Meal kits: Which are best value?
Are they worth the premium you pay for inspiration and convenience? We trialled seven services to find out.
If you’re after a little inspiration for dinner next week, a growing number of meal kit services are happy to help.
We trialled seven services – Emma’s Food Bag, HelloFresh, vegan service The Kai Box, WOOP, My Food Bag and sister services Bargain Box and Kiwi Fresh.
For two weeks, our volunteers weighed the delivered ingredients so we could assess the premium you pay for daily dinner inspiration. We also asked them, and their kids, to rate the finished meals.
April 2020 update: Emma's Food Bag is temporarily closed.
Overall, our volunteers found the ingredients delivered fresh and good quality.
Emma’s Food Bag, The Kai Box and WOOP’s food arrived without a hitch. However, the other four services delivered at least one item damaged, missing or spoiled – including wrinkly potatoes from Bargain Box, mouldy burger buns from HelloFresh and a torn pasta container from Kiwi Fresh (though the pasta inside was fine).
When our volunteers contacted Bargain Box and HelloFresh about the poor-quality ingredients, they were offered a credit on next week’s purchase. Since the families needed to replace these items, a refund would be more appropriate.
One week, our My Food Bag trial family received a complete mismatch of ingredients to the recipes they’d chosen. Instead of the lamb steaks and beef mince listed on the recipe, they found lamb mince and beef steaks alongside a widely different array of vegetables.
My Food Bag originally offered to courier the family the missing ingredients, but they didn’t show up. Finally, two days after the incorrect delivery, our volunteers received an upgraded My Classic kit as a replacement, $35 credit on their account and a complimentary fruit box.
The company said customer feedback showed 98% of its deliveries arrived complete within the specified time frame. “We are continually implementing ways to get to 100% ,” a spokesperson said.
As well as offering tasty and varied menus, you’d want a meal delivery kit to provide healthy, balanced servings.
Our volunteers thought all the services provided dinners of good nutritional value.
Four services include a nutritional breakdown of their meals. Emma’s Food Bag, Kiwi Fresh and The Kai Box were the exceptions.
If you’re changing your diet, a meal service could be a good way to get things on the right track, provided the food is tasty and satisfying.
Our Bargain Box couple was puzzled the info that came with their meals sometimes referred to three servings instead of two.
“The Mini Box calls itself a two-person kit, so info panels based on three servings seem bizarre – this probably encourages people to overeat without realising it,” our volunteers said.
My Food Bag (which owns Bargain Box) said this typically occurred when ingredients came in larger pack sizes. “In future we’re adding a badge, in addition to the three servings, that says ‘plenty for leftovers’,” a spokesperson said.
Two of the services had options marketed to those looking for lower-calorie choices. My Food Bag’s Fresh Start kits had meals with “less than 450 calories to help you lose weight not flavour”.
WOOP’s Balance Box meals had approximately 400 to 500 calories per serve and were “based on the traditional Mediterranean style of eating … with seasonal veges making up half the plate”.
The Kai Box was the only vegan option we found on the market. While not designed for those wanting to lose weight, the company promotes its “healthy plant-based meals”.
If you’re changing your diet, a meal service could be a good way to get things on the right track, provided the food is tasty and satisfying. Unfortunately, two services fell short of volunteers’ expectations here.
Our WOOP couple thought the Balance Box “wasn’t enough to feed two adults”. Our vegan volunteers had concerns there weren’t enough calories to fuel their active lifestyles. One volunteer “got around this by eating larger lunches at work”.
When we asked the company about its meals leaving our triallists hungry, WOOP said they “may want to consider trying WOOP’s Foodie box, which includes cuisine inspired from around the world, and does often include higher carbohydrate content”.
The Kai Box said its recipe cards were being redesigned and would include calorie counts. In the meantime, customers could request this info.
In contrast, the couple trialling My Food Bag’s Fresh Start found its dinners were “surprisingly filling”.
Use of packaging
If you’re expecting a knock at the door on delivery, that might not happen. Our WOOP family and HelloFresh couple were both home when the box arrived, though were only notified by text and email respectively.
The services use chiller boxes, insulation and ice packs to protect perishable goods.
Our volunteers thought Emma’s Food Bag and The Kai Box did a good job of minimising packaging – both for the individual ingredients and the outer boxes.
In contrast, our triallists thought the HelloFresh and Kiwi Fresh kits had high levels of packaging, even though the outer cardboard containers were recyclable.
Bargain Box and My Food Bag couriers will collect the previous week’s ice packs and insulation (known as “Woolcool”) used for chilled foods when they drop off the new box, though only the insulation is recycled. WOOP couriers pick up the chiller boxes and ice packs (both are sterilised and re-used).
Although Kiwi Fresh is an offshoot of My Food Bag, the service uses different couriers who won’t pick up the previous week’s packaging. Instead, customers are told to compost the Woolcool (after removing the plastic wrap). The ice packs can be reused “for picnic[s], or for those pesky sports injuries”.
My Food Bag said it was switching to a “more environmentally friendly” ice pack in June.
HelloFresh also advised customers to re-use the “non-toxic” gel-filled ice packs or dispose of them in the general waste “worry free”. The service also used a “compostable [and] plant-based” bag to insulate chilled products. The website touted “… all of our insulation and the lining it comes in is 100% biodegradable”.
Plant-based plastic doesn’t break down all that differently to regular plastic if it ends up buried at the landfill, so we asked HelloFresh for proof of these claims. It said the bags were only suitable for commercial composting facilities – and not all New Zealand facilities can or will process this type of packaging.
HelloFresh subsequently removed the “100% biodegradable” claim from its website. The company said it’s also changed the wording on its insulation bags. “We’re mindful of the amount of packaging used and are constantly investigating new ways to develop sustainable solutions,” a spokesperson said.
Both the couple and the family of four trialling HelloFresh said they’d order it again, though both preferred to stick to an occasional order to add variety to their dinner repertoire.
Our Wellington couple, Simon and Adam, were our only volunteers to try the Kai Box, and were converts.
Bargain Box, Emma’s Food Bag, Kiwi Fresh, My Food Bag and WOOP won over one of the two sets of volunteers trying them.
All our three families said they’d be keen to re-order either of the two services they trialled. Asked which they preferred (factoring in cost, convenience and taste), all chose the lower-cost option: Emma’s Food Bag, HelloFresh and Kiwi Fresh respectively.
When asked if they’d order the service again, several volunteers said the delivery days and timeslots were deciding factors. Unsurprisingly, one triallist found the Emma’s Food Bag delivery time of 7am on a Sunday off-putting – especially since she’d been told to expect the kit between 8am and midday.
The service said customers wanting a sleep-in on Sunday could request a “do not knock” order, though this wouldn’t work for apartment dwellers.
Bargain Box, Emma’s Food Bag, My Food Bag, The Kai Box and WOOP gave our volunteers a delivery time frame of three to five hours.
However, you could be waiting all day for HelloFresh or Kiwi Fresh. Our Kiwi Fresh family said this was a significant inconvenience. “If you were out all day, I don’t think the frozen vegetables, meat and dairy would survive on the doorstep for several hours on a summer day, even with the ice packs and Woolcool.”
HelloFresh said its system emailed customers when the box is in transit.