There are three explosive trends which are happening right now among delivery restaurants. One of the trends we’ve observed among restaurants forced to close down their physical store is meal kits. They’re sometimes called DIY kits, Emergency Hampers, Survival Kits, and all of them are sometimes conflated with recipe and produce boxes. This post will explore the differences and which is best for different restaurants.
A quick note: if you’re looking for online ordering software for takeaway restaurants, consider SK Takeaway (linked). It’s a great way to sell to customers directly, without having to pay the fees of delivery platforms.
What is a meal kit, recipe box, produce box?
The three terms we use in this post do get a bit blurry around the edges, and you’ll see lots of restaurants using different terminology than this post.
But categorising them is a worthwhile exercise because the value proposition is very different for each one – and it’s really important to have a coherent brand proposition to encourage people to buy.
Here’s our thoughts on each of them one by one.
1) The Produce or Treat Box
A produce box, which in the UK is more often called by the name of a subset, “vegetable box” is the simplest – it’s just a box of stuff. You’d want it to be themed, like, “the stuff is vegetables”, or “the stuff would make a good cheeseboard”, but it doesn’t need to follow a recipe. Usually boxes which follow the theme of basic goods which you have a recurring need for can be bought by subscription for £10-20 per box; but “treat boxes” make more economic sense as they grow larger, so that the biggest bumper hampers from the nicest places are priced in the hundreds.
Oddbox is the largest producer of basic produce boxes in the UK. Oddbox predates coronavirus, they believe that delivering boxes of vegetables is a more sustainable way of consuming whether there’s a deadly pandemic or not. For £14.99 you get to ‘rescue 8 varieties of veg and 4 types of fruit surplus’. It’s surplus only, so the idea is that you’re reducing waste.
And there are plenty of shops which are producing such boxes. Check out this meat survival pack by the butcher HG Walter, The Quality Chophouse, Monty’s Deli, or the veg box from the Greengrocer in Greenwich.
Due to coronavirus, there has been a big uptick in interest – Google Trends below shows how many people have been googling the term from an index of 100.
What customers want
It’s not enough to say that people are buying produce boxes “because coronavirus” – if people just want delivery, they can get that from a supermarket. Obviously, coronavirus has been a catalyst, but we can understand some other reasons people might choose produce boxes:
- Curation. You’re choosing the items, not the customer – and perhaps you bring deeper knowledge to the task than they could. If you’re selling cured meat, what do you know about cured meat that your customer might not? And how does that inform what goes in the box?
- Variety. What can you get if you subscribe to a box that you wouldn’t be able to get in the supermarket? Sellers of produce boxes are able to experiment with their suppliers and get feedback from their customers on a regular basis.
- Novelty. Some buyers of produce boxers like that they’re surprised with items they wouldn’t think to choose themselves – it forces them to try new recipes, and they find that they fall into the routine of choosing the same thing every week. “Oh, gheez, this week we’ve got celeriac” – but, after they experiment making celeriac fritters, they’re glad they got them.
- Aesthetic preference, e.g. “wholesomeness” of getting a vegetable box delivered is a big appeal. You might choose to invest in the “look” of your box for this reason – this is how the gift hamper arrived where it is today. Pro tip: if this is you, try including a card which invites the recipient to Instagram their mealbox and tag you in exchange for a chance to win a free box.
- Subscription preference. Buy once, and the food keeps coming in – you’re removing the hassle of buying, or going to the supermarket.
- “Sustainability” – this is how oddbox compete, arguing that their boxes are composed of vegetables which would be thrown away.
- Unwrapping. A good treat box should be something greater than the sum of its contents. Fortnum & Mason knows this instinctively – and remember, the packaging is not something to protect the product. The packaging is the product.
2) The Recipe Box
A recipe box sends a simple recipe card along with the correct seasoning and (usually) requires that you sort the rest yourself.
