Putting food on the table on a busy weeknight is a universal problem. Now, a horde of new, sleek, venture capital-funded services has arrived on the market peddling what they think is a solution: kits made of raw ingredients portioned and sometimes prepped—that can be assembled quickly to make a meal “from scratch.”
The rising popularity of these meal kits has led to a Gold Rush of sorts. Big brands like Blue Apron, Plated, and Hello Fresh cater to the general population, each offering a half dozen or so meal plans for everyone from families to vegetarians. Then there are the niche kits: organic food (Eat Purely), vegan food (The Purple Carrot), Southern cooking (PeachDish), and smoothies (Green Blender). All claim to work with local suppliers to some extent, creating a whole new distribution outlet for small- to mid-size farms.
Although these kits have the potential to waste a lot of packaging, many of the companies behind them actually hope to cut down on food waste. Instead of buying obscure ingredients you’ll only use once, or receiving three heads of kale in your weekly community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription box that will inevitably wilt in the crisper drawer, the kits provide you with only what you need for a recipe. Not a bad model for a country that throws away 35 million tons of food a year.
Some meal kit creators also strive to eliminate food waste higher in the supply chain. Blue Apron claims to deliver more than 3 million meals a month. That requires a lot of produce, and Blue Apron and other services are collaborating with farmers, in some cases planning menus a year out in order to sync with crop rotations, and ensure that all the food each farm grows goes to use. In doing so, they could be creating a new form of farm-to-table food delivery, somewhere in between a CSA and a restaurant.
“We’ve had a farm strategy since day one,” says Matthew Wadiak, founder and COO of Blue Apron. He says that the three-year-old company has spent the past few years talking with farmers, assessing their needs and challenges, then figuring out how to address them. Wadiak is a champion of forgotten heirloom produce, like honeynut squash and black panther soybeans, which he says goes over well with both his customers and the farmers.