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CONTEXT

Since MBLM first published a comparison of meal kit brands chasing the US market leader Blue Apron, the category has grown significantly and become even more compelling. We think that these developments warrant another look at what the contenders have been up to, how they’re evolving their game, and who else has entered the space.

 


RECENT TRENDS

As the market has become more crowded, insights gathered from consumer behavior are going to become more important in keeping fans loyal and opening new audience segments. We’ve seen each of the brands covered in Field Notes tinker with their offers in order to adapt and grow. Here are some key trends.

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS

As noted in our report, the accumulating waste week after week can take a toll on your conscience. Peach Dish, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, and Marley Spoon have all started to address the issue of too much packaging by using more post-consumer recycled materials to provide options for customers to send back parts of the packaging or simply to provide information on what to do with ice packs, cartons, baggies, and other materials. As Purple Carrot Cofounder Mark Bittman expressly stated in his articles for Fast Company, they intend to experiment with alternative organic, compostable materials. Probably furthest ahead of the pack on this, Plated is testing Jute as an earth-friendly insulation by partnering with a sustainable packaging company called TemperPack.

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EVOLVING THE PRODUCT

The family box. In an effort to expand beyond the two meals, three-nights-a-week young urbanite segment, Marley Spoon, Peach Dish, and Purple Carrot have all introduced a family box geared toward more mouths to feed.

Diversified product offerings. Blue Apron has been offering a wine subscription for several months. It has the scale to launch a new offer like this, and wine pairing is a high-margin product that could really take off for them.

Targeting the refined palate. Plated recently introduced “Chef’s Table”, a line of specialty cuts of meat and market priced seafood. This comes in addition to a weekly menu of 7 meal choices making it one of the most customizable options around.

RAMPING UP MARKETING

Clever marketing initiatives in the real world. Plated wrapped up its Instagram-ready coast-to-coast #platedroadtrip in a shiny Airstream in New York City in mid-October. Since then, the Plated team has rebranded and launched a content site called Food with Thought. Their digital efforts are a bit disconnected but more experimental than the efforts of many of the more established players.

Increasingly making use of mainstream advertising channels. While most brands were getting the word out via digital media and PR, the well-heeled are striking out into TV and out-of-home.

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NEW COOKS IN THE KITCHEN

Marley Spoon hit the US market in April, just after our initial brand comparison. Although beautifully designed and packaged, it is unclear what’s different about this particular offer.

Gobble is trying to own “easy and fast” by offering meals that you can cook in 10 minutes in a single pan using three ingredients.

Munchery is taking a slightly different approach by touting restaurant-quality meals precooked by chefs that you can complete at home in under 15 minutes.

Purple Carrot, the first all-vegan option, has launched. It is backed by celebrated food writer and minimalist Mark Bittman of New York Times fame. Initial impressions are positive, and Bittman is generating significant media interest.


VENTURE CAPITAL INCREASING

 

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Hello Fresh received an $85M Series F investment on September 17, 2015, a little over 6 months after a $126M injection. That brings the fresh food subscription category leader with a valuation of $2.6B Euros to a total of $278.5M in funding received. An IPO is in the works.

Blue Apron has taken a total of $193M in funding, including a whopping $135M Series D on June 9, 2015. However, head-to-head in meals delivered, Hello Fresh is still ahead of Blue Apron with 6.1 million monthly meals compared to Blue Apron’s 5 million.

Plated took in $35M in July 2015. That’s a significant amount of capital even though it pales in comparison to the two alpha dogs already mentioned.

Home Chef hasn’t made much noise yet, but a recent Series A investment of $5M in September of 2015 may give the Chicago-based startup some much-needed capital to build brand awareness and market presence.

Peach Dish, meanwhile, keeps slugging it out as a bootstrapped venture and has evolved the least.


 

A LOOK AHEAD

While we are still waiting for the ability to customize meals according to the skill level of the cook, Plated has impressed of late with a variety of changes including their “Chef’s Table” option to include higher end ingredients. We’re expecting big things from this group. We suspect Hello Fresh and Blue Apron will continue to compete to acquire new customers faster than anyone else can given their outsize funding and ability to deploy marketing spend. Peach Dish, who impressed us first time around with their underdog charm, seems to have evolved the least. It will be exciting to see if upstart mission-driven brands like Purple Carrot can hold their own and build an earth-changing way-of-life out of cooking dinner.

As always, we at MBLM are keeping our eyes and onions peeled, so please send us new brands to consider by contacting us here.

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