Thursday, April 26, 2018
Cooking

From the food editor: Meal kit-delivery services are thriving, but are they useful?

The company that can ship a video game to you the day you order it will soon be able to send meals to your doorstep.

Amazon is joining the meal kit-delivery game — and all the other players in the quickly growing field should watch out.

The e-commerce company announced about a week ago that it would be creating a meal kit service through the arm that currently delivers grocery to its customers: Amazon Fresh. They're partnering with another notable name, Tyson Foods, to make it happen. The company will no doubt rely on its already vast shipping network — and other sources of revenue — to get meals to customer's doors as efficiently as possible, a boon as it competes with other services of its kind that are mostly food startups.

This seems like a no-brainer for Amazon, as meal kit services are among the fastest-growing business models for food. According to Fortune, the subscription-based meal kit service Blue Apron, one of the original players in the field started in 2012, now ships 8 million meals a month and is expected to make more than half a billion dollars in 2016.

The many other players include Plated, Home Chef, HelloFresh and the all-organic Green Chef. Just this month, the New York Times announced it was launching its own meal kit service with the startup Chef'd.

The day after the Amazon news was announced, I got an email from Terra's Kitchen, yet another meal kit company, this one with an eco-friendly bent: The company goes so far as to pick up their delivery containers the next day to reuse on other orders. Similar to newer companies like Green Chef, Terra's ingredients come "pre-prepped" and "skillet-ready," meaning you're not doing much in the way of chopping, dicing or peeling. Mostly, you're adding ingredients to a cooking vessel and stirring.

Why are so many home cooks gravitating toward these sort of services? Do they really make cooking easier?

Sort of.

For home cooks who enjoy cooking and want to sharpen their skills, stick with companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh. They send things like whole carrots and potatoes, meaning you have to put in a fair amount of prep work. The appeal here isn't so much that cooking dinner takes 10 minutes, but that the idea has been taken care of, and you didn't need to go to the grocery store to execute it.

For those who want to get something on the table fast, use the services that send already chopped ingredients or premixed sauces. This feels more akin to mixing together a salad kit from Publix — you're not cooking so much as heating up and assembling. Good in a time crunch, not as good for sharpening culinary skills.

Contact Michelle Stark at [email protected] or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

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