Are Meal Kit Deliveries A Better Option Than Your Local Supermarket?

Photo: Alexandra Gavillet
“We do the prep. You be the chef.” Amazon caught my attention recently when it filed a trademark for this phrase and, soon after, launched a range of meal kits. They haven’t made it to the UK. But it did make me think I might be missing out on similar services: spending on businesses such as HelloFresh and Gousto grew by 65% in the first half of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015. After a month of living with my boyfriend, and having exhausted our (limited) recipe repertoires, could these services prove to be good value? I pitted three similarly priced meal-delivery services against ingredients bought from my nearest (mini) supermarket. For each I will consider value, taste and convenience.
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Gousto's Italian Caprese salad with chicken
First up is Gousto. I go for the two-person, two-meal box option (there are also three and four meal options), which costs £24.99, or £6.25 per serving. The salad recipe card tells me it will take just eight steps and 20 minutes to cook. I soon hit my first hurdle: the fresh pesto. I don’t have a pestle and mortar to grind up the basil, garlic, cheese and oil. Gousto tells me I can just finely chop the ingredients. Instead I stubbornly attempt squishing them with the back of a spoon, then throwing them in a smoothie maker. It doesn’t work, but the pesto still tastes good. It takes me 46 minutes to finish, 26 minutes over schedule. But it looks and tastes great and the ingredients seem of good quality.
G0usto's Italian Caprese salad with chicken
Could the supermarket compete? It takes me about 15, quite stressful, minutes in the narrow aisles to find all I need. There aren’t any packets of fresh basil so I opt for a plant, and the only rocket left is looking past its best. At a total of £11.34, my supermarket haul is a thrifty £5.67 per serving (plus I have the rest of the basil plant, bottle of balsamic vinegar, pot of oregano and garlic cloves left after cooking). The supermarket-bought chicken breast is smaller, but the ciabatta more generous. I finish cooking – again using Gousto’s card – in 40 minutes. The mozzarella and rocket aren’t as good as Gousto’s, but it’s still a tasty meal.
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Supermarket's Italian Caprese salad with chicken
Verdict: Gousto wins on flavour and convenience, but the supermarket edges it on value.
HelloFresh's veggie moussaka
HelloFresh boxes all come with three meals, either in classic or vegetarian. I go for the veggie one. It works out at £5.83 per serving, which seems a lot when it's meatless. But the colourful assortment of vegetables makes up for it. Also, the bulk of the meal is made in one pan (my preferred kind of cooking). I grill the ciabatta for “cheat’s garlic bread” – you rub the garlic in post-cooking. With the aubergine and sauce ready, I layer them up, then top with crème fraîche and cheese before grilling for five minutes. I'm pleased with the final result – the lentils make it hearty while the crème fraîche, garlic bread and cheese make it more of a treat. It’s not quick though, taking just over 50 minutes to make (I’m sure it’d speed up after a couple of goes).
HelloFresh's veggie moussaka
Off I go to the supermarket. I’m quite surprised to find there are still aubergines and courgettes available on a weekday evening (although the latter only in packs of three). I have to buy many of the ingredients in bigger portions than I need, and have to substitute some. I’m in and out the store in about 20 minutes. Altogether, not taking into account the leftover ingredients I can store, it works out at £7.18 per serving. Cooking goes well until I get a bit keen with the crème fraîche (it’s not in a perfectly sized pot this time), which ruins the taste a bit. Guessing – or ignoring – measurements is usually where my cooking goes wrong, so the pre-weighed meal kit helped me out. My feeling is the supermarket-bought version is better value (even though HelloFresh is cheaper), because I’m left with a bulk of store cupboard staples, such as lentils and herbs.
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Supermarket's veggie moussaka
Verdict: HelloFresh wins on taste and speed.
Mindful Chef's pork chilli, avocado and sweet potato wedges
This is the only meal kit company I’m trying that offers a box for one person. At £9 per portion, I’m not sure I’d go for it. But if your budget allows, the option’s there. For two people, with two meal kits (all Mindful Chef’s boxes come with two), it’s £7 per portion. And so onto the meal. The card tells me this is an easy recipe and it does turn out to be the quickest to make, taking just 30 minutes. With the pork and tomato sauce bubbling and the sweet potato crisping, there aren’t too many elements to juggle. And the result is tasty, too. My only gripe is, even though I follow the instructions, the wedges seem underdone. Still, I think this is my favourite of the three recipes I try. It’s hearty, healthy and – most importantly – easy.
Mindful Chef’s pork chilli, avocado and sweet potato wedges
At the supermarket I have to buy double the amount of pork mince I need. And, again, my only option is to buy excess vegetables. But the only ingredient I can’t find is chilli flakes, so I settle for powder. I don’t buy any passata as I’ve still got half a carton left from my last supermarket trip. I’m in the shop for about 25 minutes in the end, mostly thanks to a self-checkout freezing halfway through. It works out at £5.72 per portion.
Supermarket's pork chilli, avocado and sweet potato wedges
Verdict: There’s not much in it in terms of taste, but the supermarket wins on value.
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