You know that thing, where if someone sees you have something like a decorative Santa statue, people start giving you decorative Santa statues, and suddenly all your shelves are jammed full of
creepy decorative Santa statues?
That’s basically what happened to me when I reviewed Kettlebell Kitchen’s meals. After that article posted, direct to consumer meal companies started to reach out, asking if I’d like to try their particular meal solution and suddenly my fridge became full of fully cooked, fully assembled, pre-packaged meals**.
ICON Meals CEO Todd Abrams was one of the first to reach out to me. ICON had flown under our radar here at The Spoon, probably because they are based in Texas, don’t do much marketing outside of social media, and have only taken $5 million funding (a small sum compared with other meal delivery services).
Though the company bills itself as a healthy meal service, it’s really, quite literally, a very meat and potatoes offering. ICON prepares full meals like cheeseburgers and sweet potatoes, chicken fajitas, and even breakfasts like pancakes. These are then shrink-wrapped and arrive frozen at your door where you can keep them in your freezer and pop them in the microwave when you’re ready to eat.
Meals are between $8 and $12, and you can choose between weekly menu items like those listed above, or customize your meal to include certain ingredients, or add larger portions. The company also offers its own line of pre-packaged snacks like high protein popcorn, cookies and snack crisps.
It’s important to emphasize that ICON isn’t a meal kit company. All the meals are fully cooked and plated. Once you receive your shipment, you pick the one you want, blast it in the microwave for three minutes and voilá! Lunch, dinner or breakfast is served.
There are two things about ICON that might be a turnoff for some readers. First is the packaging. Meals arrive in a styrofoam-lined box and come in plastic containers covered in thick plastic shrink wrap. I spoke with Abrams about this and he reassured me that the styrofoam is just a temporary stopgap measure as they test out a new fully recyclable box liner. Additionally, the food trays are recyclable and if you’re skeeved out at the idea of cooking your food in plastic shrink-wrap, it’s actually a special film that is food safe.
The other thing that might give some people pause about ICON is that it doesn’t place an emphasis on sourcing its food. It’s not organic, ethically sourced or local. Abrams said that ICON is putting out 50,000 meals a week, and buying local just isn’t tenable at that scale. Instead, ICON works with Sysco for all its food buying not only to meet its high demand, but also because that makes all of its ingredients traceable should there be a particular food recall.
While that may not satisfy conscientious consumers, they might feel reassured to know that ICON has a full-time FDA inspector at its food production facility, so its meal prep environment is constantly being monitored. Abrams also said that the shrink-wrapping actually helps protect the food from freezer burn and prevents oxygen and other pathogens from getting into your food.
All that is well and good, but how do ICON Meals taste?
Pretty good, actually! They were balanced with a protein, a vegetable and a carb, and the options were varied enough that eating them didn’t feel repetitive. It’s not high-cuisine, they were a little bland with some meals feeling like cafeteria food (especially the rice dishes), but what you are really buying with ICON is time.
It’s pretty great to open up your freezer and be able to choose from a week’s worth of meals. Microwaving them makes ICON meals fast to prepare (though take out the bread before you start cooking them otherwise it gets stiff), so you can eat a full, well-portioned meal on a busy schedule.
The ICON snacks weren’t as appealing to me. I liked the cookies, which actually had more of a consistency of an energy bar, but the protein popcorn was too sweet even for my taste.
ICON is sitting at the intersection of a couple of trends we follow at The Spoon. It’s a meal delivery service and it’s part of the frozen food boom. The frozen aspect in particular makes ICON Meals super convenient because you can store them for a long time, unlike Kettlebell’s meals which have a pretty limited shelf life in your fridge.
Kettlebell’s menu is a little more complex and fancy, but you also pay for it. Kettlebell’s meals cost around $12 a pop whereas ICON Meals start around $8. But Kettlebell is also going for the go-get ’em gym demographic and offers special meal plans for things like fat burning or building muscle.
I’m tempted to keep going with ICON because of the low price and the frozen convenience factor. The hard part for me to get over is the food sourcing. I don’t need all my food to be from an organic farm two blocks from my house, and I understand that at scale, partnering with a company like Sysco makes sense. It just makes the food feel industrial.
However, if those things aren’t super important to you, I can easily recommend ICON for its affordability and the ease with which it can vary up your dining routine either at lunch or dinner. If those are appealing, maybe you can ask Santa for some ICON this year.
**ICON sent a lot of meals. Because they didn’t charge me, and I can’t really return them, I made a cash donation to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission (I had heard a story about them on NPR).