I just saw that the meal kit delivery service called Blue Apron is going public. This is a good time to revisit this post from last November, which demonstrates how meal kit delivery services are, as Mark Bittman said, “for the upper middle class.”
The median household income in the US was $57,616 in September 2016. Half of households had income above that, half below.
That’s income for a family, not one person. It’s middle America: not poor, not rich. It varies by geographic area and by race but it’s a good workable number. Let’s work with it.
How much of that income do Americans spend on food? The USDA says about 9.8%, which includes money spent on food away from home:
The share of income spent on total food began to flatten in 2000, as inflation-adjusted incomes for many Americans have stagnated or fallen over the last decade or so. In 2014, Americans spent 5.5 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food at home and 4.3 percent on food away from home.
Americans earning a median income spend about $5,646/year, or $470/month, or $118/week on food. If there are 21 meals in a week, that’s about $5.62 per meal for the household. Of course, you can play with those meal numbers. Still, that’s the ballpark. That is middle America.
How do the new meal kit delivery services compare?
One of the services, Blue Apron, charges $69.92 for just 2 meals for a family of 4. That’s about $35/meal. Compare that to the $5.62/meal I just calculated. Another, Purple Carrot, charges $74 for 2 meals for a family of 4. (Purple Carrot was the business Mark Bittman left his job as a New York Times columnist to join. At the time he said it was “aimed for upper middle class families.” He was correct.
When you hear or read about these services, know that they are for the privileged, not for the “masses” as Civil Eats claimed.
How much do you spend on food?
Backlash against this kind of creeping elitism fueled the campaigns of Trump and Sanders.
We feed 4 people on $800/month. Some months are closer to $600, whole others top $1000+ when traveling or when visitors are in town. We don’t eat out much.
Blue Apron and some other meal kit delivery services I’ve read about have difficulty keeping customers. People try it and give up after about 6 months. Guessing here … I think it’s too expensive, although you’d have to put a price on convenience. Also, people get the hang of cooking on their own.
Let me work it backwards … $35/meal times 2 meals a week works out to $280/month for just 8 meals. There are 84 meals in a month, leaving a middle American family 470-280=$190 for 76 meals. That’s $2.50 per meal for a family of 4. I just don’t see how regular people can afford this.
Yes. Regular folks don’t afford it. I have looked at Blue Apron and other services like it and have always concluded that it didn’t add up.