Talk Business & Politics product review: Walmart meal kits offer convenience over value

by Kim Souza ( 750 views 

Chicken parmesan entree on 10-inch plates after baking for 35 minutes.

Walmart recently expanded its private brand meal kits with prices ranging from $8 to $15 depending on the entree. Talk Business & Politics purchased two of the dinners and prepared them according to the directions. The meals were evaluated on convenience, value and quality.

Walmart said the meal kits are made fresh daily in the deli department of select stores. The meals range from heat-and-serve to those requiring consumers to cook the meal with provided directions. Others require consumers to purchase a rotisserie chicken to finish the meal.

The chicken parmesan with Cavatappi pasta and parsley cost $9 (pre-tax) for two servings. The dinner was a heat-and-serve dish that required removing the container top, placing the tray on a cookie sheet and baking at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes in a conventional oven. The microwave option had the meal ready to eat in seven minutes.

The chicken parmesan was good and required little effort to prepare. The servings were adequate for a light appetite, but should be paired with a vegetable or salad for a more rounded meal. This dinner hit the mark for convenience and easy preparation. It exceeded taste expectations and quality, but fell short on value when considering the cost of the items used to make this dinner. If buying the ingredients instead of the kit, the cost to make this dinner was $7.53, or $3.76 per serving.

Preparation for chicken parmesan is typically quite involved. The chicken must be breaded and pan seared with seasonings before baking, but these steps were completed for the consumers in this meal kit. The $9 cost is rated as a value considering the time savings in preparation. The downside for a family of four is the cost would be $18, and the servings were on the small side.

The other entree prepared was the basil garlic chicken fettuccine with spinach meal for two. This kit included most of the items needed to make the dinner, with the exception of oil and seasonings for the chicken. This dinner required cooking and assembly. The directions for cooking the chicken were easy to understand for even a novice in the kitchen. The only drawback was the cooking time for chicken. The directions said 15 minutes for searing the chicken in oil. The chicken breasts were small and cooked after 4 minutes on each side.

Step 2 was to add the cooked fettuccini to the skillet along with the package of chopped sun-dried tomatoes. The bag of fresh spinach was added next and tossed in the skillet until wilted. The pasta was plated with the chicken breast, topped off with the basil garlic oil and Parmesan cheese.

The dinner took 27 minutes to prepare. Preparation was easy for a novice, but if they cooked the chicken the full 15 minutes, it would have been well overdone. The entree label said there were 4.5 servings in the meal, but it fed two people with no leftovers. This is misleading to the consumer because for calorie purposes, the label said 4.5 servings. But for consumption it was two.

This meal cost $15. Like the other entree, it should be paired with a salad or vegetable. One option not mentioned in the meal kit was to use the fresh spinach to make a salad by adding a fresh tomato. The meal might go further if the spinach is made into a salad as opposed to being cooked into the entree.

This dinner came to $7.50 per plate and did not score high on value given the ingredients used to make this dish cost around $10 if purchased separately. The consumer, who has to cook and assemble the meal, is paying for the convenience of having most of the items included in one box.

Talk Business & Politics found purchasing the items outright to make both meals cost $19.81 or $4.95 per meal. Consumers purchasing meal kits could make the meals for less money if they bought the ingredients themselves. Recommended for non-cooks and those looking for convenience, quality and value are the heat-and-serve entrees like chicken parmesan, meatloaf and potatoes or Thai curry chicken with jasmine rice and mango salsa. Walmart also offers spaghetti and meatballs, chicken enchiladas and chicken marsala in the heat-and-serve packages for $10 or less.

For more ambitious dinner kits that require cooking and assembly, the value is negated by less convenience. The third option, which requires the purchase of a rotisserie chicken to finish out the dinner, costs around $14. This option requires more effort to prepare, but it also goes further toward feeding a family of four.

When compared to subscription meal kits, the Walmart meal kits are a value, and the quality of the food prepared did compare to the casual restaurant level. Another advantage of the meal kits for novice cooks is that item parings and pre-measuring is in the kit. For kitchen veterans, the meal kits could provide a convenient option on a busy night, but they are paying more for the convenience and ease of preparation.