Search volumes for recipe boxes were up 109% in the first nine months of 2017, says Sally-Jayne Wright. Are meal kits the next big thing?
IS THIS COOKING BY NUMBERS?
Pretty much. You place an online order for three dinners to be delivered to your home and the ingredients arrive in a cardboard box. Take a Riverford meal of lamb steaks, lentils and black kale. Riverford supplies meat, veg, and exactly the right quantity of tomatoes, capers and olives for the dressing. Follow the recipe in the box and dinner is served.
YOU MEAN YOU STILL HAVE TO COOK?!
Yes, but you don’t have to decide what to have and trudge around Tesco. It’s exciting when the box arrives. If you’re gluten-free, low-carb, vegetarian or vegan, you can find specialist providers and tailored recipes.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE TREND?
Healthy convenience. Informed foodies know many ready meals contain ingredients a homemade meal wouldn’t, such as maize starch. The same consumers watch Saturday Kitchen and feel guilty about ‘ping’ dinners. Plus, they don’t want the hassle and waste of tracking down tamarind paste for a one-off curry.
WHAT’S THE DOWNSIDE?
It’s not cheap and even regulars feel guilty about the packaging. For a kedgeree recipe, Waitrose’s Cook Well service sent us two eggs, each wrapped in kitchen paper, in two separate plastic cartons.
WHO PROVIDES MEAL KITS?
Berlin-based, Hello Fresh, are the market leaders. They claim to deliver 11 million meals a month and have customers in the US, Britain, Germany and Benelux countries. Other online subscription services include Gousto, Mindful Chef, Simply Cook, Amazon and Gourmio. For veg box suppliers, Riverford Organics and Abel & Cole, meal kits are a natural extension of what they do. Riverford supplies over 4,500 meals a week.
I’VE SEEN MEAL KITS IN SUPERMARKETS
Yes, the supermarkets have entered the arena – with mixed results. Waitrose dropped its Dinner for Tonight experiment, but in September declared its home delivery trial of Cook Well recipe boxes a success. Sainsbury’s and Co-op trialled Hello Fresh and Gousto kits you can pick up in-store, and Aldi launched its own meal kit: Ready Set Cook.
AS AN INDEPENDENT RETAILER, SHOULD I BE SCARED?
Not yet. Recipe boxes account for under 1% of food-at-home sales. In a Nielsen survey, 59% of respondents in Europe said they preferred to buy fresh groceries at a physical store than purchase them online. The meal kits market may be growing rapidly, but many subscription services are still making losses. Cynics attribute their fast growth to massive investment, novelty and generous introductory discounts. Online grocery shopping has been around for over 20 years but hasn’t replaced bricks-and-mortar food stores. People like popping to the shops, and good online ideas can transfer to the high street. Graze healthy snack boxes started online but are now in 5,000 stores including Boots.
HOW CAN I MAKE THE MEAL KIT TREND WORK FOR US?
You are solving the ‘what shall we have for dinner tonight?’ problem for your customers. Meal kits provide them with up-to-date, healthy recipe ideas and make gathering the ingredients a doddle. So should you. Email a weekly or monthly recipe to your database with a video demo on your website or recipe card in store. Assemble the ingredients in one section of the shop or flag ingredients with shelf stickers. If you have many vegan, glutenfree or vegetarian customers and can supply bespoke recipe ideas linked to promotions, you’re likely to do well.
Premium online fishmonger, The Fish Society, sells all you need for a luxury fish pie or lobster thermidor for next day delivery. Could your in-store fishmonger offer fresh or frozen fish pie mixes with a recipe? At the Butchery at Jimmy’s (Doherty) Farm, they plan to put recipes in their meat boxes. When Trend Watch’s local Sainsbury’s sold out of game pie casserole mix, organic butcher, Chadwicks, sold us an improvised and delicious mix of pigeon breast and venison. Add veg and a recipe and you’ve got yourself a meal kit.
ANY MORE IDEAS?
Copy Booths, Waitrose and Ocado and sell Scratch meal kits by mealsfromscratch.com. Or stock Alfez Moroccan Easy Cook Meal Kits which contain everything you need for a tagine with couscous. Team up with a recipe box service. Charles Allen, co-founder of Yorkshire meal kit company Born and Bred says, “We’re considering selling our recipe boxes through quality independent farm shops and delis, starting with farm shops in our local area of Yorkshire as a trial.”
Think when your customer most needs support. Last year, Hello Fresh offered Xmas dinner recipe boxes at £69.99 for a family of four. Even without delivery, your customer will be grateful if someone else gathers the bits.
WILL THE TREND LAST?
Cooking unfamiliar recipes is fun but it’s hard work. After testing six meal kits for this feature, Trend Watch couldn’t wait for the easy option of a Charlie Bigham pie with frozen peas.
We think meal kit demand will peak, then flatten. Keep combining quality ingredients with healthy, up-to-date recipe ideas, promote like mad, and you should be fine.