For consumers seeking a convenient way to enjoy cooking and skip the grocery store, direct-to-door meal kit services like Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated have delivered, literally. The weekly subscription services deliver kits to your door for two or four people that include raw ingredients and step-by-step cooking instructions for about $12 to $14 per meal. Other services, such as Munchery, offer fully prepared meals by Michelin-star chefs delivered cold so you can heat them yourself, and supermarket chains such as Giant launched their own cook-it-yourself meal kits last year that customers can purchase in stores or have delivered through Peapod. But with more than 100 such services in the marketplace, and counting, these brands will have to step up their game to stand out from the competition and survive, industry analysts say.
Cost will be a factor in meal kits' longevity, or lack thereof. "When we get over the initial hype, people will start looking at their budgets, and cost-wise, these things are comparable to the cost of a takeout dinner," said David Portalatin, vp, food industry analyst at The NPD Group. "The vast majority of in-home cooks are still going to rely on supermarkets to source their food, so I don't think it'll ever become mainstream."
Jenny Zegler, global food and drink analyst at Mintel, doesn't see much longevity in the trend, either. "By teaching people how to cook, they could be making themselves redundant," she said.
Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated all tout similar benefits, such as convenience and fresh ingredients, in their marketing efforts. HelloFresh employs as its spokesperson chef Jamie Oliver, who advocates for food education programs in the U.K. through his Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.
Copycat marketing also makes it difficult for these brands to stand out in the space, so promoting frequent orders will be important to these services' long-term success, said Erik Thoresen, principal at Technomic. "They have to make it as habitual as ordering your morning cup of coffee. It's a little bit of luck—it's not a matter of doing anything drastically different, just of fine-tuning the business model so that it works for consumers on a regular basis, week after week."
Matt Fitzgerald, vp of marketing at HelloFresh USA, notes that increasing frequency of orders is one of the business' main goals. "Understanding the needs of the home cook so our service has a place in their home on a weekly basis is going to be critical to our future success."
Nick Taranto, co-founder of Plated, took a slightly different view. "Consumers will still shop at Whole Foods and go out for dinner and order takeout, but several nights a month, they'll order and cook Plated at home," he said. "We only need a small sliver of their nights to make a very large business."
Marketing execs at these services are betting that the experience and subsequent word of mouth will keep consumers coming back. "People tell us about how they spend more time with their significant other because of it, or we get Instagram posts from kids who are cooking more with their parents," said Jared Cluff, vp of marketing at Blue Apron. "Most of our customers are referred by existing customers. If they put a great meal on the table, they continue to order from us, and they tell their friends."
This story first appeared in the Feb. 22 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.