It’s Dinner: But Is It Cooking?

What is a meal kit?  A meal kit includes all of the ingredients and recipes to make delicious meals at home.  More than one hundred companies now offer to do the planning, shopping, and prepping, leaving the joy of cooking, and eating, to you.  The United States meal market could grow by as much as five billion dollars over the next decade.

Meal kits are regarded by some as a positive development in cooking culture.  The kits provide ideas and eliminate the need to decide “what’s for dinner?”.  Feedback from customers, especially millennials, is that these kits are teaching them how to cook, so they can feel involved in the kitchen,

Blue Apron is one of the leaders in this category, and the company offers a subscription service with: original recipes weekly (500-800 calories per serving), fresh ingredients (pre-measured to avoid waste) and convenient delivery across the nation (arriving in a refrigerated box).  As a pricing example, Blue Apron offers a 2-Person Plan including 3 recipes per week for a total of $59.94 ($9.99 per serving) or a Family Plan for 4 including 2 recipes per week for a total of $69.92 ($8.74 per serving).

A price point of $9-$10 per meal is a lot of money for most people.  However, some believe the kits are worth the time saved driving/walking to the store and shopping.

The meal kit market gets very specialized at a point.  Fans of Northern California cuisine and chefs can join Sun Basket, and enthusiasts of Georgia farmers and Southern chefs may subscribe to PeachDish.

Meal kits might help to cut down on food waste through pre-portioned ingredients.  According to an estimate by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up to thirty-one percent of America’s post-harvest food supply is thrown away.

One complaint about the kits is that too much packaging is used, and besides current recycling methods, there is a hope that one day the insulation will be compostable.

As far as home-cooking trends are concerned, meal kits are at the forefront.  How much staying power will they have?  Time will tell…

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A Better Chocolate Babka

If you are looking to nosh on something, with your coffee, tea or seltzer, might I suggest a slice of babka?

Babka is a sweet loaf, similar to a light textured coffee cake.  Babka is made from a doubled and twisted length of yeast dough and is typically baked in a high loaf pan.  It starts with a rich, slow-rise dough made with lots of butter, real vanilla, fresh egg yolks, lemon zest, sugar and sea salt.  The dough is rolled around an almond frangipane (made from almonds, almond flour, more vanilla, butter, sugar and eggs), then brushed with dark chocolate and cinnamon sugar.  You can fill a babka with almost anything sweet: chocolate, jam, dulce de leche, homemade ganache, and Nutella to name a few.  The babka is usually scattered with brown sugar streusel.

This pastry is associated with Eastern European Jewish tradition.  The word “babka” is both Polish and Yiddish, deriving from “baba,” meaning grandmother.

Baking a babka requires commitment.  Babkas can take a day or more to make, which includes three and a half hours to bake, and six to twenty-four hours to rise.  Refrigerating the dough in between steps makes it easier to work with, and a longer proofing period gives the loaf a more complex flavor.  Proofing is the final rise of shaped bread dough before baking.

New York bakeries have joined the babka movement.  Bklyn Larder fills its babka with ganache, Sadelle’s creates a chocolate-cookie version and Breads Bakery presents a Nutella loaf.  Baz Bagel even bakes its babka into bread pudding.

Babka freezes very well, making for second servings, and another delicious snack or dessert.

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Brooklyn Brewery Joins the Navy Yard

View-1-png.pngBrooklyn Brewery, the borough’s most iconic brewer, originally opened their Williamsburg location in 1996 and helped propel the neighborhood from its downtrodden industrial past to an international destination. But with rents steadily on the rise and showing no signs of slowing, the brewery has been looking for new spaces for several years to move the bulk of their operations once their lease is up in 2025. This weekend they announced that they’ll be following in the footsteps of Russ & Daughters and the Mast Brothers and opening a huge (75,000 square-foot) production facility in the updated Brooklyn Navy Yard under a 40-year lease.

