As an industry, the prepared meal delivery market was valued at $3.74 billion in 2020, a number that is expected to reach $11.31 billion by 2027. These stats about meal delivery trends over the past ten years (especially since Covid showed up) follow the real-life examples most of us have witnessed: people are making food at home much more often, even if they aren’t always going to the grocery store for ingredients.
Meal kit services—where customers must assemble ingredients based on a recipe and cook the meal themselves—experienced an uptick during the pandemic. In fact, less than 15 percent of households were regularly ordering meal kits before the pandemic, a number that jumped to almost . With lockdowns and extended periods at home, lengthy cooking sessions were acceptable, even welcomed, with plenty of time for washing dishes. But as with every other meal prep trend, this is changing with time.
Meal Kits vs. Meal Prep Delivery
As American consumers assimilate back into a post-pandemic world, they are finding less bandwidth to regularly prepare their own meals. The home cooking trend is diminishing. This is where meal prep businesses that offer heat-and-eat food are coming in. Meal prep businesses do not deliver ingredients and directions to customers. Instead, meal prep businesses prepare personally customized, fully cooked (or sometimes frozen) meals that are delivered to their customers’ homes.
Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, meat-centric, or just about any other dietary niche, these heat-and-eat delivery options also provide ingredients labels and nutritional information to simplify healthy eating and ensure that customers are getting exactly what they want without sacrificing quality or taste.
Meal prep delivery services are ordered through an ongoing subscription service, or a la carte. Different meals can be ordered via both online and offline platforms, with options for contactless deliveries.
When comparing meal kits vs. meal delivery, the data speaks for itself. By focusing on convenience and expanded flavor profiles, heat-and-eat meals are projected to register a faster CAGR of 17.8 percent in the meal delivery market from 2022 to 2030. As the number of people who live alone increase, the meal prep market will grow because meal prep businesses can deliver nutritious food that simply needs to be heated.
Meal prep businesses deliver delicious options with no time spent cooking, no mess, no dishes—just heat and eat. As the largest region in the prepared meals market, America is clearly interested in this option. While 36 percent of Americans currently cook at home on a regular basis, only about 14 percent of those households are preparing meals at home because they enjoy cooking.
This statistic tells us a lot about how Americans really feel about dinner time —and more importantly, what they are looking for in a modern meal prep delivery service. Their comfort level with technology may be outweighing their desire to cook.
People may be back to work and spending less time in their kitchens, but their desire for fresh, delicious, and nutritious food has not changed. This meal prep trend is not only serving up convenience; it is also displacing the traditional role of grocery shopping and creating real systemic change for American eaters.
But this may not be true for Americans of all ages. Some studies suggest millennial consumers (defined as those between 21 and 36 years old) are more likely to cook at home instead of ordering delivery from restaurants or meal delivery services. While older people may see dinnertime as a chore, younger people often view it as an experience to be had—and possibly even documented for social media.
So, aside from the surface appeal of meal delivery, what are the real benefits of these meal prep services? How are they changing the way people of all ages order and eat food? These are driving the success of the meal prep industry:
- Offers time savings
- Cuts food costs
- Eliminates food waste
- Encourages new experiences
- Reduces travel outside the home
- Removes the need to grocery shop
- Reduces clutter and clean-up time
- Promotes convenient weight loss and healthy choices
- Lightens or removes kitchen work and decision-making
- Provides the opportunity to learn about and try unfamiliar foods
- Establishes ways to easily feed families with varying dietary needs
Health and Nutrition
More convenient meals often come with poor nutritional options—fast food is a good example. The heat-and-eat meal delivery model turns this traditional notion upside down because it focuses on elements such as high fiber, high protein, and moderate fat. In fact, heat-and-eat meal delivery provides the convenience of carefully prepared food at home for both families and individuals.
Dietary and food-related health requirements, such as diabetes or celiac disease, can be readily addressed by finding the right meal prep service with dependable meals. People who suffer from such conditions and who have limited ability or skill in the kitchen may find this type of dietary support through pre-prepared food to be a lifesaver.
While there is no one-size-fits-all plan for people with food-related health issues, meals prepared with nutritional consciousness and dietary expertise will clearly deliver the best results.
Environmental Impact and Waste
With all the packaging that goes into meal prep delivery, people often worry about the environmental impact of these food services. Meal prep trends appear to reduce food waste because portions are carefully controlled and measured. In fact, studies suggest that direct-to-consumer meal delivery actually has a 33 percent smaller carbon footprint than traditional grocery shopping.
Despite the popular belief that meal prep delivery services generate more waste, data suggests meals supplied from a grocery store tend to have more environmental impact than pre-prepared ones. Moreover, heat-and-eat food delivery utilizes far less packaging than meal kits with individually wrapped ingredients, printed recipes, and protective boxing.
Seventy-seven percent of Americans would rather eat at home than eat out, so the heat-and-eat delivery business is scratching a national culinary itch. But are these delivered homemade meals more economical in comparison to restaurant takeout or delivery? The answer may surprise you.
While some meal prep services are still pricey, recent 2022 research suggests prepared meal services cost less than when the industry first began. With rising inflation and gas prices, as well as supply chain issues, carefully portioned food services are offering cost savings as well as personalization. Part of this comes from the uptick in customers during the pandemic, but it is also the result of careful selection of ingredients.
Most meal prep plans can be customized weekly and are available at a variety of price points.
Comparing ingredient prices for an affordable meal service with grocery ingredient prices tells us something interesting. A granular breakdown of cost per item, the total cost of every grocery item is divided by how much is required for each recipe, reveals the price of ordering customized meal prep food is roughly the same price as buying the ingredients at a grocery store.
Of course, meal prep delivery has an advantage because clients don’t have to spend time, gas, energy, and the mental stamina going to and from a grocery store. For about the same price per meal, consumers can have customized food pre-cooked and delivered directly to them, without any of the additional labor and cost involved in shopping and cooking.
Providing the Right Option
Consumers are choosing pre-prepared meal delivery for a variety of reasons. Given the wide selection of options out there, it is worth understanding what people really want. Are today’s consumers concerned about flavor, nutritional value, or cost? Perhaps all three. Addressing the needs of your culinary consumers means understanding their motivations and preferences—and how to successfully address them. Much of this effort involves taking into account things like dietary needs, budgetary restrictions, and geographic location.
Here are some things to consider when formulating planning out and scaling your offerings:
- Meal variety: Can your customers find the type of food they’re looking for?
- Overall cost: Are there varying price points for subscriptions that match your customers’ expectations?
- Dietary requirements: Can meals be easily customized for personal preferences?
- Nutritional information: Is health-related information readily available?
- Delivery zones: What size region can your service support?
- Subscription: Can these be designed according to specifics?
- Sustainability: How much (and what kind of) packaging are you using?
Even though meal prep delivery services provide plenty of options, it can be hard to decide on one. Thinking about what your consumers value is a great first step in delivering the right program. Now you need an operating system that can grow with your meal prep business and take care of the administrative details while you prepare delicious food for your clients. Contact MealTrack for a free demo to see how we can help you.