When I get anxious or stressed out, my natural response is to cook elaborate meals for myself. Following complex recipes soothes me.
But I understand that that is absolutely not the case for many folks out there. Nonetheless, in a time where we’re not supposed to be leaving the house, there’s only so much delivery you can order in — and so many meals of spaghetti you can make.
That’s where meal kits could come in handy. They’re delivered to your door (no venturing out to grocery stores!), contain ingredients for a balanced meal, and give folks who might not be super comfortable in the kitchen some training wheels to get them cooking. On top of that, most meal kit services are at least slightly cheaper than ordering delivery, especially when you factor in tip.
I reached out to a few meal kit companies to see how the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing is affecting them. And the news was uniformly positive! Unlike many food-related companies, meal kits are actually seeing a boost in sales.
Purple Carrot’s founder and CEO Andy Levitt told me that the company had seen a “sharp increase in demand for our plant-based meal kits since COVID-19 has been shifting consumer behavior.” A representative from HomeChef emailed me that the company was seeing an “unprecedented increase in orders” with “more people cooking at home.” Over email, Blue Apron’s CEO Linda Findley Kozlowski also noted that the company had seen “a sharp increase in consumer demand.” No one would disclose exact numbers.
All of the companies I contacted emphasized that their employees were following CDC guidelines to ensure food safety during sourcing and packing. One benefit of meal kits is that the ingredients are packed in a warehouse, which means there are also fewer people touching your food and less chance of contamination than in a supermarket.
As we’ve written about time and again on The Spoon, the meal kit industry has been struggling for quite a while. Will this recent boost in subscribers be enough to sustain meal kits? Levitt is optimistic; he anticipated that the demand would continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic dies down.
I’m perhaps less so. The basic problems for meal kits — managing disparate supply chains, encouraging customer stickiness, making recipes easy enough for anyone to cook, and competing against food delivery — will still be present in our post-coronavirus future.
True, maybe some folks who are trying out meal kits now will get hooked and decide to continue on that path. But overall, if meal kit companies want to survive I think they’ll have to continue to innovate to cater to shifting consumer needs by focusing on retail, enabling more customization, and creating easier, faster recipes.
But for now, meal kits are filling an important need for consumers who want to cook more at home, but aren’t sure how. It’s a small but noteworthy silver lining in the time of COVID-19.