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A closer look at the meal kit delivery model (and why it's gaining traction)

A closer look at the meal kit delivery model (and why it's gaining traction)
Vegan meal kit delivery service Purple Carrot has recruited Mark Bittman to work for it. Here's how the model is finding traction in the market.

You’ve heard by now that Mark Bittman, after his surprise departure from the New York Times a little over a month ago, is now joining a year-old startup, Purple Carrot, which offers a plant-based meal kit delivery service.

Home-delivered meal kits seem to be all the rage now—even as grocery delivery services seem to be on the decline or stagnant—so let's take a closer look at the model and why it’s showing promise.

Food industry research firm Technomic has projected $3 billion to $5 billion in growth over the next 10 years for the meal kit delivery industry. Industry leaders Blue Apron and Plated have raised tens of millions each in venture capital, and there’s no sign that funding for these services will dry up anytime soon. “Meal kit delivery services are growing strong, and awareness is building,” said Erik Thoresen, principal at Technomic.

It’s hard to tell what types of meals consumers are replacing when they use meal kit delivery services—it depends on the customer and ranges from store-bought convenience foods to restaurant meals. What’s clear is that consumers are flocking to this growing business model that allows them to cook a fresh, homemade meal but without the time typically involved in both cooking and grocery shopping.

Thoresen sees a strong connection between meal kits and restaurant meals, both of which are a form of discretionary spending for many consumers. He said, “The drivers are not necessarily economic but instead offer experiential benefits, such as trying something new or cooking together with family. There is also a convenience component in terms of having all the ingredients you need immediately at hand. Depending on what dishes subscribers select, there can also be a health benefit to using meal kits.”

The health benefits are where Purple Carrot comes in. It’s a veganized version of the service that Blue Apron and dozens of others have been offering across the country over the last few years.

Bittman told the website Eater: “We're not suggesting anyone become vegan. We're never going to say that. We're never going to think that. What we are suggesting is that most people know that it would be healthier for them and healthier for the planet if we ate more plant-based meals. I think most people know that; people have trouble doing that. We're trying to fill that need. That is not like what the other meal kit companies are doing.”

Thoresen added, “In terms of growth, a combination of mainstream and specialized meal kit services are fueling growth. Both are important in terms of serving the market, as consumers’ individual needs vary.”

“We see evidence that vegan is mainstreaming. Therefore, there is likely some overlap [between mainstream meal kit delivery companies and more specialized services] in the potential customer base, with a combination of interest from vegan and non-vegan consumers.”

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