Home Meal Kits: Highbrow and Lowbrow

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Marc BrazeauMarc Brazeau | Editor | Food and Farm Discussion Lab | @eatcookwrite


Today brings us new evidence that 2018 will find the home meal kit industry in flux and in search of successful business models in two bits of news.

A meal kit service with its own kitchen robot

The first is Kickstarter for a bespoke meal kit service called Suvie built around a kitchen robot that can simultaneously cook a protein, vegetable and starch dishes, and sauce. It keeps the food refrigerated until cooking time and can be programmed to have them ready at a specified time or you can start the cooking process from your phone. While there is a set of programmable recipes so that you can mix and match your own ingredients into meals, the robot is really designed to work with a delivery service.
Designed by a former Apple engineer, appliance expert & gourmet chef this product looks to price out in the $500-$600 range. In the marketing they estimate that it will save users up to six hours of time per week. They’ve blasted past their goal of raising $100,000 by over $600,000 with contributions averaging $500. People are pledging the amount to get their hands on a machine.

Despite the enthusiasm of their donor base, I have to say I’m a bit dubious. There is a high likelihood that the meal delivery service will fail, and then you have a kitchen robot that you have to learn to program. That means weighing out ingredients, plugging in instructions to the interface, and doing all the chopping and shopping. I was the chef at restaurant that had a Turbochef, which was a technical miracle, but I always found programming it a bit of a pain and a crap shoot. Hopefully the Suvie will be more intuitive to program if the meal service fails or you don’t end up keeping your subscription for whatever reason, but I forsee Suvies joining bread machines in basement storage and yard sales.

Enter Bigfoot

In somewhat more consequential news, we learn today that Walmart is entering the meal kit business.

Similar to the meal kits found at most grocers today, Walmart’s meal kits are prepared fresh daily in the store, and are sold in the deli. The meals are designed to serve two people and range from $8 to $15.

…Walmart doesn’t operate its own grocery delivery service, as Amazon does with Prime Now or Target now does with Shipt – it contracts with third parties like Uber, and charges shoppers an additional fee at checkout. (Delivery is currently available in 6 markets, which equals nearly 40 stores.)

While meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated, Home Chef, and others have grown in popularity, they’re generally designed more for those who have a little more time to prep meals in kitchen. That is, while you’ll only be sent the ingredients you need, there’s often still chopping and stirring and seasoning involved across several steps.

It’s also a bit expensive to subscribe to these deliveries, and food can go to waste if you don’t have time to prepare the week’s meals for some reason (like working late at the office, e.g.). Plus, shipping meal kits requires refrigerated packaging, which then needs to be recycled or disposed, which also cuts into people’s limited time.

That’s much cheaper and easier than the Blue Apron model which runs roughly double. I think a service that can either be home delivered or integrated into regular shopping that clocks in at $4-$8 a meal, paired with Walmart reach and deep pockets isn’t good news for Blue Apron and company. Between Suvie’s highbrow approach and Walmart’s lowbrow approach, my money is on lowbrow.

Despite the rise of foodie culture, people don’t really seem to want to cook.

I have to say, as someone who loves to cook and wish more of my fellow citizens did too, this pretty depressing to watch. I find American food culture pretty depressing, and as much as I find a lot of foodie conceits about the food system pretty derpy, the interest in cooking and quality seemed promising. I think the demand for better quality, whether it’s in restaurant meals, or coffee, or microbrewery beers is fantastic, it’s becoming pretty clear that cooking for health and pleasure isn’t really in the cards on any mass scale. From the mania for Instant Pot or the interest in home meal kits to pseudo-cook in short bursts, one has to take a hint. One thing struck me though listening to the Suvie pitch talking about how nobody has the time anymore to cook. I couldn’t help but contrast that with a quote I heard the other day from Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix on binge TV watching:

“You get a show or a movie you’re really dying to watch, and you end up staying up late at night, so we actually compete with sleep,” he said of his No. 1 competitor. Not that he puts too much stock in his rival: “And we’re winning!”

All but the most harried single mom working two jobs can find time to cook dinner if that was something they got pleasure from or came easily. There’s stuff they’d rather be doing.


Read more:
2018: An Inflection Point for Home Meal Delivery
• Americans in Cars, Eating Badly: Scale and Scope
• Americans in Cars Eating Badly: Why We Need Better Convenience Foods


 [Please consider supporting Food and Farm Discussion Lab with an  ongoing contribution of $1, $2, $3, $5 or $10 a month on Patreon. Or make a one time donation via PayPal. ]

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