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Meal kits: a bridge for improved cooking skills?

Whether you’re sick of hearing the words “meal kit” or have started selling them in your stores or ordered them for your family, meal kits don’t appear to be going anywhere.

A “meal kit” is a container of pre-portioned ingredients delivered to your home along with a recipe to cook the meal yourself.  With about 100 meal kit delivery companies world-wide, there are variations from plant-based to paleo, there are meals designed for adult tastes, and portioned and designed to be family and kid friendly.

Current snapshot of meal kit industry

In early 2016 Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru revealed that the millennial consumer now outnumbers the Baby Boomer grocery consumer population, and these shoppers are seeking experimentation with meal suggestions. This could be part of the success seen by the meal kit industry, which according to Technomic Inc., a consulting and research firm for the food industry, had total revenue of just over $1 billion globally in 2015, and is predicted to skyrocket to about $10 billion annually just in the USA over a five year time span.

This fresh ingredient delivery model started in Europe, has seen rapid growth in USA since 2015, and is starting to pick up traction in the Canadian market.  In the USA some of the most well established companies include Blue Apron and Purple Carrot. In Canada a few companies include HelloFresh, Chefs Plate, Good Food and Fresh Prep.

This dietitian’s thoughts on meal kits

As a retail dietitian with a professional mandate help customers improve their health through dietary and lifestyle changes while meeting individuals where they’re at, I see some potential benefits for consumers to make small steps towards being more in control of the food that ends up on their tables.

An individual’s culinary confidence and abilities can affect how well-nourished both that person and their entire family is. Health Canada describes this as “food skills”, essentially a person’s ability to plan, prepare, and execute nutritionally balanced and culturally appropriate meals for their entire family. Research suggests that globally food skills have been declining, with processed and take-out foods taking the place of home cooked meals.

By simply encouraging busy consumers to cook from fresh ingredients at home more often, meal kits have the potential to help strengthen individuals cooking skills. As these are skill sets used to evaluate a person’s nutritional status, this could be a potential bridge for consumers to increase their culinary prowess. If a meal kit is taking the place of a less nutritious take out or reheated meal, I see that as a step in the right direction.

The downsides?

While food waste may be reduced by using perfectly portioned ingredients, the packaging needed to individually portion each meal has been a major criticism for these meal kit companies. Although many companies strive to use recyclable packaging, waste is still waste and the environmentally consumer knows it.

The nutritional adequacy of the meals themselves still has to be considered by the consumer, ensuring adequate nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based meals, and lean proteins are making it to the table. Many of the meal options may be loaded with sodium, refined starch, or excess fats so shoppers must still be savvy choosers.

While the meal kit makes dinners easier to assemble, consumers will still need staples to make the remainders of their meals, not to mention the morning cup of coffee. This may be a potential gap grocers could fill by offering meal kits along with grocery delivery services.

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