Recipe for success: Explaining the rise of meal-kits

Oct 17, 2016

The meal-kit industry hit $1bn in 2015 and is forecasted to grow to $10bn worth of subscriptions by 2020, according to food researcher and consultancy Technomic. Innovation Researcher Fraser Scarlett examines why they’re doing so well and how established brands are responding.

Meal-kit services allow customers to go online and subscribe to receive boxes of carefully measured fresh ingredients to be used in selected recipes. The brand does the shopping for you; they select and deliver fresh ingredients to your door.

Those who love to cook need only go online, pick the meals they want to cook, and receive the box, with the recipe, through the post. The selection of the ingredients ensures that there’s no waste left over after cooking.

The range of choice for the customer is staggering. One brand, Hello Fresh, has more than 15,000 recipes to choose from, ranging from ‘A Slightly Surreal Singapore Chicken Laksa’ to a ‘Crunchy Mexican Tilapia’. But the choice extends further: different brands offer completely different kinds of meal-kit. Subscribe to Red Velvet NYC and you’ll receive a baking kit once a month. Green Blender offers five smoothie recipes, complete with their ingredients, every week. The planning process is made as easy as possible: Blue Apron even offer to pair a bottle of wine with your meal choice.

Red Velvet helps customers create gourmet baked goods

Red Velvet helps customers create gourmet baked goods

Interestingly, their market is not those who are short on time. Meal-kits are not the most convenient way to eat delicious food at home. Supermarket aisles are filled with ready-meals and the local take-away is only a phone call away. In fact, the brands really sell an experience not a packaged meal. The experience, of course, is cooking a meal without having to worry about getting a hold of the ingredients.

The constant rotation of the subscription based services, alongside the fact that the recipes are designed to be as easy as possible to follow, means that the service is ready for sharing online. Across Twitter people can be seen bragging about the meal they’ve cooked (with the least amount of effort).

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Fortunately there’s no need to fall on the pessimistic conclusion that this is the next stage in human laziness. Cooking using fresh ingredients, which meal-kit brands almost exclusively deal with, is a healthier way to enjoy food. Certain subscription services also allow customers to limit themselves to one kind of diet. Purple Carrot, for example, offers three vegan meals, for two people, a week for $68.

Perhaps less conventionally, meal-kits are also about food education. Partnering with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Hello Fresh pushes forward the idea of meal-kits as an easy way to learn how to cook better meals.

“It’s kind of more of a movement; it’s about making cooking from scratch, with fresh ingredients that are simple, easy for you guys,” says the celebrity chef.

Hello Fresh recently partnered with Jamie Oliver

Hello Fresh recently partnered with Jamie Oliver

Other meal-kit brands offer the customer greater understanding of what they’re going to eat than a take-away, supermarket or restaurant ever could. Green blender, for example, supplies ‘a course in micro-biology’ with its smoothie kits so you can learn about what you’re making and drinking.

What’s more, meal-kits are no longer just the domain of startups and politically conscious chefs. We’re starting to see established brands experiment with the meal-kit model. French supermarket Carrefour, for example, is trailing click-and-collect meal-kits, packaging up the ingredients and recipes for three meals, which can be chosen online and picked up in-store.  Meanwhile Hershey’s has partnered with meal-kit specialist Chef’d to create baking kits featuring its chocolate products, aligning its brand with the growing trend for baking.

These schemes are particularly interesting because they respond to this shift in consumer behaviour and offer customers a new way to access and explore brands and their different offerings. As the meal-kit market continues to grow it will be fascinating to see how more brands react.

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