By March 18, 2020, restaurants in nine U.S. states had closed for dine-in service. That same day, stock in meal kit delivery company Blue Apron had increased more than seven-fold from its share price one week prior. In a moment where many people nationwide are becoming reacquainted with their kitchens, and for an industry where ongoing customer retention was one of its biggest obstacles, meal kit delivery services may be poised to be one of the big winners of the coronavirus pandemic, encouraging many to dabble in these services for the first time.
Related Reading on CNET: The Best Meal Kit Delivery Services of 2020
Meal kit delivery services exploded onto the scene—and into our porches and lobbies—in the United States in 2012, with Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Plated starting up within mere months of one another. Ostensibly designed for those who want to cook, but lack the time or inspiration for meal planning and food shopping, these first generation companies provided boxes of pre-prepped ingredients, along with step by step instructions on how to prepare the included dishes. Subscribers could typically choose from a selection of weekly meals available, and decide how many dishes to receive, portioned accordingly for the size of the household.
By 2017, there were an estimated 150 meal kit companies in the U.S., from small, local operations to many more with national reach. Since its inception, the meal kit landscape has continually evolved from where it started, with myriad ways companies have changed or emerged to meet the demands and expectations of the meal kit audience, from the currently curious to the fully committed.
A Kit for Every Lifestyle and Budget: Sun Basket, Green Chef, Every Plate, etc.
Once the initial meal kit boxes were out of the gate on to the stoop, soon to follow were companies keen to provide options for every imaginable diet or lifestyle: not only vegetarian, vegan, and organic concepts, but also quick to be represented were keto, paleo, gluten-free, and Whole30 options.
With companies like Sun Basket, Home Chef, Purple Carrot, Hungryroot, and Green Chef leading the charge, now nearly every player in the meal kit delivery game at least has the capability to filter recipes for compliance with desired diet or lifestyle platforms. Furthermore, Every Plate entered the game for those whose lifestyle was more budget-based than anything, whose simple, family- and time-friendly meal options aimed at affordability, “not to make you a chef.”
Green Chef Meal Kit Delivery, Price Varies
Try Green Chef for organic meals that suit a variety of diet and lifestyle platforms.
Related Reading on CNET: The Best Healthy Food Delivery Services in 2020
A Kit for Enthusiastic Young Cooks: Raddish
Raddish is a monthly cooking kit designed for kids that works much like the traditional meal kits above, though obviously way more fun. (Like, is there an upper age limit? Asking for a friend…) Not only are online videos available to accompany the three monthly recipe instruction guides, but the subscription also curates a Spotify playlist for each of its boxes. Monthly themes fall into one of four approaches—Seasonal Spotlights, Global Cuisine, Creative Cookery, and Holiday Celebrations—and themes never repeat.
Raddish Kids Monthly Meal Kit Subscription, Price Varies
S'mores pie, global cuisine, and a spotify playlist. Where do I sign up? Here.
Technically, prepared meal delivery services have been around long before meal kit delivery, but in the wake of meal kits’ popularity, more light was shined on the meal delivery companies that already existed, and more options became available for those who liked the look and convenience of the friendly doorstep boxes, but had little interest in wielding a chef’s knife or spatula. This category also contains a multitude of approaches for lifestyle and diet including weight loss and wellness, (bistroMD, Territory, Freshology, Eat Clean Bro and Freshly), gourmet or chef-driven, (Home Bistro, and Cookunity), and vegetarian (Veestro).
bistroMD Meal Subscription, Price Varies
Already prepared, high quality and healthy meals at your doorstep.
Related Reading on CNET: The Best Prepared Meal Delivery Services to Use for 2020
More Than Just Dinner: Sun Basket, Urban Roots, Daily Harvest, etc.
Sun Basket’s current platform includes the traditional kits designed to get people cooking their own dinner, but also made it possible for the service to be a one-stop shop for subscribers. Prepared, a la carte items are also available to be included in your weekly delivery, including breakfast, lunch, smoothie, and snack options. Territory, from the meal delivery service approach also offers similar grocery or a la carte options in addition to dinner.
On this wavelength, other subscription companies were born whose missions were providing regular deliveries for things other than dinner. Examples include Mush, an aptly-named service for overnight oats, Daily Harvest, for plant-focused breakfast and lunch options, and Urban Roots, for veggie-forward side dishes to accompany your own mains.
Daily Harvest Subscription Service, Price Varies
Plant-forward breakfast, lunch, and snacks are served.
Related Reading: 7 Produce Subscription Options You Should Know About
Countertop Cooking: Tovala and Tiller & Hatch
Somewhere in the intersection of meal kit and meal delivery exists a little pocket of meal subscription services destined for a countertop device. Tovala’s minimal-prep meals literally cook themselves in conjunction with their own countertop smart oven. (A steam oven that can be programmed by scanning the accompanying recipe cards, or can be linked to a smartphone.)
Tiller and Hatch, a project from none other than Alex Rodriguez and J Lo—for those who prefer their meal kits with a dash of celebrity—include hearty, restaurant quality meals that come together in minutes with the aid of a pressure cooker.
Related Reading: The 8 Best Pressure Cookers of 2020
Grocery Delivery, Some Assembly Required: Hungryroot
Hungryroot began its life as a vegan-centric delivery kit, and has since expanded its reach to include omnivores, with its mix-and-match approach to assembling meals given high quality ingredients. Weekly deliveries include prepped or ready-to-eat veggies, grains, proteins, and sauces, along with guidelines, rather than recipes, on how to combine them into sandwiches, salads, bowls, and wraps. Pantry items and snacks round out the delivery for a low maintenance, yet still creative approach to eating well all day.
Wine Pairings: Blue Apron
Since 2015, Blue Apron has maintained a wine subscription option to accompany its meals. A monthly subscription includes six 500 ml bottles, which are about two-thirds the size of a standard wine bottle, amounting to about a glass and a half each for two people. Guides help to delineate the tasting profile of each wine, and specifically coordinate with certain Blue Apron meals for maximum pairing appeal.
Related Reading on CNET: The Best Wine Clubs and Subscriptions for 2020
Eco-Friendly Packaging: Territory, Sun Basket, Hungryroot, etc.
One early drawback of the pre-portioned ingredients included with meal kit delivery was the amount of plastic required, not to mention the various materials involved for keeping products fresh while they waited on your doorstep for you to arrive home and refrigerate them. Several companies have addressed this over time including Sun Basket and Hungryroot, whose packaging is all 100 percent recyclable, including the ice packs, and Territory, whose meals now come served in biodegradable containers.
Header image courtesy of Sun Basket.