Founded in 2012 by Alison Cayne, Haven's Kitchen began as a cooking school in New York City with the goal of making people feel more confident in the kitchen.
"I opened Haven's Kitchen really to change the way people felt about cooking. I think a lot of people have fear and loathing around the kitchen," said Cayne. Right around the same time, meal kits started flooding the scene, also with the similar goal of making home cooking easier for consumers.
However, the novelty of subscription-based meal kits seems to have worn off with many major players struggling with customer retention. Since going public, Blue Apron stock prices have plummeted (from over $140 per share in 2017 to $6.90 per share today) and competitor Chef'd ceased operations in 2018 before selling its assets to True Food Innovations for an undisclosed amount, although the latter is now seeing success with instore kits.
"There’s got to be something in between the way people feel about traditional cooking and meal kit cooking, which is somehow not scratching the itch," Cayne told FoodNavigator-USA.
'You can’t disrupt something as fundamental as cooking'
According to Cayne, meal kits never solved the root of consumers' reluctance around cooking.
"You can’t disrupt something as fundamental as cooking," Cayne wrote in a NY Post article published last month.
In it, Cayne wrote: "Technology can change the way people get a cab, or save work files or order takeout. And you can certainly create shortcuts and tools that make cooking more fun and convenient. But with cooking, people want to touch ingredients and connect with something elemental. An online subscription service that offers tiny baggies of cilantro may simplify the cooking process, but it also creates distance from it."
Haven's Kitchen cooking classes typically begin by asking students what frustrates them about cooking: “Why do you want to cook?” “Why don’t you like to cook?” “What would help you enjoy the process more?”.
Many of the students that enter Haven's Kitchen have tried meal kits, but most unsubscribed from the service, according to Cayne, feeling pressure to use it and guilt around the amount of packaging waste that the little baggies of herbs and micro bottles of vinegar and oil created.
Cayne added that meal kits also missed the sense of empowerment and confidence that comes from cooking a meal at home.
"They missed the sense of accomplishment that comes with making a good meal. It didn’t build their confidence. It didn’t foster creativity or relaxation. They saved shopping time, perhaps, but not much money or prep/cleaning time, and putting together a kit produced a meal, but with the shortcut came a loss of satisfaction," Cayne wrote in her piece.
Cayne told FoodNavigator-USA that despite the growing presence of online retail, shoppers are not leaving the grocery store and they expect grocers to have things that are globally inspired, fresh, convenient, and will make their cooking easier.
"[Haven's Kitchen Sauces] hits all of those notes," Cayne said.
Sauces: The shortcut to home cooking?
The decision to go from cooking school (and today a private event space and cafe) to retail brand with its pouches of sauces was rather simple, Cayne shared.
"We were already selling the sauces at Haven's Kitchen," which at the time were in pints with a three-day shelf life rather than retail-ready HPP squeezable pouches that come in savory flavors including 'herby chimichurri' and 'red pepper romesco'.
Haven's Kitchen converted several of its best-selling sauces from large format packaging to convenient squeezable and resealable pouches processed using HPP to protect the flavor and integrity of the ingredients.
"We went to the Fancy Food Show in 2017. At the Fancy Food show both FreshDirect and Whole Foods buyers were there and really exciting about it," said Cayne.
Haven's Kitchen Sauces are sold in 22 states at retailers including Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Fresh Market, as well as online through FreshDirect.
In 2020, the company will reach national distribution, according to Cayne.
The biggest challenge? Store placement
As the brand gains distribution, its main challenge at retail has been finding the right home in the store since the sauces can work well in a number of areas such as Whole Foods' refrigerated condiment set where its velocities are "pretty amazing," said Cayne.
"When a retailer is committed to creating a set that isn't a 'netherworld' of things that don't make sense in other places, but they're really thoughtful about 'this is the set for people who want to make dinner in a hurry', when they lean into that, I think it really works. It takes some reshuffling, but it can be done," said Cayne.