HARVARD HERO MOMENT #28: Meal kits, fuelling the rise of the ‘amateur chef’

Isabella Ward

22 Apr 2020

Anyone who knows me well knows that cooking is definitely not my forte. As much as I may want to whip up a delicious – but nutritious – dinner at home in the evenings, it rarely comes to fruition. It’s not that I don’t enjoy cooking – it’s that I just don’t know where to start. So, in a bid to broaden my horizons and become a more adventurous cook, my partner and I decided to put recipe box subscription service, Gousto, to the test. Fifteen months on and we still get excited when we receive our weekly email from Gousto telling us it’s time to log into the app and pick our recipes for the next week – showing what a big part our lives cooking has become. And we’re not the only ones taking advantage of these types of services. Last year, it was reported that five million recipe kit meals were ordered every month in the UK. This year the number is only set to rise, especially given the current climate. More and more shoppers are turning to meal-box delivery companies to help feed themselves and their families during lockdown.

Cooking made easy

In the UK, we’re absolutely obsessed with cooking programmes – think Bake Off and Master Chef – with shows like these inspiring us to recreate ever-more exotic meals. But the question remains: how does anyone in a full-time job have time for that? This isn’t just about planning meals; it’s also about finding the time to go to the shops to source the right ingredients. Whereas the only effort you need to put in with a recipe box is the (short) amount of time it takes to put in your order for your meals online, unpacking the ingredients and following simple step-by-step cooking instructions. It’s exactly what Gousto founder, Timo Boldt, had on his mind when he conceived Gousto in 2012. Working long hours in London (which most of us can relate to) at a Goldman Sachs-spin off hedge fund, Timo longed for a convenient and easy way to cook and eat decent meals at home. After researching the issue, he realised this was a common challenge for many workers across the capital. Enter Gousto. Gousto provides customers with meal kit boxes delivered directly to their door, including easy-to-follow recipes and ready-measured fresh ingredients. Like many others on the market now – including HelloFresh and Mindful Chef – Gousto aims to help time-poor people enjoy dinner times again, whilst also reducing waste.

A more sustainable meal

While it’s clear recipe box subscription services offer multiple benefits to the modern consumer, many question how sustainable food delivery kits are. Delivery services obviously have some clear positives – specifically around helping to reduce the mountains of food waste that goes into landfills each year. And they’re confirmed to be more environmentally friendly than the average trip to the grocery store. Indeed, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimated that annual food waste within the UK in 2019 came in at around 9.5 million tonnes in 2018. When assessing the food waste of meal kits against grocery shopping, a University of Michigan research team found that meal kits provided much more accurate portions of food for the same meal. This alone can drastically reduce a households’ food waste and carbon emissions. Meal kits have, however, come under fire over the excessive use of packaging in their boxes. This has prompted a handful of services to introduce more sustainable materials into their kits. And here again, Gousto is a great example – it announced earlier this year that it had met its pledge to reduce plastic from its meal kit boxes by 50%.

A resurgence in home cooking

There’s no denying that meal kits are revolutionising dinnertimes for the masses. Gousto alone is currently delivering 4 million meals to 380,000 UK households each month And at a time when shopping in supermarkets has become a more complicated affair, delivery boxes are providing an all-important lifeline for many. Within the current context, it will be interesting to see what the long-term impact will be on consumer attitudes towards meal kits and home cooking generally post-pandemic. There are already predictions around a resurgence of home cooking – but only time will tell what the future of cooking brings.