Dinner at the Door: A Review of Online Meal Delivery Services

I have discovered something: I actually like to cook!  I just don’t like to plan meals and I despise standing in front of the frig with the door open, trying to figure out what I am going to feed my hungry clan. Because I work full-time and am a busy mom and wife, my time for meal planning and shopping is limited. A typical week for me includes three to four soccer practices plus church functions and chauffeuring kids to their activities – all after work!

Like many moms, I find great satisfaction in sitting down and eating as a family. I work hard to protect mealtime and try to make dinner at least four nights a week. I was curious as to how an online meal delivery service could help make this happen.

Online meal delivery services are not a new concept, but the niche certainly has been reinvigorated in the last 18 months. Here at Midan we knew we needed to learn more. So, as Shonda started researching online grocery services, I decided to investigate the meal services counterpart. I ordered from both Blue Apron and Home Chef for a couple of weeks each, to “test drive” the concept.

 

Thoughts on Blue Apron

Everything you need for dinner in one Blue Apron box

Everything you need for dinner in one Blue Apron box

Blue Apron is a three-year-old start-up now delivering five million meals a month. The menu is set each week. You cannot select for specific dietary restrictions, which could easily be a detriment for some. The first week I ordered four meals for four people. The meals cost $8.74/person, which includes shipping. The ingredients arrived plenty cold but in LOTS of packaging. My first impression was that all this packaging can’t be good for anyone but the recycling center. (Complaints from customers have led Blue Apron to put a recycling program in place where they retrieve and reuse the packaging.)

The recipes sounded good. Some of our favorites included Fennel- and Thyme-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and White Balsamic Pepperonata and Flat Iron Steak and Fines Herbs Butter with Garlic, Potato and Red Pepper Hash.  The pictures and instructions provided were easy enough to follow, although there were no one-dish-wonders like I often gravitate to in my stable of easy, quick meals. There was a lot of clean up; we always had several cutting boards and pots and pans to be washed. Every meal we received was tasty but my teenage son did declare that most of the meals were too “frou frou” for him. With the higher cost of beef, very little beef was sent, which certainly wasn’t to our liking either!

My biggest complaint:  Blue Apron said the meal would average 40 minutes from start to finish. That was never the case; there was usually 40 minutes of prep time before the cooking began, which lead to a few late night dinners.

 

 Thoughts on Home Chef

Home Chef launched in Chicago in 2013. This summer they reported they were shipping 70,000 meals per month. Home Chef does allow you to select for different dietary preferences, which is a plus. To accommodate family preferences, we tried the low-carb, gluten-free selections. Each week before the cut-off time, I was able to go in and confirm I wanted what they had selected for my family or change to another offering. The appetizing photography often caused me to swap one item for another.

Home Chef ingredients conveniently packaged together

Home Chef ingredients conveniently packaged together

Home Chef seemed to use fewer ingredients and ingredients were already prepped (e.g., the garlic was peeled and ready to be minced). The prep timing was more accurate, and Home Chef includes nutrition facts, which gets a gold star from me. The cost per meal is $9.95 and I usually had enough leftovers for one or two lunches. And, there was way more beef!  We had flat iron and sirloin steaks, which were delicious!  The pork chops and pork tenderloin were also excellent. 

 

Overall thoughts

Do I like this type of program?  Yes! Although I entered this as a “research project,” I was surprised by how much I liked it.
Did I continue after the test? Yes, but with only two meals a week, as that seems to be the right amount for our family and allowed me to get the kids’ favs back on the menu.
Are they more expensive than homemade meals? Yes, but this is offset by me not having to spend a good chunk of my weekends meal planning, checking inventory and shopping. Having some leftovers to take to the office for lunches also helps me justify the cost.
What was the quality of the meat and produce? I’ve got to admit, I was skeptical about how the meat and produce would look when it arrived, but I was pleasantly surprised. All of the produce was outstanding and in the eight weeks I tested, I only had one case-ready leaker: fish!  Each vacuum-sealed package of beef, pork and chicken I received was excellent. All the beef was Select grade, which I understood given the price point they have to hit. The Blue Apron pork and chicken was branded; the beef and pork I received from Home Chef was not.
Can you skip shipments?  Yes, both companies have a great app that allows you to see what is coming and skip that week’s shipment if you want/need to.

 

The biggest benefits

The biggest benefit was the convenience of knowing what we were having and that I had all of the ingredients on hand!  This is a HUGE plus for a busy mom!  While it was my job to have salt, pepper and olive oil on hand (easy enough), everything else – even spices – is included and pre-measured, which means there was no waste.

Easy-to-follow recipes from Home Chef

Easy-to-follow recipes from Home Chef

One benefit I had not anticipated was that the instructions were so good (step-by-step with photos and often a video), that I left my 14-year-old son and his buddy in charge of starting dinner while I ran to pick up my daughter. Most evenings my husband and I prepare the meal together, which gives us time to catch up and is one of the main reasons I have discovered I love to cook. Quality time with the fam, cooking and eating…the benefit of the warm fuzzies has made this experiment well worth the effort!

Retailers, I don’t think it will be too long before you will need to embrace this concept in some way to keep your VIP customers coming into your stores. I like the idea of picking up pre-measured, all-ingredients-included meals for a set price when I need a quick dinner solution. Along with providing the ultimate convenience, an in-store option like this would also eliminate shipping costs and require less packaging.

Packers and processors, if you are not in discussions with companies who play in this space, what are you waiting for?  Forging relationships now could help you grow later. Along with options like online meal delivery service, talk to your current brick-and-mortar customers about how they plan to deliver fresh meals to customers who want to spend less time shopping and more time cooking. Be a part of the solution for these customers now so you can be a part of their success later.

 

Have you tried an online meal delivery service?  I would love to hear about your experience! Leave a comment here or email me d.amstein@midanmarketing.com.

 

Comments

  1. Erin Burger says:

    GREAT POST DANETTE!!!! 🙂 This helped me make the choice to test drive it as well.

  2. Walker Stockley says:

    Doing an analysis of the Publix Apron recently, a Salmon meal priced out to $9.67 per person (4 servings) complete with rice, peas, spices & sauces. However, several seasonings were provided in retail sized bottles where only 10-20% of the contents were needed for the recipe, leaving you with a lot of ingredients leftover that may not be used. Those bottle ingredients added up to 30% of the total purchase price. So, retailers are trying to respond but with off the shelf ingredients in their stores, unlike a Blue Apron or Home Chef that only provide seasonings required for the recipe. In addition, the meat portions were in relatively short shelf life packaging, but if preparing the meal that night or the next should not be an issue.
    Both the retailer option or the online option provide the consumer with a convenient decision for meal preparation – the meal ingredients and recipe all in one package. Yet the packaging part of the online meals could be improved greatly (reduce waste disposal, easier recycle-ability of package components)

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