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Boxed up: F-M grocery stores add meal kits, ready-to-cook options catering to busy shoppers

Hornbacher's stores, including its downtown Moorhead location, 101 11th St. S., now offer "Quick & Easy" ready-to-cook produce, proteins and sides. Ryan Johnson / The Forum1 / 3
Beef stir fry as prepared from one of the new "To the Table" meal kits now available at Cash Wise stores. Coborn's Inc. Special to The Forum2 / 3
Chicken pad thai as prepared from one of the new "To the Table" meal kits now available at Cash Wise stores. Coborn's Inc. Special to The Forum3 / 3

MOORHEAD—Some of the newest products at local grocery stores combine the expected, like produce and meat, into unexpectedly convenient meal kits.

Cash Wise stores in the metro, including its Moorhead supermarket at 3300 U.S. Highway 10 East, started stocking the "To the Table" line about a week ago.

The idea, said Store Director Dave Walls, has been well-received so far by customers looking for a convenient way to make a meal in about 15 minutes without picking out individual ingredients or assembling a shopping list.

"Especially this time of year when everybody's so busy with so many things, it's a great idea," he said.

The parent company of Cash Wise, Coborn's Inc., recently rolled out its To the Table meal kits in Cash Wise, Coborn's and Marketplace Foods grocery stores.

Communications & Engagement Specialist Kevin Hurd said the company noticed growing interest in meal kits with the rise of online subscription services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh.

An analysis released earlier this year by consulting firm Pentallect said meal kits are now a $2.2 billion business.

Unlike those online options, Hurd said To the Table doesn't require a subscription, and customers don't have to choose their meals in advance. Instead, they stop by their local Cash Wise and pick up a box containing the ingredients to make one of six meals for two, including chicken fajitas, fettuccine alfredo with kale or pork yakisoba stir fry. These boxes retail for $14.99.

"We saw an opportunity for those guests that don't have a lot of time on their hands and that aren't able to cook their meals, or might not have even made the decision of what their meal's going to be when they're leaving work," he said.

More options

Family Fare stores don't offer their own version of a meal kit, according to a store manager.

Hornbacher's stores also lack meal kits, though President Matt Leiseth said the regional grocer has rolled out other convenient products for customers.

Hornbacher's now has a "Quick & Easy" line spread across multiple departments. For example, a shopper might find cut produce in bags that's ready to be microwaved or steamed.

In the meat section, they'll be able to pick from several types of proteins, including chicken and fish, that are pre-seasoned or include sauce and only require a quick heating in the microwave or oven to complete.

"The consumer today is continuing to look for more convenience and more options," Leiseth said.

Unlike a meal kit, which predetermines the side and vegetable that will accompany an entree, he said customers can choose their own mix of sides and main courses. That could be a handy option for families with varying preferences, he said, as well as for customers who want to mix it up at dinner.

"We can accomplish the same thing, but with greater variety," he said.

Quick & Easy products, which Leiseth said are assembled right in the store, now complement other offerings in Hornbacher's stores, such as heat-and-eat or hot-and-ready products from the deli.

Hurd said Cash Wise customers, too, will find other options in addition to its meal kits, such as Ready Chef Go meals or Oven Ready entrees.

Convenience is the driving factor behind these new products, but Hurd said meal kits might also solve another problem for shoppers who face an overload of options.

Dennis Host, Coborn's vice president of marketing, said in a written statement that 83 percent of consumers don't know by noon what they're going to make for dinner. Even by 5 p.m., 65 percent haven't decided.

Hurd said a meal kit resolves that indecision by presenting six options to shoppers who still want to eat at home, but might not want to figure out a good recipe to make.

"We meet the demands of busy schedules, we're able to still fulfill our activities and in 15 minutes, they've got a great meal," he said.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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