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Are meal kit online marketplaces the future of category?

According to the NPD Group, prior to the pandemic, less than one in seven households had ordered a meal kit. In 2020, that number rose by more than 50% to nearly one in four households. But momentum for the category has slowed from the initial peak buying behavior seen two years ago, according to Mintel.

“During COVID-19, US consumers turned to meal kits in droves. These companies saw sales surge, as meal kits offered a safe, convenient method to get dinner on the table. As consumers become less dependent on meal kits, their stringent subscription requirements and other stumbling blocks will become more of a barrier,”​ wrote Mintel global food analyst Melanie Zanoza Bartelme in an industry insights piece​​. 

“US meal kit services have expanded their offerings to include other non-kit options such as specialty food, pantry staples and ready meals giving companies the opportunity to provide more options.”

Growth opportunity: Online marketplaces

For meal kit companies to continue to find growth, their strategy must shift to become more of a full-service online retailer providing consumers with flexible ways to order meals or other quick food options to their home, noted Bartelme.

Companies such as HelloFresh​​ and Blue Apron began their own online marketplaces last year in which customers can add other ‘à la carte’ grocery items, such as produce, proteins, and pantry staples, to their meal purchases. 

By adding easy-to-use, low-commitment features such as an online marketplace to their services, meal kit companies have an opportunity to attract new customers or maintain existing customers who may feel constricted by a traditional subscription model, according to Bartelme.