The chain restaurant joins CrossFit, Walmart and Amazon in the meal kit fray — but are the boxes worth the money?
Chick-fil-A wants you to heat more chicken.
The company will become the first fast-food chain to dish meal kits when it rolls out a trial run of ingredient boxes to cook its signature chicken at its 150 Atlanta outlets next month. The $15.89 “Mealtime Kits” will be available from Aug. 27 to Nov. 17, and will include pre-measured ingredients to make recipes such as chicken parmesan, chicken enchiladas and chicken flatbread to feed two people that can be cooked at home in 30 minutes. The family-owned franchise will then decide whether to expand the meal kits nationwide.
“We know our guests are busier than ever and need a variety of convenient dinner options,” Michael Patrick, a Chick-fil-A marketing executive who is leading the Mealtime Kits effort, said in a statement. “We’re excited to offer Mealtime Kits as a new way for us to serve our guests by providing fresh ingredients to enjoy a delicious meal at home.”
And this is just the latest addition to the meal kit trend that is now a $2.5 billion industry growing at a rate of 20% per year, according to Pentallect, a food industry consultancy. In fact, Nielsen reports that about 10.5 million households, or 9% of consumers, have purchased a meal kit either online or in-store over the past six months. And a quarter would consider purchasing one in the next six months, the equivalent of 30.1 million households.
It has also led to celebrity-endorsed meal kits, like Tom Brady dishing $78 per week vegan meals with Purple Carrot; Martha Stewart’s $61.50 a week kits with Marley Spoon; and Serena Williams and Gwyneth Paltrow investing in Daily Harvest’s frozen superfood boxes ($50 per week) for soups and smoothies. Amazon also started selling meal kits online in summer 2017. And venture capital activity in meal-kit companies increased to $273.9 billion last year, Ad Age reported, rising from $252.2 million in 2016.
Among the brands getting on board is CrossFit, the hardcore fitness program known for pushing members through high-intensity workouts at gyms called “Boxes.” CrossFit’s $215 kits are packed with Strauss Brands proteins, including five packages of cage-free chicken breasts; three pounds of grass-fed ground beef; grass-fed lean tenderloin, ribeye, strip and sirloin steaks (two apiece); plus a pack of ready-to-eat grass-fed beef sticks. They are available through Free Raised Direct, and can be shipped in one, two or three-month intervals. The CrossFit Approved meats will also be stocked in select yet-to-be-announced grocery stores by the end of the year.
While CrossFit’s protein packs are not traditional meal kits in the sense that recipes and other ingredients to complete a main course aren’t included, they are part of a flood of specialized food deliveries that want to check off all of your boxes.
In addition to this, Hello Fresh recently acquired the organic Green Chef meal service, so now the weekly subscription boxes packaging all of the pre-measured ingredients that you need to whip dinners together can be tailored to your specific dietary needs — whether you’re hungry for gluten-free recipes or trying to follow a paleo or keto diet. Sun Basket is also dishing paleo-friendly meals, and Blue Apron offers Whole 30-compliant boxes.
And Plated recently announced that it would bring its meal kits into hundreds of Albertsons stores across the country by the end of the year, so shoppers wary of subscribing to weekly home deliveries can get a taste of Plated’s dishes a la carte for $15 to $19 per kit, feeding two. So it’s no surprise that Walmart and Weight Watchers are also jumping on the meal kit gravy train — and fast food junkies may want to start thinking inside the box.
The average meal kit subscription runs around $10 a plate and $60 a week. While that seems rich compared to bagging your own groceries, and it’s a bigger hassle than just having GrubHub or Seamless deliver the goods already prepared, busy cooks tell Moneyish that these boxes often save more time, money and calories than just getting takeout.
Some nights, Lisa Hirst Carnes, 51, is too wiped to whip up a meal plan, hit the store and get cooking. But having food delivered can easily hit $60 for her family of four, including two teenage boys, and also skews toward unhealthy fried foods. So getting two Sun Basket boxes of fresh, organic ingredients each week at $11.99 per plate ($47.96 a meal) actually cuts calories and cash. Plated starts at just $9.95 a serving, or $39.80 to feed four.
“It saves me so much time and stress. For example, tonight I know I’m making Chicken Kiev, and we’re going to have butter lettuce and a homemade Russian dressing. I don’t have to think,“ Hirst Carnes told Moneyish. “And the meals are pretty quick to make. Takeout generally takes about 45 minutes to get here, and you can definitely finish cooking your meal by then.”
Millennials in particular are losing thousands of dollars by not cooking at home, dropping 44% of their food money on eating out — or an average of $2,921 — per year. And while the cost of meal kits is the reason that more than half (59%) of survey respondents told Money Magazine they hadn’t tried one yet, I Heart Vegetables food blogger Elizabeth Thomson argues these boxes can be a great deal when you break down the cost of each accoutrement, especially rare or organic items.
“I’ve been surprised that in some cases, ordering these meal kits isn’t much more expensive than going to the grocery store to buy everything, especially if you don’t cook often, and making dinner requires buying nearly all of the ingredients,” Thomson, 29, told Moneyish.
Now meal kits like Plated are cropping up in supermarkets like Albertsons to lure shoppers turned off by the pricey weekly subscription fees or the carbon footprint that comes from the extra packaging needed for delivery. Meal-kit sales in grocery stores jumped 27% last year to almost $155 million, according to Nielsen data. Weight Watchers and Walmart will join Whole Foods, Kroger and Target in selling ingredient boxes in stores this year. And even original meal kit king Blue Apron (which has seen its stock and subscribers plummet over the past year) announced that it will start selling in stores by the end of this year, and will also offer individual boxes online – which bumped its shares up 7%, the first major gain since the brand went public last year.
“The interesting aspect about retailers coming into this [in-store] space is their potential ability to provide similar kits to online subscription plans for lower cost and without all the shipping packaging,” Meagan Nelson, associate director at Nielsen Fresh, told Moneyish. “Walmart states their meal kits will range from $8 to $15 to serve two people, and H-E-B recently announced a meal kit for kids that will be $7 for two servings as well – translating to $3.50-$7.50 per serving – which is as affordable or more-so than most fast casual restaurants.”
And merging with the weight loss industry — as Hello Fresh, Sun Basket and Blue Apron have with their niche diet boxes — could also be a recipe for success. Registered dietitian Christopher Shuff prefers meal kits to takeout, from a nutritional perspective — even the ones heavy on red meat, carbs and starches.
“The key difference, you can see and control exactly what is going into your meal; you’re adding your own salt, you’re adding your own oil, and you can cut or substitute ingredients if you don’t want to use them,” he said. “And the whole foods aspect of cooking with largely fresh and unprocessed ingredients is a real positive.”
Audrey Ong, 27, from Astoria, Queens, has subscribed to Dinnerly with her fiance ($39 a week for three meals for two people) to lose weight before their wedding in September.
“If I order takeout, it leans toward fast food because I want it quicker and I’d be hungry to eat anything — pizza, cheeseburgers, french fries – all of the major comfort foods,” she told Moneyish. “We only know a handful of dishes to make from our families; otherwise we were cooking via microwave. The meal kits definitely improved our cooking game, and we learned new recipes and meals that were healthier and unexpectedly tasty.”
Plus, the kits send pre-portioned ingredients that get used up, which reduces the amount of food waste. “We were initially going to supermarkets and buying what we thought we wanted and needed … and we never got around to using everything before we had to throw it out,” Ong added. “Meal kits allowed us to get exactly what we need without wasting anything.”
This article was published on April 8, 2018 and has been updated.
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