I really want to understand what is behind all of the meal-kit and meal-replacement services proliferating in my Facebook and Instagram feeds right now.
When I started raising sheep, we were at the height of post-Omnivore’s Dilemma. Farmer’s Markets were peaking in popularity, and it felt like I’d have no trouble selling my products. Small farms were popping up all around Vermont, while stores struggled to catch up with the rising demand for locally produced food. “Loca(l)vore” was still a word in use?
Fast forward to now: One of our local farmer’s markets has posted another year of declining sales and revenues. It is challenging to get a balance of vendors (meat, cheese, veggies, prepared foods and crafts) because the sales balance keeps moving towards prepared foods and away from wholesome vegetables. Once all of the vegetable vendors are gone, the market morphs into a street fair with food.
Meanwhile, just offhand, I can think of Sunbasket, BlueApron, Hellofresh, Marley Spoon, Soylent and umpteen other meal or meal-replacement kits. Many of them have such similar names and ads that I can’t help but suppose that they are A/B marketing tests where sellers are trying two different names with the same kits behind them. How many of these kits have you seen using paid blog placement and clickbait websites for promotion?
I know I am just ranting but I want to you feel how disheartening it is to be producing food with my own hard labor and then to see such aggressive promotion of food entirely disconnected from place, from farmer and from carbon footprints. How much carbon goes into the individual plastic wrapping, boxing and shipping? I admit that I can’t even feel good about Sizzlefish or Butcherbox- both feed the disconnect between farmer and the eater.
Of course, none of this is cheap – per meal, these kits are generally more expensive than homemade but a bit cheaper than a restaurant meal. You don’t have to read too far into the comments to find complaints about shipping times, food condition, and rotten food mixed in with questions about allergens and sourcing.
Does the aggressive promotion of this new food paradigm reflect a new food culture? Does the proliferation of such enterprises reflect their actual popularity, or just the whims of venture capital? How ironic to consider that VC would never touch a business like mine, old-fashioned lift-and-carry-it sheep farming, but would love to disrupt how the food is distributed, taking dollars out of my hands and the consumers in the process.
I am curious whether people are actually subscribing to these, and what their experiences are really like. More than one source finds that people unsubscribe at high rates from meal kit services. Are people going back to cooking at home from scratch? If you subscribe to my food-oriented Instagram, cloverworksfarmkitchen, you’ll see that I cook on cast iron and render my own lard. Working from home, I can plan to make meals where I braise tough meats for hours on end. That makes me an outlier among outliers, I know, and also puts me in a tricky position as I try to offer my products to people with more typical cooking habits and schedules.
As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts!