Walmart goes gourmet, taking its meal kits nationwide

Meal kits are a $2.5 billion industry.

Defying the image of meal kits as a quick gourmet dinner solution for upscale city dwellers, Walmart said Monday that it's going to expand its own version nation in a move that brings a gourmet flourish to middle America.

The giant retailer announced that its meal kits be available in more than 2,000 of its stores over the course of this year.

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That Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the U.S., is embracing meals kits shows the trend has gone mainstream. The idea of getting pre-prepped ingredients dropped off at one's doorstep had been viewed as more upscale -- with price tags to match.

"It's not a surprise for Walmart to do this; what’s interesting is Walmart's now taking this to the mass level," said analyst Phil Lempert of supermarketguru.com, a website that tracks food industry news. "Walmart doing this makes it very blue-collar and says, 'No matter how much you make, you can have this convenience.'"

Walmart's meal kits will work the same way as the ones sold by Blue Apron and others. The kits will include pre-chopped and measured ingredients to create fancy meals. The kits will serve two diners and cost $8 to $15, according to the company

Selections will include Steak Dijon, Basil Garlic Chicken, Sweet Chili Chicken Stir Fry and Pork Florentine. A couple of the kits are intended to customize Walmart's rotisserie chicken, creating Thai Curry Chicken and Chicken Fried Rice.

"Customers are busier than ever and we know getting a delicious dinner on the table can be a chore. We’re here to help," Tyler Lehr, senior vice president of Deli Services for Walmart U.S., said in a statement. "These delicious meals give the best or worst of cooks a fresh, easy option for dinner tonight or later this week."

The meal kits were tested over the several weeks in more than 250 stores in Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Louisiana, Walmart said.

Meal kits are a $2.5 billion industry -- and is growing at a rate of 20% per year, according to Pentallect, a Chicago-based food industry consultancy.

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In June, meal kit company Blue Apron went public, though it's had a rocky start. Amazon started selling meal kits on its website in July. And in September, the supermarket giant Albertsons bought the meal kit business Plated for an undisclosed amount.

Celebrities like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, lifestyle guru Martha Stewart and singer Beyonce have added their names to meal kits.

So many of these meal kits companies exist now that some specialize in particular diets, including gluten-free, vegan and non-GMO.

Walmart also is introducing One Step Meals, which are ready-to-eat meals that only need to be heated up. The options are Chicken Alfredo, Cheesy Ravioli Bake, Meatloaf, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chicken Parmesan, Pulled Beef, Chicken Marsala, Curry Chicken, Pot Roast and Chicken Enchiladas.