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You Can Lead Some People to Meal Kits, But You Can’t Make Them Subscribe

Image Credit: Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

On the surface, meal kits sound like a blessing, especially for busy adults, over-extended parents, and those of us whose culinary gusto falls well short of Julia Child. Imagine not having to plan every dinner for the upcoming week, no longer stressing over what will please everyone and what can be made quickly. Imagine having fewer groceries to buy and spending less time at the store.

For all the benefits their products seem to offer, meal kit companies have faced some harsh realities lately. Both HelloFresh and Blue Apron have struggled to retain customers, and Blue Apron is scaling back advertising and changing its marketing approach in hopes of boosting revenue. Last year, in a stab to reach more buyers and attain profitability, both companies stepped outside the subscription model and began selling their kits in grocery stores as well.

With these changes in mind, CivicScience thought it time to reassess the data on meal kit subscriptions. Who tends to use meal kits now and, most importantly, who might be using them in the future? The results, at least for the industry, are not exactly mouthwatering.

To begin with, only 13% of people in the last month say they have experience with meal kit subscriptions, with just a little over half reporting satisfaction with the service. Of the 88% who haven’t tried them, six out of ten have no interest.

Despite some waves, these numbers have remained fairly steady, too. Weekly polling shows that 61% of respondents in September 2018 said they’ve never used meal kits and have no interest in doing so. Though this number is currently down four percentage points, it’s worth noting that it’s fallen before—most notably over the week of Christmas, when more people are home and receptive to advertising—only to jump back to its previous position. Similar ebbs and flows can be seen in the portion of adults who plan on using meal kit subscriptions and those who have never heard of meal kits, too.

Unfortunately, one of the steadier sets of results is for satisfied customers, which has remained in the single digits since October 2018, echoing the idea of poor retention. Dissatisfied customers have begun trending upward, too, but time will tell if this evens out again.

Obviously, no product can appeal to everyone, but the convenience of meal kits should make them tempting for anyone looking to squeeze extra time out of their day, or anyone who shies away from cooking in general. Curiously, there’s little indication of that.

For starters, meal kits tend to appeal less to parents, whose energies are often directed elsewhere, than to non-parents. Out of adults who like meal kits, only 37% have kids, while 45% do not. Even more interesting is that non-parents are far more likely to plan on using meal kits in the future. 51% of respondents who intend to try meal kits for the first time have no children. This could speak to several factors, one being the cost of meal kit subscriptions, which might be more than parents want to spend. (Meal kits average about $10 per meal, with little hope for leftovers.)

The second factor could be age.

It could be that meal kits tend to appeal to non-parents because they also appeal to young people. Millennials are the most likely to have tried and liked meal kit subscriptions, with 9% reporting favorable opinions. Still, over ¾ of Millennials either haven’t used them or haven’t heard of them, and over half say they aren’t interested. And, more important for the future, they’re no more likely to say they plan on using meal kits than Gen Xers.

Meal kits also aim to make cooking easier by providing foolproof instructions and measured, pre-sorted ingredients. This no-nonsense approach should draw in anyone who wants to eat healthier but doesn’t like the hassle of cooking. Conversely, it’s people who already enjoy cooking who are most likely to try meal kit subscriptions. 12% of people who enjoy cooking but haven’t used meal kits plan on using them in the future, compared to 6% of people who don’t enjoy cooking. Perhaps cooks consider kits a novelty, something fun to try out, whereas people who don’t like to cook simply can’t be bothered no matter how easy it’s supposed to be.

We shouldn’t forget that these services are subscription-based, either. Though HelloFresh and Blue Apron have experimented with the in-store model, they still rely primarily on subscription and shipment. With 39% of people admitting they have subscriptions they’ve forgotten about, it’s likely we’re entering a time when people won’t want more subscriptions to keep track of, especially ones that set them back between $60 and $100 per week.

More than anything, the meal kit industry promises convenience when cooking at home, but convenience comes with a price. Packaging and shipping food may raise the cost beyond what parents are willing to spend. Ongoing subscriptions may keep others from signing up. Whatever the underlying reasons, the people most likely to try meal kit subscriptions are young, already enjoy cooking for themselves, and have no kids. Appealing more to newer, unseasoned cooks and busy parents, who are more likely to stay home to cook meals, would probably bump subscription numbers a little higher.

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