Friday, June 17, 2016

Meal-kit services deliver fresh vegetables to homes; costs, nutrition, safety could be concerns

Meal-kit delivery services are taking the food industry by storm by delivering fresh ingredients to a customer's door. "Investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a wave of ambitious start-ups with names like Plated and Sun Basket that are aiming to take a piece of a grocery industry that has proven difficult to disrupt," Sarah Halzack reports for The Washington Post. "Each meal-delivery player has its own hook: HelloFresh has enlisted celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to whip up exclusive recipes, while Marley Spoon is doing the same with Martha Stewart. Purple Carrot, backed by former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, touts plans for vegans; PeachDish promises customers seasonal food with Southern flair." (Post photo: Roger Bautista's farm in upstate New York)

Blue Apron, which has developed an "almost-cult following among people who want to prepare original home-cooked meals without the fuss of dealing with a shopping list," is trying to get people interested in vegetables with names that sound like something out of a children's story, Halzack writes, citing names such as Fairy Tale eggplant, Shokichi Shiro squash, Atlas carrots and at least 40 other specialty crops.

"Earlier upstarts tried to win over shoppers by delivering food to their doorsteps and saving them a trip to the grocery store," Halzack writes. "The dinner-in-a-box companies, though, are betting that they can bypass the supermarket altogether by adding the convenience of curating recipes and portions so that all families have to do is chop and stir and fire up the stove. It's still too soon to know whether they will ultimately become a threat to traditional grocers. But Blue Apron thinks the secret might be changing the logistics of how fresh food moves to the pantry, fundamentally rethinking the food supply chain by starting all the way back at the farm."

A September 2015 survey by the research firm Mintel found that about 21 percent of people surveyed used one of these services at least once a month, with the number growing to 40 percent among millennials, Gina Shaw reports for WebMD. "According to market research firm Technomic, the global 'meal kit' market topped $1 billion in 2015."

There are some drawbacks to the programs, namely costs and nutrition, Shaw writes. "Prices vary by company and plan, but for two meals a week for a family of four, you'll spend about $69.92 at Blue Apron and $59.95 at HelloFresh. Three meals a week for two on Plated runs about $72 per week." That means customers, on average, are basically paying someone $70 an hour to shop for them, said Tim Harlan, a former restaurateur associate and chief of general internal medicine at Tulane University. Harlan told Shaw that while freshness is a plus to meal kits, “Most of the recipes are tremendously high in sodium, fat, or both, and the portion sizes are often too large.”

And there have been recalls due to contamination, the latest one being Hello Fresh frozen peas for possible listeria, in kits distributed in March and last week. "We expect that the March items have already been consumed and no cases of illness have been reported," Hello Fresh said in a news release. "The peas would have arrived in a portion cup inside a kit box labeled with the recipe names described above."

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