Online Grocery and Meal Kit Delivery

Meal Prep

Online food ordering and delivery services have been, and continue to be, a growing trend. Without leaving the house, consumers are able to order groceries delivered to their doorstep, and now order assembled meal kits for delivery and easy preparation at home. More and more companies are entering this market, and it will likely continue to grow, fueled by convenience, lack of culinary skills, and the rising costs of meals at restaurants.

Grocery Delivery

Some brick and mortar supermarkets allow you to order food online, and then either get it delivered, or pick it up. Other supermarkets partner with Instacart instead, which employs independent contractors to buy and deliver groceries, in the same way that Uber and Lyft employ drivers. Internet grocers, such as Peapod and AmazonFresh, are also popping up and offer home delivery. These options allow the consumer the convenience of not leaving their home to purchase groceries, yet they still need to select the groceries they want and find ways to prepare and consume them.

Meal Kit Delivery

Meal kit delivery has boomed in the last year. You may have heard of Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, or Sun Basket? Some grocery stores have also started offering their own meal kits to compete in this growing market. Meal kit delivery is a little different than grocery delivery in that the consumer selects among the meal options available, and the company provides ingredients, step-by-step recipes, and instructions for a complete meal to be prepared and cooked by the consumer at home. Some kits provide everything pre-cut and measured, while others require chopping and a bit more preparation. Few even offer menus that cater to different dietary requirements, such as vegetarian or gluten-free.

In addition to being convenient, it is possible that meal kit and grocery delivery services could have a positive impact on a consumer's health. Ordering groceries online may help some people choose healthier options, by eliminating the tempting, and often less healthy, end-cap or point-of-sale displays. Have you ever walked into a grocery store and seen a big display of cookies or chips right at the end of the isle, or a large cart of candy and treats as you check out? Even if you go to the grocery store with a list, you may end up with extra treats in your cart. In fact, a few studies have shown that shopping online could reduce purchases of unhealthy foods, possibly because seeing images of foods online is not as tempting as seeing the actual food in the store. There is also a longer delay between buying the food and eating it, eliminating instant gratification.

Meal kit services can reduce the number of meals eaten from restaurants, which are often not as healthy as home-cooked meals. Additionally, meal kits expose some participants to healthy and new ingredients, recipes, and cooking techniques. A consumer's experience with the meal kits can help build their cooking skills and boost their confidence. Improved cooking skills and increased confidence may increase the likelihood that a consumer continues to cook for themselves and possibly even eliminate the need for a meal kit, relying on their own food, meal, and recipe selections!

Food delivery could improve access to food for some populations, including for those who have limited mobility and cannot easily go to the store. Some delivery services are only available in certain cities, but others are mail-based and are widely available. Additionally, such services could improve access to healthy foods in so-called "food deserts", areas void of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished parts of the country. Yet, cost may be a barrier. These services do not come without an extra cost. While there may be a minimal cost for gas or public transportation for consumers to go pick up their own groceries at a store, it is likely more cost efficient than ordering for home delivery. Meal kits average $9 - $14 per meal, which is less than a comparable meal served at restaurants, but significantly more expensive than a comparable homemade meal.

While it comes with additional costs, grocery and meal kit delivery is a growing market that may have potential to improve food choices and cooking skills as well as fit busy schedules and save time.

Sources:

Gorin, AA, et al. Home grocery delivery improves the household food environments of behavioral weight loss participants: Results of an 8-week pilot study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 20074:58. Accessed from: https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-4-58

Meal kits deliver on convenience and health. The Harris Poll website. Accessed from: http://www.theharrispoll.com/business/Meal-Kits-Deliver-Convenience-Health.html. Published April 3, 2017.

Huyghe E, et al. Clicks as a Healthy Alternative to Bricks: How Online Grocery Shopping Reduces Vice Purchases. Journal of Marketing Research. ISSN: 0022-2437 (print) Vol. LIV (February 2017), 61—74. Accessed from: http://journals.ama.org/doi/10.1509/jmr.14.0490?code=amma-site

Tuttle B. Why you should feel even more guilty about eating out at restaurants all the time. Money website. Accessed from: http://time.com/money/4245285/costs-restaurants-cooking-at-home/. Published March 3, 2016.

Home-Delivery Meal Kit Safety

The recent growth of the home meal kit market has expanded options for individuals or families to get in the kitchen and enjoy making meals at home. New options are popping up each day to help make home cooking easy and often nutritious, even for the most inexperienced cook. Consumers often make food choices by taste, convenience, and cost, while trusting that food safety systems are in place. Much like consumers need to be food safe aware with perishables from the grocery store, farmers market, or even when given foods from friends or family, consumers need to consider food safety before enjoying home-delivered meals.

Supply Chain Safety

Consumers should expect mail order meal kit vendors to provide their customers with safe-handling guidelines for their products upon arrival, as well as information on their commitment to ensure a safe supply chain; it is truly in their best interest for customer satisfaction and retention! One study out of Rutgers University found that despite good industry records and efforts in place from a large number of meal kit companies, nearly half of the tested meal kits and foods requiring time and temperature control for safety, or TCS foods, arrived at temperatures within the Danger Zone, which is between 40 °F and 140 °F. This temperature abuse of TCS foods was often correlated with higher counts of pathogenic microorganisms present on the food. This makes the food unsafe and increases risk of foodborne illness. Consumer demand for safety along the food chain and ensuring safe home environments will help guide this growing market, empowering people to cook and eat more home-cooked meals.

Consumer Safety

The USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, which oversees safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products has put together a Mail Order Food Safety. fact sheet for general consumer handling tips. Their recommendations for safe handling of mail ordered TCS foods, includes:

  1. Check temperature of foods. Use a calibrated thermometer to ensure that perishable food was received cold. Do not eat TCS foods if the temperature exceeds 40°F when delivered, instead contact the company. Visit the Farm to Table website for a short video on how to calibrate your thermometer.
  2. Refrigerate or freeze promptly. Safe handling upon delivery requires that someone is able to receive food labeled "Keep Refrigerated" at delivery or soon after. An insulated cooler at the doorstep can be useful for short term cold holding.
  3. Cook or reheat to safe temperatures. Use your calibrated thermometer again to be sure that cooked food reaches safe minimum temperatures to stop harmful microorganisms.

Be aware of the meal delivery company's policy for ensuring a safe food supply chain, but always take proper handling of home-delivered meals into your own (clean!) hands.

Hyperlinked resources:

USDA FSIS. (2015, March 30). Mail Order Food Safety. Retrieved from: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/mail-order-food-safety/

Food Safety News. (2017, May 12). Research shows food safety gaps in home-delivery meal kits. Retrieved from: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2017/05/research-shows-food-safety-gaps-in-home-delivery-meal-kits/#.Wcv0vGhSyUm

USDA FSIS. (2015, January 15). Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. Retrieved from: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/safe-minimum-internal-temperature-chart