Meal Kits

Everybody needs to eat, thats a pretty simple idea to understand, but its what we eat and how we eat it that seems to very so drastically.

I was lucky to grow up with a stay at home mom who would cook dinner for my siblings and I most nights. We did get take out or go out from time to time, but most meals were homemade and served at the dinner table. Although I will defend my moms cooking as delicious, she would say that she is not much of a cook, in part because she was not particularly interested and also finding the perfect recipe became hard when you had to cook for four kids, one who did not eat cheese or most dairy and a husband who was a vegetarian. Cooking became both a logistical nightmare, and difficult. Two things that it should never be.

Having the luxury of someone who can buy the groceries and then cook the food is something most people do not have, and as everything else in life gets more expensive, fewer and fewer people have in general. This meant there needed to be a way to solve the problem of dinner time.

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When my parents were growing up the microwave was just becoming popular, to be fair, my dad was actually a teenager by the time microwaves became an affordable and good sized appliance, but this brought a whole new way of cooking to the American home. With microwaves came microwave meals, for my parents, this was an easy meal for their parents to make after a long day at work and was easy to store in the freezer. And although some people might genuinely enjoy a microwave dinner, it does not come across as healthy and fresh like many consumers are now demanding.

Now there are some people who are too busy to even do most grocery shopping. Typically this has meant that the person has to either go out to dinner or get takeout. This option is still popular because of its convenience, you can even order online from a large number of websites that offer a wide variety of foods. Personally I love takeout because it means I have access to an even larger variety of foods than I could cook, and I do not have to worry about grocery shopping. However, the costs can add up, and it can be hard to track what is in everything you are eating and how fresh it may be.

There is a growing number of people who want to cook their food because it gives them a better understanding and more control of what they are eating. This group typically wants to see fresh produce and meats with more control over the health of their meals. For them, takeout may make sense every now and then, but they typically want to cook. There is also the group that wants to cook but struggles to come up with recipes or find the time to buy the ingredients. For both of these groups, meal kit delivery services are hoping to fill the need.

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Some of the more popular services are Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Plated, although there are many more ranging from typical meals to specializing in certain flavors. These businesses take advantage of well designed websites and applications for smartphones that allow the user some control of the meals they will get that week. These companies are built on a subscription based model and rely on their digital connectivity to communicate with subscribers.

The three named services all follow a relatively similar model, a variety of plans based on the number of people and the nights per week you want to have a planned meal. For Blue Apron and HelloFresh, a plan for two people three nights a week is around $10 per serving, or about $60 per week. Plated is more expensive at $12 per serving. They also all offer plans for families, ranging from two to four nights a week. Although there are cheaper options, the price per meal is fairly competitive with healthy takeout options, if not cheaper. The price also does not account for the time saved grocery shopping as the insulated box is delivered at the start of each week to your home or apartment.

The services rely on their digital platforms to keep customers up to date with the options each week. They all have websites and apps that work similarly to each other. Both allow the customer to choose the meals they would like to cook that week, there are usually a few more options than nights so the customer has some control and does not have to choose a meal they do not like. They also allow the customer to search for and find recipes they have made and enjoyed in the past, so that they can make them again. The focus of these services is to provide and easy to follow set of instructions with the ingredients necessary to prepare delicious fresh meals.

There are some drawbacks to these services, most notably that they do not do full week meal plans and they do not cater to individuals. But using a digital strategy they have been able to provide fresh home cooked meals to more people who otherwise relied on takeout.

11 comments

  1. Nice post. We are Blue Apron customers and have really enjoyed the experience. Interestingly, its not really the meals that are most valuable but the value of the information they provide.

  2. DanKaplan · ·

    I think these sites provide a very appealing value proposition that I honestly never really considered before they came to market. My one question always had to do with the meal choices that these sites offer. So many people have certain diet restrictions or are picky eaters and simply do not have the ability to eat everything that is provided in these boxes. I remember my mom signed up for a healthy snack box that came once a month and in these boxes, there frequently nuts that nobody in my family wanted to eat and as a result, would just sit in the pantry until they expired and it was time to throw them out. It will be really cool to see in the coming years how options expand and I certainly will be testing out companies like Blue Apron and Plated once I am out of school and do not have as much free time as I do now.

  3. I think the great thing about these services are that they provide an accessible way for people to become more comfortable with the idea of cooking for themselves. Cooking is a hobby of mine and though I haven’t used any of the online services you mentioned, I did try a similar brick and mortar meal planning service a couple times and found it to be surprisingly straightforward. I think half of the hesitance that people have with regard to cooking is messing everything up, which these types of services lower the risk of. Once someone realizes they can make the same meal if they just buy those seven ingredients at the grocery store (or online grocery service), that becomes a powerful motivational tool to keep cooking.

