The Kroger Co. has teamed up with ghost kitchen operator Kitchen United to offer customers online ordering, pickup and delivery of fresh-made meals from area restaurants.
Under the partnership, announced Wednesday, Kitchen United-run off-premise restaurant kitchens at Kroger stores will feature up to six local, regional or national restaurant brands. Customers place orders via the Kitchen United website, mobile app or on-site kiosks, and restaurant staff prepare the orders. The meals can be picked up at the store or delivered to customers’ homes, with delivery service fees set by third-party providers.
Plans call for the first kitchen to open this fall at a Ralphs supermarket in Los Angeles, with more locations launching later this year, Kroger and Kitchen United said.
“Our customers’ appetite for fresh, on-demand meals continues to accelerate, and we remain focused on offering new and innovative products that provide anything, anytime, anywhere,” Dan De La Rosa, group vice president of fresh merchandising at Cincinnati-based Kroger, said in a statement. “Our partnership with Kitchen United taps into restaurants’ growing use of off-premise kitchen space to increase customers’ access to their favorite foods.”
Bannered as “Kitchen United MIX,” the kitchen centers will enable Kroger customers to order food from each restaurant brand and have their purchases grouped on one receipt. Pasadena, Calif.-based Kitchen United said it has diversified its offerings through the expansion of its proprietary MIX platform, which powers its concept of offering a menu of restaurant brands from one destination for delivery and pickup.
“Kitchen United recognizes the significant value of Kroger as a strategic partner. Our work together provides participating restaurants access to millions of Kroger customers and the ability to better address off-premise demand in a convenient supermarket format — a frequent destination for most consumers,” stated Michael Montagano, CEO of Kitchen United. “We’ve worked collaboratively with the Kroger team to curate a mix of popular restaurant brands, and we see a great opportunity to introduce our partnership in cities across the country.”
The Kitchen United partnership marks Kroger’s second on-site ghost kitchen announcement in the past year. Last fall, the supermarket giant unveiled plans to launch two ghost kitchens with ClusterTruck inside stores in metropolitan Indianapolis and outside Columbus, Ohio, for on-demand delivery of freshly prepared meals. That followed a successful pilot of a meal service — dubbed Kroger Delivery Kitchen Powered by ClusterTruck — from off-site “scratch kitchens” in late 2019.
Craig Gauden, director of partnership development at Kroger, noted that Kitchen United MIX will provide customers with another convenient meal option.
Kitchen United MIX has six ghost kitchens in four states, including California (two), Illinois (two), Texas and Arizona. (Photo courtesy of Kitchen United)
“As we continue to define Kroger as a food destination, this collaboration creates another seamless way for our customers to order lunch or dinner for pickup while they shop for groceries or for delivery to their location of choice,” Gauden commented.
Kitchen United lists six kitchen center locations on its website, including facilities in Pasadena and San Jose, Calif.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Austin, Texas, plus two sites in Chicago. Founded in 2017, the company noted that its restaurant hub technology, logistics and commercial kitchen space enable foodservice operators to generate off-premise business and provide consumers a different food-to-go experience.
“We are proud to have launched a number of successful ghost kitchen centers across the country, and now we are applying our experience and taking steps to expand in nontraditional ghost kitchen formats, such as retail shopping centers and food halls like our newest kitchen center location in Chicago alongside our efforts with Kroger,” according to Atul Sood, chief business officer of Kitchen United. “Our team has built a powerful tech stack and developed an infrastructure that optimizes any kitchen setting for streamlined and profitable off-premise business. Kroger is the perfect partner as we grow our reach and variety of business verticals, in addition to our well-known ghost kitchen facility model.”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic squeezed supermarkets’ prepared food sales, as retailers had to shut down self-serve hot food operations and customers cooked at home, foodservice stands as a big growth opportunity going forward, according to the 2021 Power of Foodservice at Retail report from FMI-The Food Industry Association, released in late July. The study found that 39% of consumers see retail foodservice as a substitute for both a home-cooked meal and a restaurant meal, putting grocers in a strong position as mealtime providers.
Similarly, the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) said it plans to highlight foodservice at its annual Private Label Trade Show to help grocery retailers and suppliers capitalize on the expected growth in meal solutions. PLMA said many “best in class” retail chains already have expanded their convenience-focused food offerings for prepared, kitchen and table-ready meals, either packaged for online pickup or delivery or for grab-and-go from stores.
Grocery retailers that have expanded their restaurant-made or restaurant-quality meal offerings and/or foodservice options include Walmart, Fortinos Supermarket, Hy-Vee, Schnuck Markets, The Giant Company, Quality Food Centers (QFC), Loblaw Cos., H-E-B and The Fresh Market, among others.