The Proliferation of Meal Kits and the Potential Disruptors of Continued Expansion

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Over the past few years you may have noticed the number of headlines touting the latest entrants into the meal kits business; from retailers such as Walmart and Amazon, to manufactures like Weight Watchers and online subscription services such as Terra’s Kitchen.  It seems everyone wants a piece of the $5 billion (and growing) meal kits market; an industry pioneered in the US in 2012 by Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated.

But like so many things today, could advances in technology prove more attractive to consumers – especially Millennials - who have been one of the key forces in the meal kits revolution?  Maybe one or more of the below innovations will prove to be the disruptive force that topples the business of meal kits, or potentially proves to be a complementary approach that propels the industry even further…

Image Recognition

Also known as computer vision, image recognition refers to the ability of a computer to “see” or translate the information fed to it from an image (still, video, graphic or even live).

Example: At CES this year Yummly and Whirlpool introduced an app that can scan the items you have on hand then recommend recipes based on what is often a mishmash of ingredients. 

Consideration: Who needs a meal kit to inspire unique and tasty creations? 

Delivery Bots

Currently only legal in five states (Virginia, Idaho, Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio), delivery robots are small, electric-powered ground rovers equipped with a number sensors that allow them to navigate sidewalks at pedestrian speeds (4 mph).  They can make one small delivery at a time, in about 20 minutes from the time an order is placed, and are believed by many to be revolutionary to last-mile delivery fulfillment.

Example: Starship Technologies began testing delivery bots in Washington D.C. about one year ago with on-demand delivery service Postmates.  The city only allowed five total bots to be used at any given time during what was the pilot of the PDD program (Personal Delivery Device).  To date, the bots have made over 7,000 deliveries, with just three collisions (all of which were deemed to be the fault of drivers that did not yield to the “pedestrian” bots), and D.C. is extending the program.

Consideration: If you have a craving to slurp ramen tonight, you can get it from your favorite noodle parlor or convenience store in under a half hour, without leaving the house.  Why worry about having the time or desire to make the Bacon and Honey Mustard Glazed Chicken with Broccolini Radish and Wheatberry that’s waiting in your fridge.

Smart Locks + Cloud Cams

Smart locks allow keyless entry into your home, while cloud cams are basically security cameras.  Linking of the two technologies enables monitored in-home delivery. 

Example: In addition to allowing an Amazon Fresh delivery driver access into your home to put all of the perishables that were ordered into the refrigerator/freezer, Amazon Key is integrating with over 1,200 service providers, like in-home chefs, to grant them access as well.

 Consideration: Why let someone else determine what you’re going to eat?  Like in a restaurant, you decide, and let that someone else do the planning and prep.

3D Food Printers

A 3D food printer works like a regular 3D printer with one primary exception – the printer uses food instead plastic.  And the benefits are numerous: personalized and precise nutrition; unusual food composition; unique designs and textures; easy food prep; novelty; etc.

Example: Natural Machines, makers of the Foodini, advertise the printer as a “new generation kitchen appliance that combines technology, food, art and design… manage the difficult and time-consuming parts of food preparation that often discourage people from creating homemade food.”  The Foodini is currently only available direct from the manufacturer.

Consideration: Even if 3D food printing turns out to be time consuming and expensive, the social clout gained has got to be greater than that to be had in perfecting Pork Florentine with Grains and Zucchini.

What are your thoughts?  Could any of these technologies curtail the demand for meal kits? Or could one or more aid in stimulating the industry’s growth even further?