01I had no idea how popular Hello Fresh meal kits were
A famous Berkeley restaurateur even subscribes to meal kits for making dinners at home.
Hello Fresh had more than 5 million subscribers worldwide when I finally ate my first meal made with one of their kits. I'll admit, it was the first meal from a kit I'd ever had.
Little did I know that in the land of farmers markets and legendary produce markets (that is Berkeley / Oakland, California) people in my circle subscribe to Hello Fresh for their dinners.
A friend invited me over, which was a great chance to hear about Hello Fresh, what the food is like and how the meal kit subscription works.
"Every single meal I've made is delicious," she said. "That's a lot more than I can say for a lot of meals out along with bad service."
What the meal kit cost
Each of our dinners came out to around $12, including some basic ingredients that weren't supplied with the kit. A dinner like that would have cost at least $15 plus tax and tip in a restaurant. Then again, buying ingredients on your own might have cost less.
What exactly is a meal kit and why do people buy them?
There are many ways to eat meals at homes:
- make a meal from scratch
- order out from a restaurant
- buy prepared fresh or frozen food to heat up at home
Enter the meal kit: A number of companies have started up to create meal kit delivery subscriptions. The subscriber receives a box full of ingredients in the exact amount or proportions you need to cook a meal at home, along with instructions to cook that meal.
As I soon found, the meal kit idea is an adventure in cooking.
It is not fast. It is not especially easy. Here's what it was like.
02Meal kits teach the home chef various cooking techniques.
You're not just eating dinner. You're preparing to teach yourself how to cook, with all the upfront investment.
The Hello Fresh instruction card also included a list of required cooking equipment. The list was pretty long, including a lemon zester.
For this meal, we used a baking sheet, a pot for boiling potatoes, a pan for cooking the pork, and lots of utensils from the junk drawer.
In fact, for a new household, a meal kit subscription along with including weird cooking tools could make for the perfect gift registry.
03The meal kit teaches new cooking techniques
A packaged cooking adventure at home.
My friend described her experience as having a bit of irony: "It's convenient but it's not that easy. A big plus is that it gets you out of a pattern and you discover new tastes — and that has value."
The meat was beautiful and incredibly fresh as were the other ingredients. In addition to saving the shopping time, my friend enjoys the adventure aspect of the meal kit. She described their sauces as clever and appreciates learning new techniques like smashing garlic.
04It's not the most sustainable eating solution.
It's unanimous that excess meal kit packaging is an issue.
Having every little ingredient packaged, usually in plastic, can't help but leave a bad taste in your mouth. Not only is food wrapped in plastic not tasty, it's not environmental. When Mark Bittman, ex-New York Times, mentioned reducing meal kit packaging as a major initiative at Purple Carrot, the vegan meal kit company he joined.
"I've never needed scissors so much," my friend commented.
Hello Fresh packaged the condiments in several ways:
- The sage — grown in Mexico — came in its own plastic clamshell package.
- It also included several packets of sour cream to squeeze into the potato salad.
- The lemon came whole, only we didn't know where it was grown.
We needed to supply the butter and olive oil.
If we were apartment dwellers or non-gardeners, or not near great supermarkets, we could see providing bits of fresh herbs as a total convenience. But it was a stroke of fate that the pork dish we were cooking required sage, garlic and lemon — all which I had growing outside.
05Success, thanks to idiot-proof cooking instructions.
Hello Fresh might be even easier for new chefs who prefer to follow step-by-step instructions.
If you've ever cooked you know what a recipe looks like. The fascinating thing about the Hello Fresh instructions is that the recipe is for the entire dinner, not each dish.
This way of writing instructions leaves less room for error among novice chefs. You do one thing, like put the pork chop in a pan, then it tells you to put the herbs on the potato salad while you're waiting.
As you can see from the photo, the meal worked flawlessly. The food was delicious.
My friend, an experienced home chef, commented that while the food seemed basic, the touches of lemon zest and sage were beyond what she might have dreamed up on her own.
"We do it before a movie and make a good meal instead of bad food and bad service for more money. I don't think you could get this meal going out to dinner."
06The opportunity for enterprising entrepreneurs
There is still that cooking problem.
We enjoyed this really great meal. Everything came out perfectly.
Then, there were the dishes.
Perhaps Loliware, with their edible plates, or a compostable plate company will come to the rescue and make the meal kits even more convenient.
Investors have poured many millions of dollars into meal kit startups and are banking that the industry will grow and mature.
Are meal kits a big threat for supermarkets and restaurants?
The trend in people wanting quick and easy meals is here to stay. The time to make meals from kits is nearly the same as cooking from scratch. Supermarkets can turn the grocerant (grocery / restaurant) trend into an opportunity to create kits where you get spices and other ingredients to finish off a meal at home.
Restaurants can look at deliver ingredients based on their recipes, as some are through one meal kit startup called Din.
Like every other part of the food industry, the meal kit trend is sure to keep twisting and evolving as these startups learn and the economy changes. The keys are convenience, quality and knowing where you fit into the ecosystem of people's eating habits.
Here are a few ways to get started researching if you've got the next great idea!