Spicing it up 

A number of food trends are affecting the meal kit industry, and they’re showing up in what customers are ordering from meal kit industry leader Home Chef, whose meals can not only be shipped to customers but also found on the perimeter shelves of Kroger stores. Home Chef is a subsidiary of Kroger.

“Our culinary team has been busy spicing up familiar favorites, and our customers are really enjoying some new ingredients we’ve introduced,” said Rich DeNardis, Home Chef’s chief revenue officer.

Those include ingredients that may not be pantry staples in all households — harissa for spicy, smoky flavor; seitan as a plant-based protein option; and a variety of curries.

One of Home Chef’s newer recipes featuring harissa, Moroccan-Style Harissa Shrimp, has received very positive ratings from customers, DeNardis said.

In addition to new, exotic flavors, Home Chef’s customers are asking for more wellness-minded meals.

In response, the company has expanded its Fresh Start line, which features recipes that are calorie- and carb-conscious and protein-packed. The Fresh Start menu now has 10 or more such recipes each week.

“This larger trend of making more balanced meals at home is something on which Home Chef is constantly iterating,” DeNardis said. “We now have meals that serve a variety of dietary preferences, such as protein-packed keto-friendly recipes, gluten-smart recipes for those looking to limit gluten in their cooking routine and, most recently, paleo-friendly recipes.”

Another cooking trend that continues to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds, DeNardis said, is convenience.

With more demands on people’s schedules, Home Chef is prioritizing developing time-saving, easy to prepare meals.

These include the company’s line of Oven-Ready meals that require little cleanup and its Express meal kits, which can be ready as little as 15 minutes.

In addition, in 2023, Home Chef introduced Lunch, a line of meals that are ready to heat and enjoy without any prep required. “These meals build on the heat-and-eat-style options in Kroger family stores and were our first fully-cooked meal offering,” DeNardis said.

Brand new for Home Chef is Tempo, its first dedicated microwaveable meal service.

The ready-to-heat Tempo meals are ready in minutes and made with nutrient-rich ingredients. Tempo fills a gap, DeNardis said, for customers who want a quick, no-prep meal but don’t want to sacrifice fresh, delicious recipes or nutrient-rich ingredients.

More chicken choices

Home Chef is also revamping its lineup of prepared chicken options.

The company worked with Kroger’s culinary team to revamp Home Chef’s prepared Fried Chicken meals in stores, delivering a recipe that is crispier, crunchier, and more flavorful than ever, DeNardis said.

Home Chef also recently launched new chicken wings in partnership with Frank’s RedHot Buffalo and Cattlemen’s BBQ sauces. It’s the first time, DeNardis said, those sauces can be found on ready-to-eat wings in grocery stores.

“We’re thrilled that we can offer fans of our wings and those iconic sauces a convenient, delicious meal or snack.”

Other new items Home Chef has created for Kroger stores in the past year or so include ready-to-bake pizzas, flatbreads, calzones and heat-and-eat burritos.

Look for other new variations on Home Chef’s heat-and-eat and ready-to-eat chicken products in Kroger stores later his year, he added.

Home Chef prides itself on the versatility it offers its customers, DeNardis said.

Recipes vary widely depending on the cooking skill levels of customers, and they can take as little to five minutes or as much as an hour, depending on how much time people have or how much they enjoy the process.

“No one has to feel that time restraints need to dictate whether or not they can enjoy a fresh meal.”

That versatility also includes customization, DeNardis said.

For the majority of Home Chef meals, customers can substitute proteins. People who don’t eat pork or beef, for instance, can swap them out for chicken, fish or, in some cases, a plant-based protein like seitan or Impossible Burger.

This article is an excerpt from the March 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Meal Kits feature and more in the digital edition here.