Nation & World

Chef'd's fate suggests future of meal-kit industry

True Food Innovations aims to sell branded products in stores

Seattle Times/TNS

Grocery-store meal kits come with less packaging and can offer more flexibility and choice than subscription meal services such as Blue Apron.
Seattle Times/TNS Grocery-store meal kits come with less packaging and can offer more flexibility and choice than subscription meal services such as Blue Apron.

Time was, online meal-kit companies such as Blue Apron either were going to revolutionize the food industry, taking on both grocery stores and restaurants, or go bankrupt because of the cost and complexity of shipping fresh meat and produce to customers’ front doors.

But now a third option is emerging — meal kits, made by Blue Apron and other industry pioneers, but sold in grocery stores instead of online.

That’s where Newport Beach investment firm True Food Innovations sees the industry headed, which is why it announced Wednesday that it has acquired the assets of El Segundo meal-kit company Chef’d, which abruptly shut down last week.

True Food, run by food and real estate investor Alan True, plans to use the Chef’d brand name as part of a broader plan to become a big player in the in-store meal-kit business.

Meal kits, which include pre-measured portions of ingredients and instructions for making particular dishes — from summer vegetable risotto to maple pork chops with green beans — have become increasingly popular since online companies started offering them around 2012.

New York-based Blue Apron and Berlin’s Hello Fresh are market leaders, and combined they sold about $1.5 billion worth of meal kits online last year, up from about $1.1 billion in 2016.

But grocery stores, including Walmart and Kroger are getting in on the meal-kit game, too. Last year, brick-and-mortar grocers sold about $155 million worth of meal kits, up 26 percent from a year earlier, according to market research company Nielsen.

That increase came despite an overall decline in brick-and-mortar stores’ grocery sales.

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