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Off-premise: the future of foodservice?

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I'm officially in full-blown geek-out mode after attending two tech conferences in one week. The advances that piqued my interest weren’t kiosks or robots. Rather, they were the new ways consumers are using the internet and apps to get food more easily.

I kicked off the nerd-a-palooza with a trek to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest. And despite a predicted snowstorm, I made it back for Consumer Direct, a first-of-its-kind conference by Technomic and Restaurant Business parent Winsight, providing a look at the world of meal kits, third-party delivery and the like, topics that were similarly covered at SXSW.

I was in Texas to be a trend spotter, but I had a more active role with Consumer Direct, helping shape the day’s content. A poorly timed bout of laryngitis kept me from co-presenting a session about the obstacles this consumer-direct world is up against. But here’s the rundown I would have delivered if I could. 

Meal kit survival?

Most attendees at Consumer Direct were hopeful about the growth potential of meal kits; and while SXSW patrons were buzzing about Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and others, they were not as sold on the model. Among the top reasons: the food wasted in facilities and the amount of packaging used to ship orders leads to a bit of a negative perception. Too, mail-order meal kits aren’t cheap.

Few restaurants have figured out how to do meal kits, but several grocery stores are starting to. And they are offering the same thing as subscription services—preportioned, fresh ingredients with a recipe—with less packaging and less commitment at a lower cost. Now is the time when these meal kit services really need to start differentiating if they want to survive the competition.

Hybrid virtual-real portfolio

Buffalo Wild Wings revealed that it’s weighing takeout-and-delivery-only stores. We know takeout is up, so imagine if more chains considered a mix of traditional and virtual restaurants—essentially delivery commissaries where delivery only goes out of these dining room-free sites and doesn’t impact the regular traffic flow. The bump from third-party delivery has taxed restaurants, but they don’t want to turn away the business. A unit focused solely on filling those orders might be an ideal solution.

Targeting a broader audience

Most ads for meal kit and third-party delivery services portray childless, urban millennials. Yes, this stereotypical customer may be busy working, but they don’t have to rush home to relieve a babysitter—they can stop at the grocery store or pick up food on the way home. What about a busy parent (and more and more this group includes millennials) who has a short window of time between getting home and taking a kid to practice? These services are ideal for that crew, too. Why not have meal kits with kid-friendly twists on introductory flavors, or delivery apps that let families talk and plan an order in-app ahead of time?

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