The rise of the gourmet home chef
Around the same time American families were introduced to the television set, grocery stores began stocking frozen meals, or what lovingly became known as “TV dinners.”
Created to be heated quickly and eaten on “TV trays” while watching “Bonanza” or “The Ed Sullivan Show,” these disgusting excuses for meals offered delicacies such as Salisbury steak floating in greasy gravy, mashed potatoes made from some sort of dehydrated potato flakes and mixed vegetables that were much too colorful to have actually been grown naturally.
In its heyday, it was estimated that up to 99 percent of American households had purchased some sort of frozen meal. However, it appears that the American consumer’s love for the TV dinner and/or frozen dinner has run its course. According to an article in “The Atlantic,” after nearly 60 years of sustained growth, frozen ready-meal sales have finally started to dip. Since 2008, they have either fallen or come in just about flat.
The reasons given? Dieting, consciousness of better portioning and Americans’ growing boredom with ready-made frozen meals.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean 21st century American consumers are going to stop going to McDonald’s and rush home from work in time to prepare a meat-and-three meal that would rival our grandmothers’.
No, we are looking for another easy way out. So welcome to the world of boxed meal delivery.
I embraced the boxed meal delivery world last summer when I signed up for Blue Apron – one of many choices available that promises a way to cook meals at home without the hassle of meal planning, recipe searching and endless grocery shopping – all of the things that I absolutely detest. Fortunately, for most of my married life my husband has been the primary partner responsible for the grocery shopping and cooking in our partnership. He actually enjoys it – up to the point where he even knows which brand of orange juice is on sale each week. I just pick up whichever brand is nearest to my outstretched arm.
It’s not that I can’t cook. I just don’t enjoy it. When my son was about 10 years old and the topic of the divorce of one of his friend’s parents was supper conversation, he asked, as a self-absorbed and hungry child is wont to do, “If you and Dad get a divorce and I live with you, who
will feed me?”
I told him that all would be well. Cold cereal and milk was perfectly acceptable as a supper choice.
Blue Apron, as well as a plethora of other meal kit delivery services, has tapped into the American consumer’s desire to cook fresh meals at home without all of those aforementioned hassles that I, and apparently many others, despise.
Orders are delivered to my front door weekly with enough – and only enough – ingredients to prepare three meals for two people. The meals have exotic-sounding names such as beef knockwurst and sauerkraut; spicy noodles, snap peas and mushrooms; and mozzarella and arugula paninis.
For the most part, I have found my Blue Apron meals delicious. In less than an hour, we are consuming a restaurant-quality meal at the kitchen table that we have prepared ourselves with very little cleanup to worry about afterward.
And last week’s salmon with kale and roasted potato salad dish was worlds away from the Swanson’s frozen dinners of days gone by.
Blue Apron is far from the only meal kit service available on the market today, but it was the first in what has become a multi-billion dollar business. While still only a tiny player, meal kits are poised to take a bite out of traditional retail food services, including both grocery and restaurants, according to experts, and to rise to about $3 to $5 billion in market share in the next 10 years. And, according to Packaged Facts, more than $650 million in venture capital has been raised by meal kit delivery service startups.
Best things about Blue Apron
Delicious, nutritious, fresh food and prime cuts of meat
Grains and pastas from exotic locations
Easy, simple instructions
It makes me eat more fish
It limits trips to the grocery store, ergo less stress, and eases meal preparation
Worst things about Blue Apron
Lots of kale
Too many ice packs
Automatic delivery unless you cancel weekly online
Susan Campbell may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.