The Cooker

Were Meal Kits Just a Pandemic Thing?

The pandemic isn’t done with us yet. Cases are rising a bit in Europe and it’s anyone’s guess where this is heading. But certainly, it appears that many of us are done with the pandemic. Does this mean the boom in meal kits will fade? Will it turn out that they were just a pandemic thing?

The short answer is yes and no.

Prospering While Others Flounder

Writing in the Washington Post, Laura Riley offers something close to a eulogy for the meal kit business. She quotes writer Rebecca Diem to paint the business as a fading memory:

“I’m so grateful to HelloFresh for providing that education and support, and I still use it once every two months. But my relationship with it has changed. I now I look to it for inspiration, almost like a personal assistant. It lightens the mental load.”

This is forecasting by anecdote. Narratives are potent, but facts are stubborn. And the fact is that the business of meal kits is behaving just as you would expect from a growing business sector moving into its second decade. Two bursts of explosive growth are behind it.

The first growth spurt came when the concept captured the popular imagination in the early part of the last decade. That sparked competition and left competitors struggling to maintain their high-flying status. Then came the pandemic to revive the growth pattern for meal kit companies. In 2020, market leader HelloFresh more than doubled its sales. For 2021, it merely grew sales by 62 percent as people started trying to put the pandemic behind them.

In contrast, Blue Apron reports declining sales and monetary losses. CEO Linda Findley says the “drastic changes of 2020” are mostly gone. So she’s looking for in inflection point that will bring a turnaround in the company’s fortunes.

Further Opportunity for Innovators

No matter how much we may wish to forget the pandemic as if it were a bad dream, it has wrought many changes that will not simply disappear. Within those changes are significant opportunities that alert innovators will seize.

The pandemic gave everyone a crash course in cooking and eating at home. Those lessons will stick with many people, just as the popularity of working from home seems to have some staying power. HelloFresh founder Dominik Richter describes a way to look forward while paying attention to where we’ve been:

“Every sector in its earliest days looks different than when it has matured years later. Sometimes change can take several decades to truly set in; it may take place over several years; most recently, we observed substantial change in just 18 months as the pandemic accelerated certain trends—like the shift to e-commerce – and pushed rapid adoption into a short amount of time.

“Today’s meal kit players must compete with a market crowded in a different way as more companies solve the ‘what’s for dinner?’ equation – third-party delivery partners, Amazon, and grocery chains flexing their newly minted e-commerce platforms.”

Innovation in home meals, cooking, and meal delivery will continue – shaped by the past, but driven by desires for something better. The desire to enjoy a meal with loved ones is enduring.

Click here, here, here, and here for further perspective.

The Cooker, painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo / WikiArt

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March 15, 2022

One Response to “Were Meal Kits Just a Pandemic Thing?”

  1. March 15, 2022 at 7:28 am, Mary Hager said:

    As a mother of two daughters working full-time at home, one with a baby, and one who chooses to not own a car (she lives in a large city), there’s no way Hello Fresh, Blue Ribbon will disappear from their lives. Even when they return to the office, these services have been a lifeline to them. Much better than pizza and the other delivery options.