Every night we ask ourselves the age old question, “What should we have for dinner?”. It’s hard to come up with exciting, new dishes to make night after night. After a long day of work, the last thing you want to do is find a recipe and go to the grocery store to buy the necessary ingredients. Despite the fact that Americans spend $1 trillion each year on food and about $400 billion of that on dinner, they are not spending as much time cooking their own meals. According to a recent study by market research firm the NPD Group, less than 60% of dinners eaten at home are actually cooked there. Americans now spend more money eating at restaurants than they do shopping at grocery stores, according to data gathered by the American Enterprise Institute. In fact, the average American spends $1200 on fast food every year, shelling out $12.50 per meal. Many of us just don’t have the time to cook. It’s also easier to order fast food. In fact, you can order and pay for food online and have it delivered to your door without ever leaving the couch. Or maybe you don’t think that you’re that great of a cook to begin with and cooking has just never been your thing.
The Weekday Dinner Struggle
Whatever the case may be, meal kit delivery services understand the weekday dinner struggle. They want you to discover and ignite the joy of home cooking delicious, healthy meals at home. The meal kit approach combines the convenience of delivery, a decent price point, new recipes with just the right amount of ingredients and good quality ingredients. The meal box contains pre-proportioned fresh ingredients and step by step instructions with pictures for two or up to six different meals to cook in 35 minutes or less a week. Since subscribers are given the exact amount of ingredients needed for each meal, they can try out each one and not waste money on ingredients they might not otherwise buy or use in everyday meals. That benefit alone could save money considering Americans waste $165 billion annually by throwing out food, which comes out to $529 per person, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
The meals come packaged in a cardboard box lined with ice packs to keep the contents inside fresh. The ingredients can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator, allowing customers to save meals for later in the week. Each ingredient is properly labeled and most are either organic or locally grown. You don’t even have to enter into a contract for any of these services. This ready to cook, delivered to your door meal concept combines meal planning, grocery shopping and recipe searching all into one. The meal kits minimize waste, save time and are a cost effective and healthy alternative to ordering fast food. In just three years, since 2012, these meal kit startup companies have exploded onto the scene, serving millions of meals to customers across the US and revolutionizing the way we cook dinner. The three main delivery services in the meal kit genre are Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh.
The food-tech startup Blue Apron was founded in 2012. The name is based on the traditional attire worn by French chefs in training. Blue Apron’s cost is about $10 per meal and shipping is free nationwide, making it the cheapest of all three services. It has a monthly subscription, which is based off of serving sizes for couples or for families of four. Blue Apron offers a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian dishes and it posts menus the week before so you have time to decide if you would like to order those items for the following week. They also have how-to videos available on their website for each specific recipe. Blue Apron’s plans allow customers to skip as many meals as they want, free of charge. They are probably the least flexible since you cannot pick and choose which meal kits are delivered to you. The company has instituted a box return program and in September, it announced a program that will sell wine pairings for its meals. They are also planning to expand the menu items that they offer. Blue Apron is the national leader with 5 million meals delivered monthly. Last year, sales were estimated to have reached $100 million and in 2016, sales are predicated to hit half a billion. The company itself is valued at $2 billion.
Below is a breakdown of their plans:
- 2 person plan= $59.94 per week ($9.99 per meal)
- Family plan= $69.92 for 2 meals or $139.84 for 4 meals per week ($8.74 per meal)
Plated was also founded in 2012. The cost for Plated comes out to about $12 a meal, making it the most expensive of the three delivery services. Plated allows customers to order meals for 2, 4 or 6 people. Customers can choose from 7-9 menu options. The company requires a minimum of 2 recipes (4 plates) for $48 per week with a $6 shipping fee. Boxes costing over $50 get free shipping. Plated is the only meal kit company that offers desserts for $4 per serving. The boxes are customizable allowing customers to order more servings of a single recipe, making it the most flexible of the three. There is also a featured called the Chef’s Table, which has recipes that include specialty cuts of meat and seafood. The cost for these specialty meals may vary depending on the current market price, but some can go as high as $30 per meal. Customers can order biweekly shipments and are allowed to skip weeks, as well. They can also see upcoming menus three weeks in advance. The startup scored a Shark Tank deal with billionaire Mark Cuban in 2013 and its revenue is estimated in the tens of millions.
Below is a breakdown of their plans:
- 2 recipes (4 plates)= $48 per week ($6 shipping fee)
- 3 recipes (6 plates)= $72 per week (free shipping)
- 4 recipes (8 plates)= $96 per week (free shipping)
- Dessert= $4 per serving
HelloFresh is the third startup that was founded in 2012, which inspired both Blue Apron and Plated. It was founded in Berlin, but has a regional headquarters in New York. The cost for HelloFresh comes to $11 per meal, making it the mid-tier price option. HelloFresh offers a two or four person subscription with three meals per week. It has the fewest menu variety with only three to five options to choose from weekly. They do have vegetarian box options, which are less expensive. Similar to Blue Apron, shipping is free and customers are allowed to skip weeks. Customers can only see upcoming menu options a week in advance. The startup is valued at $2.9 million and has global revenue of $40 million a month.
Below is a breakdown of their plans:
Classic Food Box
- 2 person plan= $69 per week ($11.50 per meal)
- 4 person plan= $129 per week ($10.75 per meal)
- 2 person plan= $50 per week ($9.83 per meal)
- 4 person plan=$109 per week ($9.08 per meal)
Other Meal Kit Services
Munchery is an on-demand food startup that delivers premade meals. The company recently started to deliver ready-to-cook meal kits in an effort to compete with Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh. Instead of offering several meals per week, like its competitors, Munchery will allow customers to order one meal at a time. They will also include precooked ingredients in some of their meal kits in order to cut down cooking time. The meals serve two, cost less than $10 and do not require a subscription. Every week five new entrees and two desserts will be offered. Munchery states the meals will only take 15 minutes to cook versus the 35 minutes Blue Apron claims. The startup only delivers to New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco.
Peach Dish is a southern inspired meal delivery box that focuses on southern cuisine. Subscribers can get two meals per week in either two or four serving portions. Two servings are $50 per week and four servings are $90 per week.
Green Blender is a delivery service just for smoothies. It delivers all the ingredients for five different smoothies each week. They give enough ingredients for two servings for each smoothie so their kits actually yield 10 smoothies in total for $49 per week. They only deliver to the Northeast United States.
Meal kit services like Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh can be healthy, time saving and creative alternatives to the boring meals or unhealthy take out routine we so easily fall into. They each offer farm-fresh ingredients, chef-inspired recipes and flexible subscriptions, giving customers the freedom to start and stop and start, again. Most of these companies also offer discounts to first time users. These companies also allow customers to skip weeks without being charged. If you are crunched for time, enjoy cooking or simply want to learn how to cook new recipes and you don’t mind paying a small weekly fee then these delivery services may be something for you. Even if you’re an experienced cook, the challenge to come up with the ingredients for new and creative dishes and the time to do so may make these alternatives worth considering.