Are meal kits the future of food or an overcooked industry?
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
The "meal kit" embodies the entire essence of the North American lifestyle. Blame it on a growing workforce, a work ethic that requires longer hours, or social media — somehow social media is always to blame these days — but the average person is busier than ever.
And although you might be nodding in agreement with these existential conclusions about modern society, there's still an important question that needs to be addressed: What is a meal kit anyway?
Meal box delivery services are relatively new to the game. Basically, subscribers sign up to have prepackaged ingredients sent right to their doorstep at the beginning of the week. Each package contains a number of ingredients, along with instructions on how to toss the ingredients together. The result: a portion-controlled, gourmet-inspired meal that was whipped up without ever having to go into the grocery store.
As relatively new concepts always are, the idea has been debated — with both sides positing pretty good arguments.
According to Nielsen, a consumer report company, about one-quarter of American adults had purchased a meal kit within the last year (2016). The report noted, "In addition to saving time from shopping, preparation and cooking, many consumers continue buying meal kits because they offer new and healthy recipes."
In addition to the overall healthiness of the meals, the portioned sizes mean there's a lot less food waste.
Consumers often overbuy at the grocery stores and end up throwing out spoiled food at the end of the week. In fact, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, the average American household throws away roughly 475 pounds (215 kilograms) of food each year.
Limited or no food waste at the end of the week — sounds like a good deal, right?
Unfortunately, nothing in life is perfect, and the same goes for meal kits. There are a number of cons that both consumers and businesses have noted over the short lifespan of these programs.
One of the main criticisms is the price — Are you really getting your bang for your buck?
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, prices for a week of prepackaged meals range anywhere from $50 to $70. It is important to note that these plans are usually meant for only two people, so to feed a family would be double (or even triple) the price. For some thrifty shoppers, those prices are hard to swallow.
It also seems that the newfound market is still shaky. Data published by Cardlytics established that more than half of meal kit subscribers cancel their subscriptions within the first six months. It also identified that the type of shopper who would be willing to buy a meal kit is also more likely to buy food from other establishments.
Sprig, a San Francisco-based meal delivery service, is the perfect example of this. The meal kit company had acquired a whopping $55 million in funding. Still, they became the latest meal delivery service to close down.
The flooding of competition includes not only other meal kit services but grocery stores and other restaurants as well. Not to mention the quiet dispersion of Uber EATs, even across Canada.
Fact of the matter is, there are a lot of options for the meal kit consumer — maybe too much choice.
This hip and trendy new concept has grown quickly, and with a boom. It's clear that there are both pros and cons, but it's probably up to the users to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons.
For the consumer, the meal kit seems like something at least worth trying. For the budding entrepreneur, a little more risk assessment would definitely be wise.
But it seems that, whatever the case, the meal kit is here to stay.
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