The meal kit delivery service, i.e. the business of sending portioned ingredients and recipes to homes across the country, has seen huge growth in the US. The industry was valued at $1.5 billion in 2016, tripled to over $4.5 billion in 2017 and is expected to almost triple in value again by 2022.
There are many reasons why startups like Home Chef, HelloFresh and Blue Apron have caught lightning in a bottle so rapidly: They appeal to busy professionals, who at least perceive themselves as having less time to organize meals; they also appeal to the idea of ethical consumption and little food waste; moreover, for the body conscious, there is the draw of pre-portioned meals.
Yet, there is much more to this industry than simply catering to those with little time to organize their weekly food consumption. Take, for example, the importance of these services to the elderly and those dealing with disabilities. Meal kit deliveries can offer a middle ground between consuming ready meals and the independence some people will crave.
Services can help those with illnesses
For instance, Home Chef is a good example of a meal kit provider that offers options for people living with diabetes. Those living with the illness are understandably wary when ordering food in restaurants, and when portioning out carbs and sugars from grocery supplies. Knowing that those issues have been considered for each meal, even the simple ones, can be very liberating.
Home Chef, of course, is one of many options of the kind of service, which can cater to people with specific dietary requirements. Much of the industry has looked to make itself stand out by letting people know exactly what they are consuming down to the smallest ingredients; indeed, anyone with an allergy to gluten or nuts knows how painstaking the process of finding out this kind information can be, regardless if you are eating out or at home.
Yet, we often think of these popular startups as being guaranteed to succeed in the long-term. And, there are some arguments that meal-kit delivery services will not have the same kind of longevity as other disruptors of traditional industry like Uber and Netflix. That doesn’t mean they will disappear altogether, because, as we have pointed out, such services can be invaluable to those with living with illness. Rather, it’s that these services may not engineer the same kind of sweeping social change of other disruptors. In the simplest terms, we’ll all still be making trips to the grocery store.
A tiny slice of US grocery market
Indeed, if you look at those numbers mentioned earlier highlighting the growth of the meal-kit delivery industry, the value of the total food and food retail sales in the US in 2017 was estimated to be around $6 trillion, meaning we are talking about a sector with a minute impact on the entire industry. Indeed, grocery sales alone in the US of the same period came to about $675 billion. So, you can appreciate that there is a lot of ground to make up from the likes of Blue Apron and Hello Fresh.
In the end, it’s about freedom of choice. Some of us might get a little snobbish at the idea of busy professionals not having the time to portion out some ingredients or visit the grocery store. But there are areas where these services can make a difference. For that reason, they are here to stay.