The first DIY meal kit sent by Pizza Pilgrims Ltd. was a tiny tragedy. The packets of sauce, dough and cheese exploded en route and landed at co-founder Thom Elliot’s door “like pizza soup in a bag.”
But Mr. Elliot and his co-founder persevered in the idea of shipping the ingredients of its pizza directly to customers. It started out as an attempt to salvage some of the sales momentum the chain had built before getting crushed in the coronavirus lockdown. In February, Pizza Pilgrims had recorded its best-ever sales week across its 13 pizzerias, Mr. Elliot said; by the end of March, business had ground to a halt.
Enter the DIY kits. “The idea was basically: if we can break even and have something to talk about on social [media], then it’d be worth doing,” Mr. Elliot said.
Coronavirus precautions have closed countless restaurants for more than two months. Many are offering delivery or takeout, some for the first time. But others are testing whether customers want to prepare menu items in their own homes.
DIY meal kits as well allow restaurants to generate sales without bringing their entire kitchen staff off furlough. The kits are also cheaper, or at least no more expensive, than takeout, and eliminate the possibility of deliveries arriving cold or roughed-up in transit.
They do, however, flip the restaurant experience from the pampering of having someone else cook and serve a meal to the quiet satisfaction of doing it oneself.
Pizza Pilgrims’ “Frying Pan Pizza Kit” includes fermented dough balls, tomato sauce, mozzarella and olive oil. An online video teaches customers how to construct and cook the pizza, first in a pan, then in the oven. The company said it has sold nearly 12,000 kits, and 10% of customers order again.
Roberta’s, which operates well-known pizza destinations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Los Angeles, has created a similar “Margherita Pizza Kit,” as well as home grill kits and pasta kits. Its cheapest DIY pizza costs $3 less than its ready-to-eat equivalent.
While some restaurants’ new kits are proving popular, Denny’s Corp. is already ending its experiment.
The diner chain began testing kits such as “Complete Breakfast” in select locations on April 29, as part of its grocery service. But it is now phasing its out “Make-at-Home Meal Kits” in favor of precooked, customizable “Shareable Family Packs.”
“The Meal Kits drove short-term sales and provided an easy alternative to grocery shopping,” said John Dillon, executive vice president and chief brand officer. “But as grocery stores adopted social-distancing protocols and supply became more readily available, we saw consumer interest shift to our other new options.”
London-based burger chain Patty & Bun Ltd., on the other hand, said its “Lockdown DIY Kits” had sold “really, really well,” about 1,000 a week on average since they were introduced on March 20. Factoring in delivery, the average cost per burger in a kit of four is around £7.75 ($9.50)—one pound less than the cheapest burger in its restaurants or on its takeout menu, and cheaper still than a hot burger by delivery.
Though Patty & Bun designed the kits to help the chain’s business and suppliers during the lockdown, founder Joe Grossmann said he began to envisage, for the moment, swapping “the four walls of the restaurant for the four edges of a cardboard box.” Kits are topped with branded burger wrappers, and the instructions are written in Patty & Bun’s irreverent style.
“It’s about the whole experience—from getting a magic box full of burger Lego, to the act of putting it together, to the final thing which you feel weirdly proud of,” said Dan Cullen-Shute, chief executive officer of ad agency Creature London Ltd. and a repeat buyer of Patty & Bun meal kits.
Some restaurants were offering meal kits well before the pandemic. New York City-based bakery Doughnuttery Inc., for example, has been selling a “DIY Mini Doughnut Making Kit” since 2015. It comes with mix, sugars, instructions and a reusable device called a doughnut depositor, which is used to shape dough into doughnuts before dropping them into hot oil.
The doughnut kit will likely have company after the virus recedes. Patty & Bun and Pizza Pilgrims plan to formalize their meal kits as a continuing offering and are looking into doing corporate packages for team-building events.
Roberta’s will continue to offer its kits too, said Carlos Mirarchi, executive chef and co-owner, adding, “But only as long as it’s something people want.”
Write to Katie Deighton at [email protected]
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