For any major holiday or special event when I was growing up, our family would clamor into my father’s van and drive unencumbered by seatbelts to one of our extended family’s homes. There, the women congregated in the kitchen preparing the meal, while the men gathered around libations (beer, jug wine and spirits) and the children slipped out of sight to accomplish some forbidden act, such as competing for the title of Highest Tree Climber.
Later we’d all gather in the dining room to enjoy home-cooked meals that always seemed to include some sort of Jell-O dish, each time with some suspended bits of organic matter: a combination of canned fruit and various proteins (ham, cheese or shrimp) all blended together with a large helping of Cool Whip. The adults sat together around tablecloth-covered, ornately carved wooden furniture, while anyone under 16 years old was relegated to flimsy folding tables and plastic chairs that were placed along the room’s perimeter. Wine was included at the adult table, but rarely discussed.
The key ingredients in pulling off food-centric events of the past were often dedicated space, time to prepare the food and single-source family incomes that allowed at least one person to shop, prep and cook the meals. To gather a group of just about any size around the table at home today has grown far more complicated, and so it has grown more rare. Extended families are now often more fragmented, with couples strapped for time as they often both need to work to generate a livable income. Houses themselves have changed with the newest ones being designed without designated dining rooms, replaced instead with open floor plans that often spill out from the kitchen into living-dining spaces.
And yet the inherent human desire to commune with family and friends around food and libations remains. For the last few decades the conflict between wanting to eat with others, coupled with little or no time to prepare meals, has resulted in more dining out at restaurants. Recently, though, there is another option that might actually bring people back to their homes: the rapid spread of delivered meal kits. The meal-kit trend is being watched with great interest by the wine industry, and with good reason.
According to Food Business News, there are more than 200 meal-kit delivery companies now in the United States. The leaders are Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated, Chef'd and Sun Basket, with all of them looking to tap into what is estimated to be a $1.5 billion market that is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.
Most meal kits are subscription-based and provide weekly delivery of packed, premeasured and already prepped fresh ingredients, recipe instructions and step-by-step directions for two to three dinners per week. Many providers also suggest wine pairings with some even offering the option to include wine with the delivery.
The number of food options come in a dizzying array of cuisines and dietary preferences—from carnivore-centric organically grown meats to fresh plant-based dinner preps. The wine options are less robust at the moment but moving fast toward more options, with meal-kit leader Blue Apron bringing its customers exclusive wines made by some of Northern California’s smaller wineries, paired especially for the dishes included. Because these wines are meant to be enjoyed by a single person or two, some of the wines come in 500-milliliter bottles, making them a good match for busy (or retired) couples who might not want to indulge in a normal-sized 750- milliliter bottle.
Other food delivery services are leveraging technology to get food to people faster and more conveniently. These companies employ Uber, self-driving cars and even drones. Each of these services is eyeing how it might include wine in the shipments, too. The reason? Partially because wine gives them another item to sell, but mostly for the reason that grocery stores have increasingly included wine on their shelves, and those customers who add wine to their cart spend more per purchase on average than those who don’t. The added revenue generated by the wine itself isn’t the only consideration. The data consistently suggests that wine has the ability to shift a consumer’s preference toward more expensive items.
Wine producers need to consider these changes to customer preference for rapid convenience as they ponder future strategies. And who knows, maybe there will come a time when large groups once again gather around a special-occasion table. This time, though, the offerings will likely be replete with delivered gourmet food and expertly selected wines. I hope I’m invited, but just know that I’ll be skipping any speckled Jell-O that comes my way.
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