The new foodie fad; Pre-made meal kits
Taking the culinary world by storm at present are freshly-delivered food kits delivered straight to your doorstep, described by The Independent as the quick and easy way to “get all of the ingredients for a feast delivered direct, without any of the fuss”.
One of the largest players in this newly emerging sector—Blue Apron—defines their key target demographic as people “who like to cook but would rather not waste time shopping or searching for recipes”, of which America at least seems to have a surplus. New York-based Blue Apron alone, just one of the countless meal kit services that have sprung up in the past few years, provides their bespoke meal kits to around 8 million Americans, generating a revenue of between $750m-$1bn according to Bloomberg. This shows beyond reasonable doubt that there’s definitely an appetite for these food boxes. And because of what The Daily Mail calls “the age of hyper-convenience”, this appetite shows no signs of being satiated in the foreseeable future.
Even across the pond the emergence of meal boxes like HelloFresh, Gousto and Abel & Cole have easily captured the attention (and wallets) of English foodies, and have subsequently taken the UK market by storm. But what’s so special about these subscription boxes that you can’t get from sourcing your own ingredients in the supermarket? By its very definition, the one thing these boxes are offering in abundance is ease. The premise of these meal kits offer time-adverse but enthusiastic foodies the ability to make fresh meals with the help of a fool-proof step-by-step recipe card and the designated ingredients, with all meat and legumes meticulously weighed and pre-packaged to make perfectly proportioned meals. The London Standard surmises: “A recipe kit is the perfect solution for time-poor cooks—these bundles contain everything you need to make a quick and tasty dish, including ingredients, measurements and helpful cards to guide you through the cooking process”.
However, perhaps the only downside is that—unsurprisingly—these boxes come at an incredible mark-up. The manufacturers try to justify the exorbitant price by using only the finest organic ingredients and making it as easy as possible for the end-user by chopping, grating and preparing the ingredients for the easiest possible application. For a full subscription, Blue Apron commands anywhere between $240 to $560 (£193-£450) per month for their service (equating to an average of $4,800—£3,826—per year), a huge outlay for the average user, especially when you consider that the average weekly grocery bill for all meals and basic living needs in the UK is £60. This means that for the privilege of pre-prepared meals each month, users are paying an average mark-up of x, paying on average £321.50 for a subscription box compared to the £240 monthly they would normally pay on all groceries and basic living requirements. Even more shockingly, the average subscription box equates to an annual bill of £3,858 on average, a huge x% more than the £2,400 a normal household is expected to spend on groceries each year. To add insult to injury, Blue Apron doesn’t even deny the hefty profit margins they make on each box they deliver, commenting rather complacently that it “makes money on each box, and its direct-to-consumer structure generates fatter margins than traditional grocers”.
However, the sector has become so saturated with new entrants into the food subscription market that there’s now more options than ever to suit every taste, budget and culinary inclination. Just like the content it provides, each subscription offering varies hugely in price and offering, but The Daily Mail newspaper has priced out the five most popular subscription boxes to give you an idea of the cost and commitment involved:
1. HelloFresh—Founded in 2012, HelloFresh delivers over 7.2m meals across 9 countries, and proudly boasts of a consistently high level of customer service. Priced at £49 for 5 meals (averaging £9.80 per meal), HelloFresh also has the added unique selling point of having top chefs like Jamie Oliver designing at least one recipe each week.
2. Gousto—Following in the footsteps of HelloFresh, Gousto secured an initial funding of £1m in 2011 to provide a subscription service which employs a team of professional chefs to design recipes across all cuisines and styles. Goutso gives subscripers an impressive list of 12 healthy recipes to choose from each week, and comes at a cost of £41.99 for 4 meals (avg. £10.49 per meal).
3. Abel & Cole—Organic recipe boxes that “inject foodie inspiration to mealtimes and bring together all of the ingredients required for tasty dishes, making it much easier for people to cook nutritious, seasonal, 100% organic food”. Priced at £39 for 3 meals (avg. £13 per meal)
4. Riverford Organic Farmers—“A simple way to make inspiring organic dishes where seasonal veg is always the star, and a great chance to expand [subscribers’] recipe repertoire and learn a few new skills in the kitchen”. Priced at £39.95 for 3 meals (avg. £13.31 per meal)
5. Mindful Chef—Described by the owners (two school friends from Devon) as a “simple approach yet incredibly effective in helping you lead a healthier life”, Mindful Chef’s USP is the fact it doesn’t advocate sugar or refined carbs, instead centring all its recipes “based on innovative uses of fresh vegetables”. Priced at £70 for 5 meals (avg. £14 per meal).
Given that the cheapest option still tips the scales at just under £10 per meal, it’s still quite an expensive hobby—especially when considering that the average UK family generally spends on average £2.80 on each meal.
However, these boxes could go some way to explaining why the Office of National Statistics has pitted average costs of subscriptions in the UK at a rather substantial £63.90 per week (£255.60 per week, or £3,067.20 per year). The prohibitive costs eliminate these food boxes from being widely available to the masses, but certainly for middle-class foodies with x to spare each month this is the perfect solution to their problem of not having enough time to go grocery shopping, but still wanting quick, easy, nutritiously-balanced organic meals on a whim. This cost could get you recipes as mundane as beef meatballs and linguine con funghi (mushroom pasta), or recipes as exotic as za’atar spice and hazelnut-crusted squash with quinoa, or harissa chorizo with white bean mash. The key is customisation—it’s all dependent on your personal specifications, so the boxes (in theory) tailor their recipes to your wants, needs and taste-buds.
Naturally, subscription-based website Subscription Radar offers a rather substantial list of benefits that these boxes offer their subscribers, not least “convenience, a better mealtime experience, less waste and less shopping, high-quality healthy ingredients, good variety, and flexibility”, as well as the ability that many subscription services offer of cancelling anytime.
Sure it’s decadent, but whilst the appetite for subscription-based food services remains unfulfilled, it seems that these boxes, the next big culinary fad, is here to stay.