What’s new with meal subscription services?

Look for these meal-kit subscription service updates in 2018.

According to a recent article by TechCrunch, a technology media news site focused on profiling startups and trends, meal subscription box services will most likely be making changes to their services in the near future. Meal kit subscription services (i.e. Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Plated, just to name a few) launched in the U.S. about five years ago and have sales between $1 billion and $1.5 billion according to statistics from market research cited by TechCrunch. These services are designed for customers that want fresh, homemade food but don’t have the time to shop for groceries and/or need help with menu planning.

After a disappointing IPO offering from Blue Apron, and many other competitors struggling to turn a profit, TechCrunch reports that changes will be made to attract a broader customer base. According to 2017 Neilsen survey results, 14 percent of shoppers worldwide are already buying groceries and household goods online regularly. In North America, only 4 percent report doing so; however, 36 percent of North Americans stated they would consider it in the future. Attracting a broader customer base may require the following changes in services:

  • Selling meal kits in specialty or large scale grocery retail stores. Some grocery stores are creating their own meal kits, while others are partnering with subscription services to create a product for retail.
  • Adding breakfast, lunch and snacks to their product offerings. Most subscription services focus only on dinner.
  • Accepting SNAP benefits (a.k.a. “foodstamps”) for meal kits. The USDA is running pilot programs with Amazon Fresh and Fresh Direct but none of the meal kit companies are allowed to accept SNAP yet.

Although some consumers may be able to find locally produced foods in their meal subscription box, this would be rare for most customers. For those wanting to support local growers, consider searching for a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share in your area. Many Michigan CSA farms have winter shares available and sign ups for spring start early in the year. CSA shares provide weekly boxes of locally grown produce and most farms provide recipes on their web site or newsletter. Some farms even provide home delivery services of their CSA shares.

Michigan State University Extension’s Community Food Systems Team works to help grow the local food system through education, collaboration, program development, research and grant writing support.

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