Food & Drink | April 7, 2020 11:31 am

With America Under Lockdown, Are Meal-Kit Companies Thriving?

A chat with Home Chef about adapting to the demands of a new normal

home chef chicago
Is this the smartest way to get your groceries during coronavirus?
Home Chef

Whether ordered up by folks who can’t boil water or the guy with a nice set of knives but no time to shop, home-delivered meal kits have become a staple in many American households in 2020. Throw in a restaurant industry in crisis and folks aiming to keep their visits to the supermarket to a minimum, and these companies have seen an expected uptick in business.

Chicago-based Home Chef — which also distributes throughout Los Angeles and Atlanta — is riding that wave. But there’s a whole new meaning to the old saying, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” We chatted with Home Chef’s Chief Revenue Officer, Rich Denardis, about how he and his crew are working hard to satisfy the growing public appetite.

InsideHook: How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted business?

Rich Denardis: From a demand perspective we have seen a material increase in orders. We have been working around the clock to increase our production capabilities, procure ingredients and, most importantly, ensure we have a safe work environment for our production teams. We have three production facilities — one outside Chicago, the second outside Los Angeles and a third outside of Atlanta. We are currently hiring various roles in all three of our production facilities to meet demands. 

Has this event slowed the introduction of new offerings, or required you to re-tweak existing options, perhaps because of disruption in the supply of ingredients to your facilities?

Our online menu rotates weekly, so we have a high level of innovation in our core offering. Also, last year, we rolled out Oven-Ready meals, which require minimal ingredient prep and are easily cooked in oven safe tins that we provide. Home Chef’s food supply has not been negatively affected. We have a rigorous supplier approval program and source ingredients from some of the country’s largest food suppliers. 

Steak with horseradish and herb cream over spinach and smashed potatoes (Home Chef)

How is the current situation playing out in the kitchens? Are the chefs scrambling to create new dishes?

Since we have seen an increase in demand for our meal kits, we have had to make some adjustments to our menu in order to produce and fulfill meals for all customers who want them. In some cases, we have temporarily removed menu items, or are providing fewer “Customize It” menu options so that our teams can serve more customers during these unprecedented times. We introduce new recipes every week and one coming online this next week is a Steak Strip Provolone Pretzel Roll Sandwich served with pickled vegetables and herbed oven fries. I like this one because it’s a nod towards pub-style dishes many are craving, but may not be able to enjoy now. Looking ahead, this year Easter may see most people entertaining at home for immediate family. We have developed spring dishes that are well-suited for Easter. For instance, the Lamb with Jalapeño Jelly is an elegant dish served with parmesan-chive mashed potatoes with broccolini. Customers can order servings for two, four or six, and this dish can be prepared and ready to serve in 35-45 minutes.

Any challenges in getting meals delivered?

The biggest recent challenge was ramping up our production volume. At times, we have had to adjust delivery dates or limit new orders for the following week. FedEx is our national carrier partner and we are working with them closely to ensure that deliveries are kept on schedule. 

So many businesses today are grappling with how to keep going, much less expand their operations or customer base? What’s the story at Home Chef in this regard?

As a food manufacturer, we are lucky to be an essential business. Because of the social-distancing restrictions in many states, our customers certainly appreciate the appeal of not having to go to the grocery store. In addition to our own direct marketing, we work closely with our partners at Kroger to generate exposure for our brand. 

Clearly, we are all still trying to guess how this event will play out a down the road. Any signals you’re reading that may inform how your company — and this business generally — will operate in the future?

Meal kits are a great solution for this current environment, and we also hope that, as more customers experience our service, they come to find that Home Chef helps them enjoy home cooked meals. Recognizing this is a relatively new industry that hasn’t lived through a downturn, we are closely monitoring trends, and staying in touch with customers. We are proud to be nimble enough to pivot quickly, and in light of our diverse product offering and omni-channel distribution, believe we are positioned for whatever lies ahead.