The Future of Plant-Focused Cuisine: Our Interview With Purple Carrot Meal Kit Founder Andy Levitt
Purple Carrot Is Empowering Consumers to Experience Contemporary Applications of Plant-based Cooking
For large meal kit platforms like Blue Apron, food and beverage industry news of late has described a rocky (yet still potentially opportunity-filled) journey. Demonstrating that a niche focus is likely the next step for success in the space, Purple Carrot is an online company 100% focused on providing plant-based meal kits and vegan cooking know-how. In our interview with Purple Carrot founder Andy Levitt, we learn that as larger meal kit platforms struggle to find their place in serving disrupted consumer eating habits, opening the door on vegan lifestyle and plant-based eating and cooking has its benefits. While Hartman Group research finds that only 10% of consumers have tried out vegetarianism in the last 12 months, a full 54% of consumers say they would like to include more plant-based foods and beverages in their diets.
[THG] We see a growing number of consumers interested in plant-based and vegan eating and cooking – what role do you think technology plays in bringing vegan cuisine to larger audiences?
[Andy] The technological innovation behind amazing products like Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger is doing wonders to raise awareness for the plant-based category. There are dozens of other new products coming out every quarter all building on the growing trends around plant-based eating. There are more choices today than ever before for a veg-curious individual, democratizing the access to delicious plant-based foods. Layer on top of that a growing segment of Pinterest-worthy images of incredible meals that are surprisingly plant-based, and the word is starting to spread!
[THG] Related, we find that meal kit companies have played a significant role in empowering consumers to learn to cook and explore new diets — in fact, our conversations with consumers will typically reveal that meal kit companies play a significant role in teaching cooking. Do you find that to be true?
[Andy] Absolutely. The beauty of the meal kit concept is how it provides the guardrails that a lot of people feel they need to put dinner on the table. Meal kits have opened up a world of cooking possibilities to people who previously were quite limited in what they felt confident to cook. Take that one step further with Purple Carrot — many people might know how to roast chicken or make a pasta dish, but very few people could even imagine most of the meals that our chefs create for them. In addition, there is also a hesitation to buy esoteric ingredients or non-animal proteins, because most people just don’t know how to make plant-based food taste amazing. Fortunately, our chefs do, and as a result, our subscribers love how we’ve dramatically improved their confidence in the kitchen and empowered them to eat more plant-based foods every week.
[THG] What are your thoughts about the potential tension between consumer desires for cleaner and “all natural” diets and the types of innovative vegan and meat/cheese/egg alternative proteins hitting the market these days, many of which seem highly processed?
[Andy] The alternative protein options have proven to be helpful for the omnivore and carnivore who just can’t imagine not having that “meat-like” flavor with their meals or for those who are interested in transitioning away from a diet heavily characterized by meat and dairy consumption. And a lot of these products are incredibly flavorful and do an incredible job at mimicking the texture and taste of traditional animal proteins. However, a lot of Purple Carrot customers — 82% of whom are not vegan, by the way — much prefer when we focus our meals on whole food, unprocessed, plant-based ingredients. I don’t think that there is an absolute here; the alternative proteins help raise awareness of unique ways people can still get close to the animal protein flavors they know and crave, while others will move along a spectrum that has them focusing on ingredients that are not processed whatsoever.
[THG] Are there elements of vegan diet that seem most important to Purple Carrot customers? For example, do you find customers focusing on the convenience aspects of total meal solutions vs. food distinctions like organic, local, soil health or regenerative agriculture?
[Andy] Since the overwhelming majority of Purple Carrot subscribers are not vegan, what seems to be most important to them is how easy we make it for them to eat more plants each week. It’s the kind of thing that they can’t find elsewhere. While a couple of the other meal kit companies now have introduced vegan lines to complement their more traditional recipes, we’ve heard time and again that no service can match the flavors and innovative nature of our meals. Since we are the only 100% plant-based service on the market, our culinary team is exclusively focused on creating the best possible plant-based meals for our customers.
[THG] Meal kit companies have faced a rocky road lately in terms of food industry trade media (eater.com recently published an article asking if we are hearing the “Death Rattle of Mail-Order Meal Kits”). What do you think about that diagnosis? How is Purple Carrot different?
[Andy] The negative media coverage has been driven by the continuously poor performance of Blue Apron in the public markets. Unfortunately, their stock has been getting crushed ever since they went public in June 2017 and has arguably been one of the worst-performing IPOs in recent history.
Blue Apron did so much good for the category, but they have now cast a long shadow over the whole industry. The barriers to entry are relatively low, and over the past few years, there have been a number of me-too meal kit offerings available to consumers. To attract new customers, those meal kit companies offered deep discounts to get started — but it was easy for people to game the system and continuously reap the benefits of discounted meals. That strategy has been a race to the bottom, in my opinion, and one you don’t want to win; even worse would be coming in second place!
Purple Carrot has done well in the face of the competitive landscape because of our differentiated offering as the only 100% plant-based meal kit on the market. In addition, beyond just giving people convenient, delicious, healthy food, we are a mission-driven company, aiming to improve people’s health and the health of our environment. I think that resonates with our customers, who want to feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves and enjoy aligning their buying habits with our philosophy.
[THG] Any particular plans for the future? For example, we see significant numbers of consumers experimenting with vegetarian, flexitarian and pegan (paleo vegan) eating styles and brick-and-mortar retailers attempting meal kits themselves.
[Andy] Just a few months ago, we launched Extras, which are quick-prep, plant-based breakfast and lunch options for our customers, and that has been very well received. We are now working on another new offering that we will make available mid-year that we are very excited about — but I can’t say much more than that! But we’ll always be plant-based — that’s core to our DNA as a company!