Since they started arriving on doorsteps about six years ago, the popularity of meal kit services has soared. Meal kits now constitute a $5 billion market, with more companies entering the marketplace every day.
The concept of a meal kit is pretty simple. The subscription-based services allow you to choose meals from their ever-changing menu options, and they deliver the ingredients, recipes and detailed instructions to your door. They promise convenience and fresh ingredients for people who want to cook and eat meals at home without having to plan and shop.
As more companies look to enter the meal kit business, they are searching for untapped niches in the market to meet consumer’s needs. Although dinners are the obvious and biggest market, companies are expanding to breakfasts, lunches and even desserts.
Although Blue Apron and HelloFresh may be two of the best known meal kit companies, Martha Stewart, Amazon and even The New York Times now have a share of the market. Supermarkets, seeing the meal kit companies chip away at their business, have started offering kits that can be picked up in their stores. Giant offers kits near its deli department, or you can have the kits delivered through Peapod. Albertson’s, the parent company of Safeway, bought meal kit company Plated, and Purple Carrot offers some meals through Whole Foods.
Harris Teeter is trying a different approach. It partnered with online recipe platform Myxx to create HarrisTeeterRecipes.com. Customers select recipes from the site, and then a shopping list is created for them. They can send their ingredients directly to the store’s Express Lane service for same day pickup or delivery.
As this article was coming together, Walmart announced its foray into the meal kit business followed just a few days later by Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers previously partnered with meal kit company Chef’d to provide meals with pre-calculated point values. The new venture pairs Weight Watchers with FreshRealm to offer meal kits in supermarkets starting later this year.
Meal kits save time by doing the planning and shopping for you, and their fresh ingredients provide healthier options than frozen or takeout meals. The recipes are easy to follow, so even novice cooks can make them while they gain experience and confidence in the kitchen. Unlike prepared foods, meal kits do require some prep work and cooking. On average, you’ll spend 30 minutes preparing dinner, and you’ll use a variety of tools and pots and pans, so there will be clean up to do as well. If that’s more involved than you want to get, Gobble promises its meals will be ready in 15 minutes using only one pan.
Meal kits are a great way to expand your palate and try new foods and flavors. The subscription meals cost the same no matter what meals you choose, so it makes sense to choose meals with higher-end ingredients.
If you’re trying to control the amount of food you eat so you can lose weight, meal kits can help, since the meal portions are set. Although for some the portion sizes are just right, others find them a bit skimpy, and if you like having leftovers for lunch, you’re going to need a new plan. Some companies offer meals that follow dietary preferences such as non-GMO, gluten free, vegetarian or vegan. The kits usually come with some nutrition information, but it varies from company to company, with some only providing calorie counts.
The services do provide flexibility. You don’t have to sign up for a week’s worth of meals. You can opt for just a few days or even for every other week. If you’re traveling or just want a break, you can suspend your service for a week or more. Introductory offers, which might even include free meals, make it easy to try out these services and see if you like them without too much of a commitment.
As with most conveniences, you’ll pay more for meal kits than if you shopped for the ingredients yourself, but for many people, it’s worth it. Some of the cost is offset by the fact that everything is portioned for each recipe, so you don’t wind up buying more than you need.
With the subscription services, if you don’t log in each week to choose your meals, they will be chosen for you. You may wind up with food you don’t want.
One of the biggest complaints about meal kits is the amount of packaging they use. However, a 2016 Consumer Reports review of five of the leading meal kit companies noted that much of the packaging is biodegradable, recyclable or reusable.
The kits don’t include everything you’ll need. You’ll still have to go to the grocery story to make sure you have ingredients such as butter, olive oil, eggs and milk. Since grocery stores have entered the arena, you can pick up your meal kits for the week while you’re shopping for these basics.
Healthy Eating and Indulgent Options
Even when you try to eat healthy, sometimes your soul just needs a burger. Now there’s a meal kit to meet that need. You can sign up for BurgaBox, from the Boston Burger Company, and receive a box once a month with an indulgent burger and sides meal. Foodstirs, So Bakeable and others offer dessert-only kits.
Dieters and people eating for better health also have meal kit options. Sun Basket became the first meal kit service to obtain the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check certification, and Chef’d has paired up with the American Diabetes Association. Chef’d also allows you to sort recipes to exclude particular allergens.
If you don’t think there’s a meal kit service to fit your needs, keep looking, because an existing company may change its offerings or a new company will enter the market, and there is bound to be one that is the perfect fit for you.