Love them or hate them, meal kits offered consumers new food experiences during lockdown and beyond. What are the latest options now, and how are recipe box rivals adapting for the future?

Meal kits – a chance to sharpen up on your chef skills with new global dishes, or an overpriced dinnertime alternative? Whatever you think about delivered meal boxes, it’s undeniable that they’ve been having a big moment.    

Earlier this year, singer and TV personality Myleene Klass and restauranteur Jamie Barber launched a new delivery kit called My Supper Hero. Being a keen foodie who ordered lots of meal kits during lockdown, I had to try it and it felt totally normal planning a stay-at-home dinner until I realised, the next date I could make for a special dinner-in (that wasn’t a Monday night) was three weeks away! How times have changed since lockdown!

So, what does life post-COVID look like for delivered meal kit companies?

Lockdown and the meal kit boom

It’s no secret that for these companies, lockdown was like Christmas come early. A huge (almost overnight!) spike in demand presented a key opportunity to expand their customer bases, and created space for new players to enter the market. Gousto even doubled its sales throughout the pandemic.*1

Lockdown helped remove the traditional barriers to entry – with people in their homes pretty much 24/7, looking for new, convenient foodie experiences. They no longer felt ‘tied down’ by having to eat meals in because they had no other choice, high-street competition was non-existent, and with nowhere else to spend their money, the market naturally boomed. And as recipe box companies grew their customers, their profits grew too.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the delivery kit market is a tough one to crack. There are numerous costs involved – from operational and supply chain through to marketing. These costs mean price points sit considerably above where consumers could buy the ingredients from a supermarket. This means that meal kit companies have had to elevate their offerings to justify their price points – be it through premium ingredients, extra garnishes (like fresh herbs or seeds) and even unique touches like Gousto’s daily Spotify playlist!

What’s more, the pandemic gave rise to a much more health-conscious consumer. In fact, 33% of people say that eating healthier has become a higher priority to them since the outbreak.*2 Meal kits are being seen as not only convenient for busy young professionals and families but also a healthier version of a take-away. This is why we think they’re here to stay, and we expect to see more recipe box innovations that meet our growing health-first expectations. 

Also, 92% of families plan to remain eating at home ‘at least as often’ as they did during May 2021, and 25% of people are planning to have people over for dinner more often than before the pandemic.*3  So, we expect delivery kits to remain a popular choice moving forwards – delivering convenience while fuelling our desire to get hands-on with food!

New options on the market

My Supper Hero was a good example of where we think the market will be heading. The recipe box focused on the premium end of the market concentrating on ensuring all their packaging was recyclable and reduced where possible. The assembly was quick and easy and the dishes themselves are exciting and showcase an all kinds of different cuisines – from Korean, to Mexican, not forgetting more traditional options such as a Sunday roast too.

I opted for the Miso Salmon and Bao Buns with Sticky Teriyaki Roast Broccoli which were utterly delicious. Incredibly easy to prepare, and everything had been marinated to perfection, the only complaint was when it ended! Although with a hefty price tag of £17.50 per person, I definitely paid restaurant prices.

The verdict? I probably wouldn’t order again for a standard night in, but for a special occasion (or even as a ‘cheat’ when there’s no time to prep for entertaining), I’ll certainly be looking them up!

Adapting to changes

Rising fuel and ingredient costs, changes in demand and increasingly planet-conscious consumers have made restaurants who adapted to lockdown quickly and offered delivery kits stop and think about what’s best for them and their customers. Some have decided to reduce or stop production of at-home meal kits, focusing on their onsite offerings instead. Others are still seeing healthy demand from meal kit lovers and have carved out new long-term revenue streams as a result.    

Meal kits are still the most popular subscription box category in 2022, with a market value of £1bn.*4 While the big boys such as HelloFresh and Gousto are capitalising on everyday convenience, they’re justifying their place in the market with exciting foodie experiences, creating a space for people who have fallen in love with cooking again over lockdown.

There’s still a real, ongoing opportunity for restaurants and meal kit companies in a post-lockdown world. It’s all about reflecting on what people need and the food experiences they’re looking for, and then coming up with a strategy to fill that gap!

So, if you’re ever short on time – or just fancy something special without the hassle of travelling into town, why not re-visit a much-loved meal kit? They’ll be sticking around for a while.

Have a cracking day!