Ten years ago, you had two choices for dinner: Grab takeout on your way home, or do it the old fashioned way by stopping at the grocery store and cooking from scratch. Then around 2011–2012, companies like HelloFresh, Plated, and Blue Apron launched in Berlin and New York.
These three companies changed things up by offering consumers a third option: They do the shopping and planning. You just play chef.
By 2016, the industry passed the billion dollar mark, and it’s expected to hit 11 billion by 2022. But while other companies like PeachDish, Farm to Fork, and Marley’s Spoon are jumping in the race, their customers are dropping out. By 2018, 24 percent of Blue Apron customers were canceling their service in a single quarter, and the company failed to hit even the most modest revenue goals.
So what gives? In a time when Americans are more rushed and stressed than ever (man, can all those email notifications raise your cortisol levels!), shouldn’t a service like Blue Apron be welcomed? Shouldn’t busy professionals want someone else to plan their meals, shop for their ingredients, and deliver it all straight to their door?
Well, they might if it weren’t for one, glaring issue: These supposedly “easy” meal kits haven’t made individuals’ lives any easier. After six months of service, many individuals cancelled or switched to a competitor, claiming the meals were too complex, the recipes were too difficult to understand, and the service did not save time as promised.
Do companies like Blue Apron take care of the grocery shopping for you? Yes. But so do Instacart and Amazon Fresh.
The unique thing that meal kit delivery services provide isn’t just the shopping, it’s the meal planning. Each service delivers recipe cards, ingredients (some of which come pre-portioned), and instructions on how to create a meal.
With meal kit companies like Home Chef, Green Chef, or Sun Basket, you’re still going to chop, prep, and cook the food yourself, plus cleanup afterwards—just like if you’d gotten your ingredients from the grocery store. And while not having to deal with a Trader Joe’s line or Whole Foods’ parking lot is nothing to scoff at, you’re still stuck with quite a bit of grunt work.
With meal kits, you’ll still have to prep, chop, and otherwise prepare your dishes. In some cases, you’ll have to follow confusing recipes. And of course, you can’t forget about the cleanup after your meal is finished.
As part of the prep, you may have to figure out which ingredients go together. One major customer complaint about Blue Apron versus its competitors is the fact that ingredients come jumbled together in a single box. Before you even start your kitchen prep, you’ll have to go about figuring out which ingredients go with which recipe card.
Most services send you whole ingredients. Think whole chicken breasts or vegetables that you’ll need to chop, season, and combine. When some recipes take up to 20 minutes of prep time, it’s not exactly what we call a time saver.
If you’re considering the prepping, chopping, and cleanup and think, “Alright, I can handle this,” the actual cooking process might be what tries your patience.
Some meal kit delivery services, particularly Plated and Purple Carrot, take a long time to cook. Some recipes take 40 minutes to an hour, which doesn’t save much time in your already hectic schedule. And trust us, you don’t need an hour to make a delicious, homemade dinner—just check out these easy weeknight dinners, quick dinner ideas, and healthy meals for one.
If you’ve waged war over IKEA furniture instructions, a meal kit service might not be your best bet. For those who tried a variety of meal kit services, this was one of the most common complaints: Recipes were difficult to understand, or ingredients were missing from the box.
Some meal kit services, like PeachDish and Plated, reportedly had high-quality recipes, containing fresh ingredients and seasonal produce. But while having gourmet meal choices sounds like an attractive option, not being able to follow the recipe certainly isn’t.
We’re talking a lot of dishes.
The team at Money magazine did a fun experiment: They tried several Blue Apron competitors, including HelloFresh, Martha & Marley Spoon, Green Chef, Sun Basket, and Plated for one week.
They did dishes for 144 minutes.
Granted, this was across the entire experiment, but consider this: On your most hectic week, where would you like to spend those two hours—at the gym or over the sink?
Each recipe in the experiment used an average of 15 utensils, bowls, and pieces of cookware to complete a single recipe. We don’t know how that’s possible because we prefer meals that take one dish. But hey, that’s just us.
While some meal kits offer perfectly-portioned ingredients for the corresponding recipe (Plated receives high marks for this), others offer more than you’d ever use.
HelloFresh in particular has a reputation for sending a surplus of food. For example, you might receive an entire tomato or head of lettuce when making a burger recipe where all you need is a single slice.
If all of the above sounds like more than what you bargained for, maybe a meal kit isn't the best solution.
A full 71 percent of Tovala customers tried a meal kit service like Blue Apron before switching to our service. They simply found meal kit services like Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Plated too cumbersome. The recipes took too long to prepare, the instructions were sometimes difficult to follow, and it didn’t save much time after all the prepping, cooking, and cleanup.
It's hard to find a service that offers healthy meals as well as convenience. With Tovala, you get a meal delivery service and a home chef in one, delivering on what meal kits promised: convenience. With Tovala, every stage in the meal prep process is handled, including planning, shopping, and portioning.
Unlike Blue Apron meals, Tovala meals come chopped and prepped. All you need to do is scan your meal's barcode on your Tovala Oven, then watch as your meals are cooked to perfection. There are no instructions to follow, no ingredients to sort through, and no idle time spent over the stovetop monitoring that night’s dinner.
And the best part? There are no dishes to clean up afterward, saving you all those precious minutes previously spent hovering over the kitchen sink.
To get healthy meal options prepped and delivered straight to your door on a weekly basis, try Tovala. Each meal comes individually portioned, making them ideal for homes of just one or two people. The meals change weekly with gluten-free and vegetarian options available, and most meals are ready in less than 20 minutes. Click here to check out this week's menu.