You’ve Been Served: The Rise of Meals by Mail

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While trends turn away from traditional “convenience foods” toward more natural options, consumers have less time than ever. Enter delivery services, taking the work (or at least some of it) out of homemade meals.

Food tech startups offering meals by mail are popping up across the country, covering a range of food preparation. Several services such as Plated, Blue Apron, and Hello Fresh deliver pre-portioned fresh, healthy, ingredients along with recipes for a few dinners a week. Others go a step further toward a finished product such as Forage and My Sweet Roots, which arrive partially prepped, and Munchery, which delivers nearly cooked meals that just need to be heated. While new players keep sprouting, some of the top ship out 3 to 4 million meals each month!

Trying it out

Stepping out of my researcher shoes, I recently tried one of these myself. I admit I did not expect to like it very much. I fall into the category of people who actually enjoy browsing the aisles of the supermarket and choosing ingredients, so I did not think it would be worth the money when I still had to cook. But…I loved it! It was an easy way to learn a new dish, without searching for rare spices or buying (and later throwing out) a whole bunch of parsley to use only a bit. And of course, it was delicious.

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Implications for CPG

Beyond the convenience you could get from a restaurant delivery site like Seamless or GrubHub, these startups promise high quality ingredients and nutritious food. What does this mean for the other products (you know, the ones you find in the store)? They are no longer competing just at shelf, but against not shopping at all. By using one of these services, consumers outsource most of the work that goes into their dinnertime decisions: finding a recipe, shopping at the store, and most importantly for brands, choosing which products to buy. They put their trust in these companies to select not only meals they will like but the best products with which to make them. With so many mixed messages in the media around what to eat, these services offer more than delivery. They become a wellness consultant consumers rely on to pick the right foods, without worrying about it themselves.

At the moment, meal delivery companies are a small group covering a limited market (some have not yet made it out of their home city). Yet, their growth shows that they meet a need that nothing else has yet fulfilled. People are looking for ways to fit healthier, more natural, food into their busy lifestyles. And moreover, they are looking for names that they can trust to provide them with quality, good-for-you options. Innovative companies and brands that can help consumers achieve this goal have a lot to gain.