Meal kits grow into $120-million Business in Canada

Matthew Richardson decided it was time to change his cooking customs.

After moving with his girlfriend last summer, Richardson, 36, figured they ought to put a stop to their regular eating out and make a true attempt to prepare their own meals at home.

But he did not know where to begin. Elaborate recipes felt intimidating and he had no clue where to search for easy, healthful food that could appeal to both of their preferences.

“She is a vegetarian, I’m not a vegetarian,” says Richardson, who lives in Saint John, N.B.

“I was searching for ways to learn a few recipes, and work out how to prepare things that I don’t understand how to prepare.”

He turned into home-delivered meal kits, a phenomenon which has rapidly grown to a $120-million business in Canada, according to the market research firm NPD Group.

Meal-kit companies offer consumers a menu of ready-to-prepare dishes which are generally marketed as simple to make, healthy and flavorful. Meal ingredients arrive pre-portioned using a recipe for customers to follow.

The meal-kit industry began in Sweden, based on Robert Carter of NPD Group, and has spread internationally over the past five decades. The industry has approximately doubled in Canada because 2014, Carter added.

“It has grown quite aggressively in the U.S. market, and type of filtered here into Canada,” he said, adding that meal kits are among the fastest-growing food sections in the Canadian market.”

On a friend’s recommendation, Richardson first signed up for Goodfood, a meal-kit firm founded in Montreal in 2015. The biggest family-sized meal-kit boxes start at $8.75 per person per meal and recent choices have included whisky rubbed pork chop with scalloped potatoes, red lentil stew with sweet potatoes, and acorn squash tacos.

Among Richardson’s favorite meals — quinoa-stuffed peppers — came boxed with parts of poblano peppers, corn, spinach, cilantro, quinoa, cheese, tomatoes, an onion, panko crumbs and a spice mix. It required Richardson and his girlfriend about 45 minutes to make.

For Jayne Zhou, an HR co-ordinator in Vancouver who has been on maternity leave since early in the year, meal kits have made life a bit simpler.

She says it originally took some trial and error to work out how much food to order for her family of four. She began getting weekly meals delivered but discovered some food could get wasted if her family met up with friends or went out to dinner.

They now order meals for two people every other week. Zhou says she enjoys that as a self-described “newbie cook” she has built confidence in the kitchen.

“We’d ginger pork meatballs and I was like: ‘This was not too hard, maybe I will have the ability to make this recipe again,”‘ she says.

Richardson also believes that his kitchen chops have improved. In the autumn, a few weeks into his flirtation with meal kits, he visited his family’s farm in Nova Scotia and decided to select a few chanterelle mushrooms to make a risotto.

“A year ago, I would not even think about making a risotto,” he says. “It would look like this huge, intimidating task that I’d never handle. It definitely gave me more confidence, to go out and try dishes that I normally would be like, ‘That is something which somebody who is a professional would create.”‘

Both Zhou and Richardson say meal kits are a less expensive alternative than purchasing in or visiting a restaurant but they have definitely been more costly than performing their own grocery shopping.

Graham McDonnell, a stylist from Dartmouth, N.S., was lured by the ease of having meal kits delivered to his door but has gone back to doing his own grocery shopping.

He and his partner was able to search for groceries often but might wind up throwing away lots of food since they did not plan properly. Now they have refocused their energy on meal preparation.

“If you take the time to plan your meals rather than over-shop … you can sort of arrange (a meal-kit type experience) yourself, essentially,” McDonnell says.

While meal-kit companies often advertise their food using buzzwords such as “farm-fresh,” “sustainable,” and “antibiotic- and hormone-free,” one nutritionist says it is too early to evaluate the health benefits of purchasing into a meal plan given few actual studies have been performed on the topic. However, University of Guelph Prof. Jess Haines does see the allure of this service, especially for men and women that work long hours or do not have a great deal of time to consider shopping for food. And a few of the meal kits she has seen “seem to have very healthful alternatives,” Haines says.

After about three months of using Goodfood, Richardson and his girlfriend decided to try out some of the contest. Richardson heard others swear by Toronto-based Chefs racket but discovered the ingredients to be somewhat less fresh than what he was used to. He enjoyed German company HelloFresh but discovered the vegetarian choices lacking.

The couple continues to try out meal kits from new businesses seeking to cash in on the trend, particularly since social media advertisements targeted to them are usually offering a couple of free meals.

“Apparently I am looking at those things enough that the advertisers know that that’s what I’m into,” he says.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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