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What is Meal Assembly?

By Celeste Heiter
Updated May 16, 2024
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Meal assembly is the business of providing kitchen facilities for the preparation of cook-at-home meals. A meal assembly kitchen may be privately owned, or part of a franchise. It typically offers a pre-set menu of meals that are prepared either by company staff or by customer self-service.

Customers may order pre-assembled meals for pick-up or delivery, or they may make an appointment to come into the facility and assemble the meals themselves. A meal assembly kitchen provides work stations stocked with pre-prepped ingredients, storage containers, and step-by-step instructions to assemble all the meals on the menu. The assembled meals, which usually serve four to six people, may then be taken home and stored in the refrigerator or freezer until it's time to heat and serve them.

Meal assembly has several advantages over other types of home-prepared meals. Meal assembly combines the convenience of take-out with the nutritional benefits and cost savings of home cooking. All the ingredients are provided, and the fresh ingredients are washed, trimmed, chopped or sliced. Instructions for meal assembly are provided, but meals may also be customized according to individual tastes and dietary restrictions. It is especially popular in single-parent households and families with two working parents, because it eliminates shopping and clean-up time.

One of the oldest cook-at-home meal vendors is Schwann’s, which began delivering pre-assembled meals in the Midwestern United States in 1952. The modern concept for meal assembly began with a circle of friends who got together for group cooking sessions to save time and money by preparing make-ahead freezer meals for their families. This idea evolved into a storefront business with a commercial kitchen for customers to come in and assemble their own meals. The idea of assembly kitchens soon spread to cities across the U.S., and some meal assembly businesses were later developed into franchises. Some large grocery stores now offer meal assembly facilities as well.

With today’s busy, yet health-conscious lifestyle, the demand for quick, healthy, home-cooked meals instead of commercially processed frozen dinners has caused a rapid expansion in the meal assembly industry. With this growing trend, meal assembly franchises have also become lucrative business opportunities. The average cost of a meal assembly franchise license ranges from approximately $25,000 to $35,000 US Dollars (USD), and start-up costs for site rental and fixtures averages $85,000 to $400,000 USD. The five largest meal assembly franchises are Super Suppers, Dream Dinners, Dinner’s Ready, My Girlfriend’s Kitchen, and Supper Thyme USA.

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