The only difference in contents between a recipe box and a meal kit is that the meal kit contains the ingredients; and that a recipe box usually does not. But, a recipe box will usually contain any herbs or spices required – some of the complexer ingredients and seasoning which might intimidate someone. (You should be able to make most recipe boxes with just cupboard staples).
You can find a great example of a “recipe box” is a box by the likes of Simply Cook, but also Gousto, HelloFresh, and many others. Prices start at around £25.00 per box in which you’d get a few recipes for a couple of people.
Because a recipe box only requires that you send pre-mixed spices, it opens up the possibility that you could mail it anywhere, rather than have a delivery radius radically reducing the area to which you can send.
Why do people choose recipe boxes?
The marketing for recipe boxes is fairly consistent. Often, they’re a working life hack and a compromise between several competing desires:
1) Customers don’t have time to plan and execute recipes. Although they would like to, a busy and complicated life gets in the way.
2) But they want to make something fresh and delicious regardless. With a recipe box, they can have a home cooked meal without the hassle.
3) Additionally, they want their recipes to have some variety. Often, users find that “quick” recipes they’d cook themselves often means the same four or five recipes. With recipe boxes they can cook great meals from all over the world.
4) Or, they just thought the meal in the ad looked nice and wanted to try for that reason.
5) They’re not strong cooks and want to make something which is good – or, they want to make something more complex than they could make. Asian cooking especially can require complex spice blends which many would-be cooks could get wrong – this process totally reduces the risk.
6) They’ve never felt brave enough to attempt a recipe, but by eliminating a few of the steps and sending them a simplified recipe backed by a restaurant they know, they might be happy to.
Have recipe boxes been accelerated by coronavirus?
Or at least, it’s clear that more people have been googling “recipe boxes” during the coronavirus pandemic.
This could be because of a surge in the supply of recipe boxes during the pandemic; it could be because people are conflating recipe boxes with meal kits and using the word “recipe box” to search what’s described as a “meal kit” in this article, or, it could be because people are disproportionately wanting to try something new during the pandemic.
Either way, there has been an uptick in interest according to Google.
3) The Meal Kit
How do you cook?
For me, most nights it’s something simple – pasta, simple rice dishes, or those tortellini. Two or three times a week I’ll try to pull the stops out and do something a little more complex. When you’re cooking for other people – as one often does in a flat share – it’s nice to occasionally have some kind of talking point about the meal. It’s been made in an unusual style, the ingredients are from an usual place, or, this is actually a Patty & Bun burger, because I have bought all the ingredients from Patty & Bun and I have followed the Patty & Bun recipe.
Introducing, “the meal kit” – everything you need for your favourite meal from your favourite restaurant. The kit which has seen the most attention has been the DIY burger kit from Patty & Bun but there are others – check out Honest Burger, Vurger, Le Swine, and Pizza Pilgrims.
Best of all, see StoreKit customer Passyunk UK create “love bundles” meal kits.
There is an enormous appetite for this. Just look at Gourmet Makes, the YouTube channel in which the chef host Claire Saffitz tries to figure out how to make, for example, a KitKat and reverse-engineers a recipe. “Making something you’ve eaten and enjoyed” provides a really exciting and accessible “way in” to cooking for a big market, as well as enabling people to try to make their favourites in a direct sense.
Has coronavirus seen an uptick in meal kits?
We think so.
The term “meal kit” isn’t great, because it’s less common than some of the other terms we’ve used so far. When you do analysis by search term, it becomes tough when people haven’t settled on a word yet. Below is the graph with all three, “recipe box” / “meal kit” / and “vegetable box”, since the term “produce box” is much more common in the US.
No evidence of an uptick there. Similarly, “Meal Kit” is a term which has the most traction in the US, and largely predates coronavirus.
Check out this graph which charters its slow ascent as a Google search term,. (No idea what the mid-2017 spike was – presumably the term was referenced in mainstream culture).
There, it’s a growing trend which advances year on year.
Although we can’t verify the trend through search volume, it’s patently obvious that meal kits are about to spike, because we’ve seen supply spike – and the press are starting to cover it.
