While prior to the pandemic some of the largest meal kit companies were encountering headwinds (including Blue Apron, which was evaluating "strategic options" as recently as February, 2020), meal kits are seeing notable sales growth reflective of consumers in quarantine, avoiding restaurants and cooking more. FoodNavigator USA reports "As Americans staying at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus flock to meal kits, both HelloFresh and Blue Apron saw sales lift near the end of their first quarters, but whether the companies can sustain the increase beyond the pandemic depends on their broader strategies and pre-pandemic position."

Certainly the boost in demand for meal kits makes sense given the cultural effects of COVID-19: Hartman Group ethnographic research that is ongoing finds that with health and government officials across the country instructing people to stay home and many people furloughed or laid off, Americans are spending significantly more time at home — and in their kitchens — than usual. With life suddenly upended, consumer eating and meal preparation habits are quickly evolving to catch up. Changes in household behavior around sourcing food and cooking have exposed new tension points in the kitchen, and while the kitchen has long been a vibrant hub of home life, in many homes today the kitchen has become a multipurpose space: part-time office, part-time kitchen, part-time school. Through it all, the kitchen remains the space where meal prep, cooking and eating take place. Some consumers with limited home cooking skills are motivated to learn more as a form of recreation and less as a necessary chore, while others are relying more on canned and frozen items. Parents are bringing their kids into the kitchen as a way to keep them entertained and occupied, teaching them fundamental cooking skills in the process.

Many of these new pandemic-influenced behaviors are benefiting meal kit providers, but going forward, it is likely that meal kit companies will be challenged to retain customers who turned to them as a solution during quarantine. In the near term, consumer needs and behaviors align with the meal kit model, allowing them to forego trips to the grocery store and their related logistical challenges. Yet, as seen in pre-pandemic Hartman Group insights, the meal kit model’s barriers — including cost and the work related to preparing the food — will reemerge as prominent factors in a recessionary environment. Consumers operating with new stressors and financial constraints are likely to see online grocery as a more economical option when they have time to dedicate to meals and pick-up/delivery of prepared food as a compelling alternative when they do not.

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