Essays — September 1, 2016 17:13 — 0 Comments

Dinner Delivered

Below is a story that appeared in Alaska Beyond magazine in September 2016

I open my front door and find a square cardboard box with the words PeachDish emblazoned on the side. With a sense of anticipation, I pick up the heavier-than-expected delivery and take it to my kitchen to see what tonight’s dinner is going to be. Atlanta-based PeachDish, which offers recipes with a southern flavor, is among the dozens of companies contributing to one of the hottest trends in dining today: meal-kit home deliveries. While the services vary greatly, many of the bands allow you to choose savory dishes from an online menu for generally about $10 to $12.50 per serving.

Within a few days of ordering, the company delivers to your front door a box that contains everything you need to make the meal: pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step instructions. Most of the services leave the box near your front door, just like any regular delivery. Others will notify you that the meal has been delivered.

I’ve ordered the tomato pie with Vidalia onion and herbed chicken breast. Pretty fancy fare for a bachelor. Inside the box, I find well-packed and individually wrapped ingredients, including two chicken cutlets, vegetables, packets with spices and herbs, two peaches and a chocolate chip cookie.

Looking at all the ingredients on the kitchen counter is a little intimidating. However, by following the instructions, I am pleasantly surprised. The meal takes about an hour to prepare. PeachDish’s chicken cutlets are tender and flavorful, and the ingredients fresh and appetizing.

Quick quality

It’s the combination of a quality meal, home delivery and ease of preparation that has made such meal services so popular.

New York City-based Blue Apron, one of the largest and most visible of the services in the United States, launched in 2012 and ahs experienced amazing growth. It now delivers about 8 million meals per month to customers across the country.

Dozens of other companies are also vying for a piece of this burgeoning market, with many trying to carve out their own niches, including Boston-based Purple Carrot, which offers home delivery of vegan meals to 36 states and the District of Columbia. Most services offer complete meal ingredients, with a main dish, side dish, salad and sometimes a dessert. Other services offer each part of the meal a la carte. With plenty of customers interested in buying fresh, healthy and creative meals that are easy to prepare, experts estimate that the meal-delivery service could be a $5 billion industry in the next 10 years.

Helping to fuel the industry are people such as Seattle’s Liza Danger. In July 2015, Danger started ordering meals from Blue Apron because of its many positive online reviews. A co-owner of Seattle’s Octopus Bar, Danger says there are several benefits to the service – including convenience, the high-quality ingredients, the chance to sharpen her cooking skills and ensuring there is a good, hot and portioned meal available on late nights after closing up her business.

“It’s great,” Danger says of the Blue Apron deliveries. “You never have to second-guess what’s in your kitchen or whether you have the right spices or if your vegetables are still fresh.”

Some meal-kit customers such as Jewel Loree would rather have the meals already prepared and precooked, leaving only the need for a warm-up. A data analyst for Tableau, a Seattle-based software company, she travels regularly throughout North America for her work. When at home in the Seattle area, Loree has an active social life, including playing bass guitar in the indie rock band Golden Idols. She has little time for grocery shopping or cooking.

In 2015, she started using Maven Meals, a Burien, Washington-based service that delivers nutritious organic and locally sourced prepared meals to customers in the Greater Seattle and Bellevue area. Customers order by Sunday, and the a la carte meals are prepared and delivered on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I am pretty particular about what food I want to eat, but I don’t have any time to make it,” Loree says. “I don’t want to eat frozen pizza at night, but that’s about the only thing I have time to make”

Loree’s partner, Paul Gambill, subscribes to Pete’s Paleo, a service based in San Diego and Atlanta that delivers dishes focused on meats and seasonal vegetables that follow the paleo or “caveman” diet. Gambill’s meals are more expensive at about $20 each, whereas Loree says she spends about $12 per meal. “It costs less than eating out,” she says. “It’s a little more cooking at home, but if I didn’t use the service I would probably just eat out every night, which isn’t great.”

My own interest in precooked delivered meals led me to try Munchery, a San Francisco-based service that is similar to Maven Meals and delivers cooked meals only in need of reheating.

Munchery delivered to me a salmon fillet with quinoa, and a spinach-and-strawberry salad. I heated the salmon in the oven and tossed the salad with the dressing provided – all while sipping the coconut water they’d included. The meal was relatively satisfying, with the best part being the amazing Nutella rice-crispy-treat dessert.

Overall, the national companies are working to make sure their mass-produced meals taste fresh and flavorful to customers.

Unpacking a problem

Another problem the industry is facing is the growing criticism concerning the amount of packaging used to keep all the ingredients fresh. Blue Apron states that all of its packaging, including its cold packs, are biodegradable or recyclable. The cold backs do, though, require the customer to cut open the packaging and pour the contents in the trash in order to recycle the packs.

The company offers tips on its website for how to recycle and reuse the packaging and also partners with the U.S. Postal Service to provide for the return of all packaging in communities with no recycling services. A spokesperson for the company says teams are working on solutions to the company’s long-term packaging challenges.

Paige Glasser, a marking coordinator based in Laguna Niguel, California, says she’s used several meal-kit delivery services. While she loves the convenience, the packaging can be a burden. “For the most part, Munchery uses eco-friendly containers,” she says. “Sometimes the lids will be plastic, but I recycle those.”

New niches

Waste issues aside, if the growth in food home-delivery services is any indication, our renewed interest in convenient home-cooked meals – or at least home-heated meals – should continue.

Along with stalwarts such as Blue Apron and Munchery, Amazon and other services are getting into the act. The online retailer has combined its online grocery business, Amazon Fresh, with a lone of precooked meals prepared by Perfect Fit Meals that you can buy online. It also delivers meals prepared by certain local restaurants. The transportation service Uber has launched UberEATS. Customers can order from participating restaurants in certain cities using a special Uber app. Within about a half-hour, an Uber driver will deliver the meals to the customer’s front door.

Loree, though, says she and her partner will stick with the meal-kit home-delivery services for now.

“When we used to cook for ourselves,” she says, “we’d spend two hours a day making dinner. But meal delivery is a good way to ensure we are getting healthy, fresh food while also getting to do other things with our limited time.”

Bio:

Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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