CINNICNATI—Dark kitchens, which are industrial meal prep businesses offering delivery services, are popping up everywhere. This time, it’s in the Kroger grocery chain. Kroger has announced it will make from-scratch meals for on-demand delivery through its Kroger Delivery Kitchen, and the chain won’t charge a delivery fee, reports Grocerydive.com.
The company plans to open a dark kitchen with partner ClusterTruck of Indianapolis, which owns and operates vertically integrated, delivery-only kitchens. The kitchens can, on average, prepare and deliver a meal within 30 minutes of receiving a customer’s order. Initially, Kroger Delivery Kitchen will serve customers in Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis and suburban Carmel, Indiana. Another ClusterTruck dark kitchen in Denver will open under Kroger’s King Soopers banner soon.
The dark—or "ghost"—kitchen that ClusterTruck is opening with Kroger will be its fifth location and will require a staff of 20 employees. The partnership is initially running as a 12-week pilot, though there’s no firm end date.
Suzy Monford, Kroger’s vice president of fresh, said customers can order items like pizza and pad Thai and receive their food within minutes. Other menu items are a "lazy breakfast burrito," Vietnamese noodle bowl and roasted chicken green goddess salad.
Customer expectations for food delivery are changing. Wegmans, Whole Foods and other stores have enhanced their prepared foods, positioning their stores as destinations for quick, convenient meals. They've also moved meals online, ushering food delivery companies, such as DoorDash, into the grocery space, and they’ve also pushed delivery services, like Instacart and Shipt, to allow shoppers to add prepared foods to their carts.
As the demand for meal delivery grows, ghost kitchens are becoming a popular way for restaurants and other companies to prepare food closer to the customer without disrupting their full-service locations. A direct partnership with ClusterTruck and full access to a dark kitchen means Kroger will be better able to understand what customers want and how they respond to the service. It will also entice customers with its fee-free structure, a major advantage Kroger has over other food delivery providers.