Spurred By Pandemic, Restaurants Leverage Their Brands To Sell Packaged Goods

Restaurant Meal Kits

“There has to be something special about a restaurant in order for it to be successful in the CPG [consumer-packaged goods] space, whether it’s an accredited chef, the history and legacy, reputation for quality food, et cetera,” Eric Skae, CEO of Carbone Fine Food, told PYMNTS in a recent interview, discussing upscale restaurant Carbone’s move into selling consumer-packaged sauces. “Fortunately, for us, the Carbone brand was already established as a trusted source … we had been thinking about this for a while, but the pandemic really expedited things. We saw it as an opportunity to target an increased interest by consumers in home cooking.”

Carbone is not the only restaurant that has taken advantage of consumers’ increased interest in cooking at home during the last 13 months. As local restrictions across the country and around the world prohibited dine-in, and as contagion-conscious consumers opted for safe-at-home, low-contact meal options wherever possible, many restaurants were forced to get creative, finding new ways to leverage their brands to generate revenue. Within the first month of the pandemic, many restaurants were already turning to grocery and meal kits.

“We launched sous vide meal kits, which are essentially family meals where everything is all ready to be cooked for you,” Sebastiaan van de Rijt, CEO and owner of Bamboo Asia, told Karen Webster in a digital roundtable discussion at the time. “The packaging that consumers bring into their homes has also been sous vide-prepared, and so is sterilized against any bacteria and viruses.”

Since then, many more restaurants have gotten into the game. Sauces are a common offering, which is hardly surprising, considering how many restaurants tout their secret sauce recipe as the key to their success, how easy sauces can be to package and how labor-intensive they can be to make at home. For example, Little Rock, Arkansas’ Three Fold dumpling restaurant began selling its signature sauces — pepper relish, chili paste and chili flakes — in mason jars, in addition to debuting a “Reheat + Eat” menu of disassembled meals.

Some restaurants have also begun selling more unconventional groceries. For example, New York-based Korean Barbecue restaurant Cote launched a butcher shop that features ready-to-grill cuts of meat and “ssam kits” for seasoning and wrapping. The restaurant also added a wine shop featuring selections from Cote’s sommelier. Similarly, Brooklyn, New York’s James Provisions lived up to its name by adding a “provisions” grocery shop featuring a small, curated selection of produce, meat, pantry goods and more.

Even major restaurant chains with well-established off-premises channels have also been making forays into the grocery space. For instance, Chick-fil-A began selling bottles and tubs of its signature sauces, Panera Bread launched Panera Grocery and Potbelly Sandwich Shop launched Potbelly Pantry.

Even as newly vaccinated consumers are beginning to return for in-store dining, many of the creative changes that restaurants have made during the last 13 months are likely to continue to provide a valuable source of revenue. According to the results of a survey highlighted in PYMNTS’ How We Eat report, 54 percent of consumers said they are cooking and baking more during the pandemic, 50 percent have discovered new brands and products, and 51 percent expect that their new cooking habits will last beyond the pandemic. Restaurants that can leverage the brand affinity they have generated through their on-premises channels to sell products to these newly culinary-minded consumers will likely continue to benefit for years to come.

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