We still love our meal-kits but we want the food faster

My Food Bag meal-kits mean families can make something like this barbecue chimichurri beef skewers with spiced couscous on a rushed weeknight.
My Food Bag
My Food Bag meal-kits mean families can make something like this barbecue chimichurri beef skewers with spiced couscous on a rushed weeknight.

Kiwis who love the idea of a box of recipes and perfectly proportioned ingredients arriving on their doorstep can relax. 

New Zealand meal-kit delivery businesses say there is no sign here of the speed wobbles hitting the United States meal kit giant Blue Apron.

No danger of having to go back to wondering what to eat in the evenings and shopping for it.

Blue Apron holds a third of the vast American meal-kit market and lost a quarter of its customers (200,000) last year.

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Nadia Lim's My Food Bag was the first meal-kit business to launch in New Zealand in 2013.
SUPPLIED
Nadia Lim's My Food Bag was the first meal-kit business to launch in New Zealand in 2013.

American experts are wondering if the meal-kit delivery model is about to do a dot.com style bust.

New York vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy chef and industry commenter Amanda Cohen said the meal-kit business was about giving home cooks training wheels.

In a New York Times opinion piece she said they gave people the confidence to start cooking more. Meal kits had them using ingredients and techniques they had never tried before.

She said the weakness of the meal-kit business model was the whole point of training wheels was eventually they weren't needed anymore.

"Everyone I spoke to who used meal kits eventually stopped," she said. 

But big Kiwi meal-kit businesses My Food Bag and Woop (World on a Plate) haven't seen that problem here.

They say while people opt in and out of meal kits regularly, there is no big trend of quitting after getting a box of recipes and new skills.

Both say they are still gaining customers.

Even Christmas dinner can be ordered as a meal-kit. Woop's 2017 Christmas box contained enough to feed 12 people.
Supplied
Even Christmas dinner can be ordered as a meal-kit. Woop's 2017 Christmas box contained enough to feed 12 people.

My Food Bag, which at 5-years-old is the grandmother of Kiwi meal-kits, recently passed 50 million meals and is still expanding, though more slowly than the early days.

Woop, after 3-and-a-half years, has just entered the South Island market. Last year it was in the Deloitte Fast 50 at number 8 for the fastest rising revenue - an amazing rise of 600-plus percent.

Woop founder Thomas Dietz says Blue Apron's problem was probably trying to grow as quickly as possible, including a rushed public listing. And it was in a market with 150 competitors.

He thought the mix of meal-kit businesses in New Zealand was about right and there was room for all "because we are not really competing with each other, we are more in competition with the supermarkets". 

Dietz said Woop's model was different to Blue Apron.

Woop was not so much about teaching people to cook, it focused more on speed.

Woop founder Thomas Dietz says the meal-kit business is here to stay in New Zealand.
JASON DORDAY/STUFF
Woop founder Thomas Dietz says the meal-kit business is here to stay in New Zealand.

Just like My Food Bag and new international import Hello Fresh, Woop delivered recipe cards and all the ingredients.

The difference was much greater prep work was done in advance. Vegetables were diced, sauces made, meat marinated and so on, so the meals could be a simple three-step process and take half the time of the usual 40-minute effort.

Dietz said he was targeting professionals who wanted to go to the gym or had to pick up kids on the way home on weeknights.

"They don't want a recipe with 15 different ingredients and you arrive at the end and you say, 'oh no I forgot to include this or that half an hour ago'."

My Food Bag has multiple options, including the original detailed foodie cooking experience. But one of its most popular recent innovations is Ready in 20, which follows the Woop approach - three easy steps, done in 20 minutes, lots of pre-done preparation.

Chief executive Kevin Bowler admitted when My Food Bag started it was quite foodie-oriented and a lot of recipes were taking 40-45 minutes.

"Not from everyone, but certainly a reasonably large proportion were asking for something that is quicker to prepare. So we had to challenge the chefs to come up with meals that a home cook could make in 20 minutes and that product is going really, really well."

For some, the delivery of a meal-kit is like Christmas presents every week.
DEBBIE JAMIESON/STUFF
For some, the delivery of a meal-kit is like Christmas presents every week.

The meal-kit home delivery model started in Sweden 10 years ago and arrived in New Zealand about five years ago.

Dietz said Woop had some customers who had ordered a box every week since it was launched. But most kept it flexible, pausing and resuming, around the flow of family life, such as travel and weeks with the kids and weeks without.

​His customers tended to be foodies who rated themselves 4 out of 5 in cooking skills, but during the week they wanted to contract out something they didn't really have time for.

He didn't think meal-kits appearing in supermarkets would be a big threat. "We were approached by Countdown and Foodstuffs at the early stages to produce some for them."

The problem for supermarkets was while his meal-kits were made to order, supermarkets made them guessing how many might sell, so the food waste was higher. Also, Millennials had reported that while the meal-kits were costly, they saved money by not going to the supermarket so much and skipping buying things they didn't really need.

 

My Food Bag chief executive Kevin Bowler says the company has brought in meals that can be made more quickly because that's what people want.
SUPPLIED
My Food Bag chief executive Kevin Bowler says the company has brought in meals that can be made more quickly because that's what people want.

Bowler said he believed what people were looking for was inspiration, help putting the meal together and to escape the mundaneness of having the same thing all the time.

"If meal-kits give people more confidence in the kitchen, that is a good thing. One of our missions is healthier families and stronger communities and if we are helping people improve their cooking skills and cook a wider variety of meals, I think that is awesome.

"We might at some early stage have thought people would convert to food bags and that is all they would buy. But now we see it differently and I think we offer an amazing service that works for a lot of people, but not for every week of the year. That works well for us."

Stuff