery’s cue​ of grabbing a slice of the burgeoning meal kit market​.

“I don’t see anybody else in the market doing big, messy burgers, mac-and-cheese, fries—everybody else is tailored more toward healthy meal kits. I don’t see anybody else doing what we’re doing,” ​he added.

High retention, doubling subscribers

Since its launch, the number of subscribers has doubled each month. One hundred BurgaBoxes were sent out in August 2016. This month, the team has received orders for 400 boxes.

The menu is different each month, featuring a different burger with four different sides. A meal kit for two costs $45, for four costs $60. A 3-month subscription is $177, and 6-month is $354. Shipping within the eastern part of the US (extending west until Chicago and south to South Carolina) is free for customers.

“We’re getting great feedback, and it’s fun! It’s fun to see someone in Michigan cook a burger, put it on Instagram, knowing that it came from here in Massachusetts, it’s crazy,” ​he said. Sillari estimates that the retention rate is at 75%, meaning that one-off orders are actually a minority of BurgaBox’s current customers.

Meal kits, more scalable than opening a new location

So who would want to shell out that amount of money for a whimsical burger? “A big part of the customer-base of our restaurant are from out of town, either college students who live in Boston for four years, or tourists—and we get a lot of requests from people who miss Boston Burger for us to open a new restaurant,” ​Sillari explained.

January Burgabox burger
Boston Burger Co. is known for its big, messy burgers topped with unconventional ingredients.

Hence, nostalgia and knowing the brand is a big part of what’s been driving BurgaBox’s success so far, and he feels that instead of opening new locations out-of-state, meal kits can be the future for restaurants wanting to rake in more revenue.

“If you have a restaurant, you only have so many hours in a day, and so many seats in a restaurant. What I see now, with an e-commerce business, we have an entire country that we can serve. We can have lines out the door at restaurants, but we can only bring in so much revenue in a day. But it’s unlimited how many boxes we can aim to ship out in a day—if we have the staff, if we have the product, the boxes,”​ he said.

“So it’s much more scalable than a restaurant in my opinion anyways. If you do it right, you get your system down and people like the product, I think there’s so much growth potential.”

The next step for BurgaBox in 2017 is opening a fulfilment center in the West Coast. “When we look at the back-end of our platform, and look at all the people who ordered and then backed-out at the very last stage, all of those people are from outside of the free-shipping zone,” ​Sillari said.

“People won’t pay an extra $50 for shipping—I mean, some people are doing it! I’m surprised some people are doing it, but most people aren’t.”

Filling in a gap in the category: 'People are going crazy for these meals that really aren’t that exciting'

It took the Boston Burger Co. team six months to test different menu offerings, packaging, and delivery options before launching to the public in August 2016. Sillari gave a shout-out to the restaurant chain’s director of marketing Christina Orso, who ‘accidentally’ introduced the meal kit concept to the restaurant’s founders in February 2016. 

In a tongue-in-cheek ad, BurgaBox shows why its different from the other meal kits out there. According to Sillari, BurgaBox has no competition yet. "Everybody else is tailored more toward healthy meal kits. I don’t see anybody else doing what we’re doing," he said.

As the story goes, Orso, an avid customer of meal kit services, used her office address to receive a free HelloFresh box for her roommate (the referral code wouldn’t work using the same delivery address). This intrigued Sillari and the other owners, who have heard of the meal kit phenomenon but never really looked into it or seen one in person.

“I thought, are you serious? People are actually shipping groceries by FedEx?”​ Sillari said. “I looked at it and can’t even believe that this exists. Why wouldn’t people just go to the grocery store and get these ingredients?”

Orso explained why she uses meal kits—it’s convenience, the experience, being introduced to new recipes, not having to buy a bunch of parsley when a dish only requires a handful. “So I went home and started googling, and I see there’s a huge market for meal kits—maybe I’m too old for this meal kit thing but I thought ‘People are really going crazy for these meals that really aren’t that exciting,’” ​he joked.

“But I thought, what if we took the food from our restaurant, figure out how to deconstruct the burgers, put the ingredients in the box, give clear and understandable ingredients on how to cook it at home—people would love it!”

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