By Julie Heseman, Principal, Foodservice IP

Central kitchens have become a critical link in the foodservice supply and value chains. Convenience stores have considered prepared foods a priority, because of traffic and margin increases. Non-grocery retailers such as Target, CVS and Walgreens also have made a steady push into the prepared foods segment, as time-starved, quality-seeking consumers shy away from costlier restaurant meals. Additionally, certain QSRs, particularly coffeehouses, and some noncommercial operators rely on central kitchens.

According to Foodservice IP’s Central Kitchen Study, operators who use them indicate that central kitchens deliver superior performance over their own capabilities in a number of areas, including cost (80%), innovative/new products (77%) and shelf life (73%).

Gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian emerged as selection factors operators are using to choose central kitchens, according to the same FSIP study.

In June, we hosted a strategy session in Chicago and attendees were able to discuss the opportunities and challenges of partnering with central kitchens.

There is not much information readily available on this integral piece of the industry, and central kitchens tend to be secretive about who their customers are. Manufacturers want to learn more about central kitchens because they provide a good growth opportunity in a tough foodservice environment.

Image of a food commissary commercial kitchen


Amazon Go’s growth plan is intriguing for manufacturers, as the store is primarily filled with private label prepared foods from third-party central kitchens. However, it may be too early to tell if that store format is successful.

Rising consumer and industry interest in retail foodservice and grab-and-go are poised as growth drivers for central kitchens, but these forecasted usage trends among current users further reinforce that central kitchens are very positively positioned for growth. It is difficult to find information about commissaries or central kitchens, so ask operators who they work with to learn more about major players in the space.

As retail foodservice/grab-and-go segments of the industry continue to grow and gain sophistication, expectations for quality and variety will intensify. This is an opportunity where foodservice manufacturers can likely be valuable to central kitchens adapting to pressure to elevate.

If you’re looking to fast-track a plan for selling to central kitchen operators, ask us about our 2020 Central Kitchen Update study!

Julie Heseman is a Principal with Foodservice IP. Julie has several years of experience in the foodservice industry managing projects, developing new business, handling P&Ls, market sizing, supply chain research and overseeing the growth of client portfolios. Her experience spans foodservice manufacturers, broadline distributors, and chain restaurant operators.