It’s a really excellent choice, because it makes a compelling value offer to the customer. Watch this space!
Why do people like meal kits?
Lots of the time, people will be entertaining or cooking for others. In those cases:
1) It’s a conversation starter. “For dinner, I have made a pizza pilgrims pizza” – delicious !
2) It’s a culinary adventure – lots of people want culinary adventures in their life, but not everyone feels comfortable embarking on making a beef bourguignon from scratch – making something you’ve eaten before and like is a great way into cooking something adventurous!
3) It lowers the risk on big meals. A purely practical view on the same point – if you want to make something special, but don’t trust yourself, this is a much easier way to entertain and make something “special”.
4) You can finally make your favourites. After years of wondering “how do you make it?” you can finally make it !
5) It’s a fun activity, including for families. What a great way to get kids excited about cooking – if they like Patty & Bun, that is.
Understanding the economics of produce boxes & recipe boxes
Are the economics of produce boxes and recipe boxes different from running a store?
Kind of. The great thing about produce & recipe boxes from a commercial perspective is that they’re really well-suited to subscription purchases, because people consume produce at a very regular rate. In other words, you might find that a subscription process will be the best way to make customers return again and again because they’re passively buying – they only need to make the decision to become your customer once.
“Subscription” products come with their own school of thought around best economic practices. When you have a number of paying subscribers, you’ll be able to calculate your average “churn rate” – that’s the proportion of customers who leave your service every year. In turn, this will enable you to calculate the estimated lifetime value of each new customer. Once you can do that, you can draw up what’s called a “CAC” – that’s what you think the cost of acquiring a new customer is in things like marketing spend.
With those three pieces of information, you can start to sink your teeth into more expensive marketing practices to make your customer acquisition faster. Is the cost of acquiring a new customer is lower than that customer’s probable lifetime value?
Which is the right one for me?
If you don’t already have a sense of which would suit you, it’s a complex question.
One worthwhile exercise is to mark out your place in the value chain. People need food farming, sourcing, selecting, planning, assembling, and cooking – and they need those for everyday cooking and for treats. In the table below, which of the elements on the left do you think you could really add value above and beyond what a customer could do?
When you make a delivery meal, you do everything on this list – occasionally including farming. But which bits are you really good at? And moreover, which bits can you do remotely with your cuisine? You can’t do the cooking remotely – does it make sense to the mixing & marinating remotely? If you sell, for example, a famous pulled pork bagel, it might be that the above diagram is wrong and that you still sell fully cooked pork – along with a freezer bag of cooked apple, and do everything except the assembly.
Produce boxes have two opposing business cases – you probably need to specialise in one or the other. One business case is that you can deliver stables by subscription. Subscription is great for treat boxes too, but you’re likely to sell fewer subscriptions to expertly curated antipasti for £100 a box. If you’re able to add value in amazing curation, then that’s great.
Recipe boxes are compelling because if you’re careful in planning what spices you use, you can probably send them further afield, and because you could start a subscription business. Great! But they fall down when it comes to (A) recipes which require really complex in-kitchen maneuvers, or (B) recipes where you’re really just sending a recipe. (Recipes can be found for free online, after all.) It suits recipes where parts of it can be done remotely, in other words, and you could
Meal Kits work best for restaurants where you have signature meals. It looks like the “gentrified burger” crowd have gotten there fastest. Perhaps some part of this is that a large part of burger cooking is simple assembly.
With boxes, one of the ways you can add value which is “defensible” – i.e. specific to you, and your skills – is that you can curate them really well. And that’s uniquely bound to your identity as a restaurant.
How should I sell my meal kit! I don’t have the software!
Thanks for asking a pertinent and non-contrived question.
StoreKit offers an online ordering system. The only fee is payments, which makes it free for cash businesses – and it really is only a processing fee, it’s 2.9% + 20p. That’s very cheap when compared with similar software, which can be as much as 10%. We’ve produced this to help our favourite customers survive the crisis.
Also check out our POS for takeaway page.