Braedan Aubry

Meal kit services like HelloFresh are appetizing to the busy masses that feel awkward in the kitchen. The boxed meal kits look refined, healthy, and simple to make. The recipe cards are flashy yet straightforward, and the ingredients are pre-measured and ready to go. You choose what you want to eat for the week, and it shows up in a neat package on your doorstep. Is HelloFresh really an affordable, hassle-free meal service? Will it make you a better cook in the long run? Depending on your lifestyle, it may not be money well spent.

The Consumer

For Mark Wojcicki, HelloFresh was a service he signed up for to introduce variety into his weekly meals. “The biggest advantage was not having to spend the time grocery shopping after work or not having to spend the time thinking about what I want to make,” says Mark. “It’s also nice that you can use the service as an educational tool to realize ‘oh, this seasoning can go with this food.’ The recipes are good for that.”

After six months of using the service every few weeks, Mark opted out of his weekly deliveries. “By that point, you’ve tried all their recipes, and you likely won’t love all of them. I found five to ten I liked, and at that point, it’s cheaper to just buy [ingredients] in bulk.”

The Cost Breakdown

HelloFresh is undoubtedly more costly than going to the supermarket. Their home page totes meals as “cheap” as $9.96 per person, a price that’s not remarkably eye-catching to your average consumer. That unit price is also only available if you choose four meals for four people; otherwise, you pay close to $11.50 per meal if you choose fewer meals for the week.

Credit: HelloFresh.ca

Most dishes feature a carb, typically rice or pasta, followed by a vegetable, or two, paired with a basic protein option like a chicken breast. Individually packaged limes, ginger, and spice seasonings round out the dish, sometimes combined to be served as a sauce or simply just to season the dish. Buying the same ingredients from your local grocery store would be substantially cheaper, particularly for meals that just have rice, green beans, and chicken. So, where does HelloFresh add value? What entices their customers to pay double and sometimes triple for the same dish? Their customer base has increased steadily year over year, and it’s exploded since 2020 began. 

Credit: Statista.com

Where does the value come from?

Most of their value-added naturally comes from the convenience factor built into their business model. For people like Mark, deciding what to eat day after day is one of the biggest struggles of being an adult. Staring into your pantry and opening your fridge for the third time in a row isn’t exactly the best way to get inspired to make a meal for yourself. It has a weird way of making your box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch seem more appealing each time you fail to come up with something edible for the night. HelloFresh cuts through your indecisiveness by providing you simple meal ideas with tasteful results. You pay a premium for it, but you end up with a meal you likely otherwise wouldn’t have made without their recipes. Finding inspiration is key when it means the difference between cooking for yourself or ordering takeout again, so HelloFresh has found a niche within the meal delivery community as an alternative to SkipTheDishes and UberEats. However, they’ve struggled to find a foothold with consumers that are reasonably adept at cooking for themselves.

Where HelloFresh Falls Short

Meal kits still run a high cost in comparison to your average grocery bill. HelloFresh doesn’t offer breakfast kits, and it’s unlikely your average consumer will order seven to fourteen meals to cover their weekly lunches and dinners, so a trip to the grocery store is still a necessity for most people. The HelloFresh business model starts to crumble once consumers realize they can take the recipes they’ve enjoyed from the service and pick up the same ingredients at a substantially lower cost. HelloFresh is ideal for the curious consumer, but their customer retention becomes a problem once customers grow tired of the basic meal plans and begin to seek more variety. HelloFresh offers pescatarian, vegetarian, and calorie-friendly meals, among other options, but consumers pay higher prices for these already pricey options. User reviews on Facebook and Google also criticize the freshness of some products they receive in their boxes, citing wilted and bruised produce, further adding to the ever-present debate on HelloFresh’s cost-benefit analysis. Paying a premium for sub-par staples becomes less appealing when you can purchase more quality ingredients for less at the grocery store.

The Plastic Problem

Single-use plastic has also become a growing criticism since HelloFresh entered the Canadian market in 2016. The shift towards plastic-free packaging has rapidly increased in the last few years, but HelloFresh still ships almost all their products aside from carrots, potatoes and other vegetables in individually wrapped plastic. “I’ve received cherry tomatoes and rosemary wrapped in plastic from HelloFresh,” says Mark. “I don’t need those wrapped in plastic. Why not toss it in a small paper bag?” 

Seasoning packets, chilli flakes, green beans and even green onions typically come wrapped in plastic. Most households have basic spices on hand, so a large amount of plastic generated from HelloFresh kits is considered redundant and excessive. This significant drawback has plagued HelloFresh for years, and it has undoubtedly dissuaded consumers from using its service. Until they adopt a more environmentally-friendly approach, single-use plastic packaging will continue to play a role in the marketability of ready-made meal kit delivery services.

A Fresh Idea That Fails to Deliver

HelloFresh is ideal for spurring creativity in the kitchen. Their boxes provide you with the ingredients and inspiration to make a solid home-cooked meal. It saves customers like Mark the time and energy of conceptualizing and executing a well-rounded meal, but customers also pay a lot for this convenience. HelloFresh has realized their customer engagement drops off after a few months, and they offer free meal kits to customers that cancel their subscription, but these measures allude to the companies shortcomings. Consumers want more variety, new recipes, and fresh ingredients in their homes. HelloFresh scratches the surface of these demands, but they ultimately fail to deliver a service that keeps customers coming back.

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