Not all meal kits are alike.
That’s what Home Chef is trying to tell current and potential customers as it battles for space in the crowded meal-kit delivery service sector. Brian Irwin, Home Chef’s vp of marketing, said that among the brand’s biggest goals are differentiating itself from competitors like HelloFresh and Blue Apron while also firmly establishing itself in a crowded marketplace.
“There’s still that big build-the-brand piece of it,” Irwin told Adweek of the company’s marketing efforts during Brandweek. “There’s this situation where it’s like, ‘Hi, this is Home Chef. We’re like Blue Apron.'”
Because of that occasional confusion, Chicago-based Home Chef has often made a point of establishing how it differs from its competitors in its advertising. Irwin said these types of ads have been their most successful.
Most notably, Home Chef regards itself as a more mainstream meal-kit service that isn’t catering to the foodie crowd. Irwin said the team frequently uses the phrase “meat and potatoes” to describe its offerings, a quality that’s served the company well. Irwin said they’ve seen competitors retreat from the more foodie-focused menus.
“That’s been kind of our position all along,” he said. “Keep it simple, keep it basic, try to really have meals that are understood by people and ingredients that are understood.”
That mindset extends to several elements of Home Chef’s business, down to details like how the food is photographed for its marketing materials. Rather than shooting the food facedown, as is common not only with meal-kit services but also on platforms like Tasty, they photograph it from a side angle. A new campaign from agency O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul, which debuted last week, touts Home Chef as number one in customer satisfaction and takes a more meta marketing approach, letting customers deliver the message that Home Chef is the mainstream meal kit choice. It’s for people who already know how to cook or those who are busy and need some help in the kitchen.
For the company, mainstream is not synonymous with provincial, particularly when it comes to recipe selection. They offer 18 options a week, more than any other meal-kit delivery service. Incorporating these “rational marketing benefits” is a major strategy for the brand, giving customers obvious reasons why they should choose Home Chef over Blue Apron or HelloFresh.
“It’s sort of like what Wendy’s does to McDonald’s, we’re doing to Blue Apron and HelloFresh,” Irwin said. “When you’re the third player in a space, you want to stand apart of how you are discreetly different than the rest of them.”
In July of this year, Ohio-based grocery chain Kroger bought Home Chef. While Irwin said that Kroger is mostly happy to let the company continue what they’ve been doing, the acquisition means Home Chef has a new point of purchase for customers in Kroger stores and a new place for marketing. The benefit of being Kroger-owned also means that Home Chef gets preferential treatment when it comes to where its kits are located in-store.
“If we were a package item on our own, we wouldn’t get nearly the kind of support and visibility,” Irwin said. “We’re getting prime cooler space and prime merchandising.”
However, this new channel also presents more work for the marketing team. The 18 choices a week is a go-to sales pitch for Home Chef online, for example. In-store, the options may be presented differently or on a varying schedule. For Irwin, the question is “How do I do marketing when the value propositions are different between the locations … [and] the type of product you’re buying?”
More of these questions are sure to bubble up as the meal-kit delivery service category continues to grow. Though it may feel ubiquitous now, the fact is that most of these companies are still in their early years: Home Chef was founded in 2013, Blue Apron in 2012 and HelloFresh in 2011. That means there’s plenty more innovation to come.
Irwin predicts that new products will be the priority across the category. “For five years we’ve basically all had the same product, distributed the exact same way, and we’ve all been more or less hunting the same territory,” he said. “The reality is there’s still a lot of other ways to feed the dinner need.”
With all that in mind, one of Home Chef’s primary focuses is building up a robust base of loyal customers. According to Irwin, only a small percentage of Americans uses a meal-kit delivery service to make dinners today.
“Everybody eats,” he said. “And we’re all fighting for that space in that category.”