The new facility will include brew space, offices, and a rooftop beer garden and restaurant. The move represents the first time the Brooklyn Brewery will be offering food as well as suds, and chief executive Eric Ottaway promises the menu will be “more than pretzels and bratwursts.” The borough has already committed to $80 million to revamp the Navy Yard’s building 77 as a food hall open to the public. The beer garden there should be open to the public by 2018, and early renderings promise the space will be a major destination for the “foodies” borough president Eric Adams is hoping to attract.

To read more, click here.

The Pre-Shift Meal May be Your Best Tool For Team Building

Many full service restaurants already incorporate a staff meal as part of their operations, but for some that meal may not seem worth the expense or planning required. If you fall into the latter category, we invite you to reconsider some of the added benefits of bringing the team together over a staff meal. Studies done in firehouses show that firefighters who share meals are more cooperative and perform better as a team. And while the stresses of putting out a burning building may not be exactly the same as those of serving a full dining room, there are some basic skills in common. And teammates who are able to relax together and connect when they’re not on the clock are more likely to communicate well when they are. Organizing a shared meal is also a good way for managers to take on joint responsibility and foster teamwork between front of house and back of house.

If organizing a full pre-shift sit-down is impossible at your establishment because of the time required or the nature of the business, we still recommend doing a lineup to go over the latest menu changes and any information that can be shared with guests. For more ideas about adding this simple but powerful step to your daily operations, click here.

What’s Next for Retail?

Retail Customer Experience, the online publisher of current retail news and research, just released their latest Whitepaper on what’s next for retail (and how to navigate your business there). It includes research and advice on mobile POS, inventory management, and omnichannel brand representation, including warnings about some of the pitfalls retailers face navigating new technologies.

To download a copy, click here.

Reserve Goes after Instant Reservations

We’ve written a lot recently about the delivery wars currently being waged between competitors like Grubhub, Uber and Amazon, but less has been said about the battle to become the go-to reservation system. Current heavy hitters OpenTable and Yelp’s SeatMe have enjoyed a relatively open playing field for awhile, allowing each of them to acquire thousands of restaurant partners.

Reserve has been in the game since 2014, but has marketed its app as a restaurant “concierge” rather than a traditional reservation system. They partner with a much smaller list of restaurants (currently around 350), and users of the app provide a time window and a number of guests rather than making a reservation on the spot. Restaurants then confirm the time and Reserve alerts the user. Evidently with their eyes on a bigger prize, Reserve has now rolled out instant reservations at a subset of it’s current restaurant list. That subset may be small, but it includes impressive names like Russ & Daughter’s, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Mission Chinese. Reserve’s Head of Restaurant Product, Peter Esmond, says that their focus is largely on creating a product that works better for restaurants by offering more flexibility and greater customer support.

While Yelp and OpenTable continue to go head to head, Reserve may quietly sneak up on them through the high-end market. Or they may just add a delivery feature and take on the world.

To read more, click here.

Behind Chick-fil-A’s Success

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Political controversy aside, Chick-fil-A’s success is undeniable. In 2015, they averaged $3.2 million in per-store sales, which is 25% higher than McDonald’s, and double Burger King or Wendy’s. In 2014 they overtook KFC as America’s biggest Chicken chain. Analysts now predict that they are on track to become the 4th largest chain in America in terms of revenue by 2020, calling them the largest and least appreciated threat to McDonald’s. And if you think that this is largely irrelevant in New York, where Bill De Blasio has come out officially against the company for the CEO’s homophobic remarks, you might want to think again. 8 blocks from their first NYC location in midtown they are currently construction a second, and there are additional plans in the works to open a dozen more around the outer boroughs – bringing them close to the number of Panera breads in the city.

Needless to say, controversy does not seem to be slowing them down too much. Analysts credit their tight operations, and perhaps a certain amount of exclusivity: apparently only 0.7% of the 20,000 applicants who applied for franchises last year were given a spot – an acceptance rate lower than Harvard.

To read more, click here.

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