  4. erinfitzpatrick123 · ·

    Nice post! This topic has been coming up in many of my classes – from the marketing, to the operations, and now to digital business. It is pretty interesting how things like this popping up can really impact the grocery retailing business. Also, with Amazon Fresh, which is available in some cities but not all yet, I wonder what will happen. Amazon is a powerhouse but no grocery delivery has ever really succeeded, so maybe these prepackaged small meals are the better alternative. I think they are going to be great when we’re working a lot next year!

  5. benrmcarthur · ·

    Nice post. Although I have not been a customer I can see how the ease of ordering through web or app with plenty of information can bring value. It will be interesting to see if the digitalization of grocery shopping may call for competition. Automation of restocking your fridge could bring the value of home cooking back while avoiding tidious effort to get teh supplies. On the other hand, the companies you mentioned may still succeed in it’s easy preparation. Also super interesting to see the price come per serving.

  6. jordanpanza29 · ·

    I enjoyed this post a lot! I have started debating if these services would be worth trying. Through food shopping over the course of this year I realized how expensive it is. On top of it , its so hard to make sure you are getting the right amount of food. Not too large of portions but enough that you won’t need to order a pizza at 11 that night. Even though i do believe these services are slightly more expensive than normal food shopping, I think that the pros outweigh the slightly higher costs.

  7. lesleyzhou · ·

    “Kit delivery” startups have come up multiple times in my entrepreneurship management class with concepts like tasting desserts around the world, make up samples, weekly outfit pairings and healthy snack packs. While I think these ideas are interesting, I am more skeptical about the value of these companies, especially meal kit delivery services. My doubts stem from the freshness of the groceries, the portions of the ingredients (a male adult typically consumes more than a teenage girl, how can the company be sure portion size is enough for the customer?), strictly being strapped to the recipe you chose to get delivered to you a week ago and the problem of sustaining long-term customers once they learn how to make these recipes on their own. Of course I see the upsides of being able to have freshly prepped meals ready for you when you’re on a busy schedule, but it just lends me to wonder how long you’re really willing to use this service as you move from stage to stage of your life.

  8. mollyshields44 · ·

    You make some very interesting points about our shift from traditional shopping and cooking and the now-a-days convenience of resources like meal kits. It is funny that I read your blog now because I just starting looking into Blue Apron as something to do with my roommates during finals week. Part of the allure is, as you mentioned, the ability to cut back on time spent shopping and finding new recipes without the cost of take out. However, part of it also had to do with the fun experience of new recipes and cooking with a friend. Another entrance into the digital space of cooking is grocery delivery services like Instachart. There are weeks that I know I will not be able to get to the grocery store and the ability to have groceries delivered is very appealing. I feel like each week I hear about a new innovation at the intersection of cooking and digital experience and I think your example of meal kits is just the beginning!

  9. Great post! I actually did a project on Blue Apron for one of my other classes and we discovered a lot of ways that meal delivery could niche out to specific markets. I think we’re starting to see that with all of the different services now…some use local ingredients, some allow you to fully customize your meals, some don’t customize but offer cheaper prices, etc. I do think it’s really interesting the different ways people find value in it. My husband and I tried Blue Apron and it was pretty good, but the options weren’t great. Once you pick one of the meals you want, it narrows down what you’re allowed to pick for the other three you receive (or how many you want in a package). I also found that the portions were fine for me, but not really for my husband. It’s hard to have a blanket approach to meal size when so many different people could be eating it (kids, athletes, seniors, etc.). I agree with Professor Kane that the value is actually in the info. I learned a few cooking tricks from the recipe I had to prepare, even though it was very time-efficient. Loved this post- thanks for sharing it!

  10. talkingtroy · ·

    I haven’t really understood the appeal and question the staying power of these companies. If they packaged things to ship once that provided a few meals a week at a more affordable rate, I think I would be more inclined to try it personally. If I can get a similar meal without the work for a similar cost, I’m just too lazy to do it myself at that point, but maybe that’s just me. Good post!

  11. mikeward7 · ·

    Awesome post Zack! I’ve actually never heard of any of these companies that you mentioned in the post. As a guy who is going to be living on his own soon without the convenience of a dining hall like we have here, I am definitely intrigued by the idea of using these services. It’s a difficult transition from college to the real world and as someone who’s not much of a cook I may have to resort to using these to make sure I eat a good dinner every night after work.

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