One of the most talked about trends in the food world for the past few years has been meal kits. We’ve seen them come and go. We’ve been emailed offers to get 10 free meals. We’ve opened up the box and shook our heads in dismay at all the wasted packaging that it took to get these meals to us. Today we get to the truth about meal kits.
Jackie Keller is one of the visionaries who imagined meal kits as a solution back in 1987 – decades before meal kits were a ‘thing’. She’s going to tell us the truth and help us peer into the future. Jackie Keller is the Founding Director of NutriFit, LLC, and TxokoUSA, a dining experiences company. She is also a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach with a specialty designation in Health and Wellness and is the author of Body After Baby: The Simple 30-Day Plan to Lose Your Baby Weight Fast, and is a nationally recognized health and nutrition educator, and Le Cordon Bleu-trained culinary expert.
One of the most talked about trends in the food world for the past few years has been meal kits. We’ve seen them come and go. We’ve been emailed offers to get 10 free meals. We’ve opened up the box and shook our heads in dismay at all the wasted packaging that it took to get these meals to us. Today we get to the truth about meal kits. Jackie Keller is one of the visionaries who imagined meal kits as a solution back in 1987– decades before meal kits were a‘thing’. She’s going to tell us the truth and help us peer into the future. Jackie Keller is the Founding Director of NutriFit, LLC, and TxokoUSA, a dining experiences company. She is also a National Board Certified Health& Wellness Coach with a specialty designation in Health and Wellness and is the author of Body After Baby: The Simple 30-Day Plan to Lose Your Baby Weight Fast, and is a nationally recognized health and nutrition educator, and Le Cordon Bleu-trained culinary expert. Let's get started. Jackie, welcome to Lost in the Supermarket.Jackie:
Thanks, Phil. It's great to be here. And what a topic you've selected. It is confusing out there, I must admit.Phil:
It is. So let's start, you know, what are the benefits that a consumer has to having a meal subscription?Jackie:
Well, some of the, I think drivers that kind of compel people to choose a meal kit option are convenience. That's a big factor. While people enjoy cooking still it's, it's a little out of vogue. You know, the pandemic kind of changed the dynamic of the, the cooking scene and the dining scene, but the trend has been for many years towards convenience, and I think that's still the primary driving factor for meal kits. Just simply avoiding having to shop and chop yourself.Phil:
One of the confusing things that I hear all the time is, what's the difference between a meal kit and a meal service? Can you tell us that?Jackie:
Yes. In very simple terms, a meal service generally delivers fully prepared meals. A meal kit usually delivers the elements that are required to make up a meal, and you do the cooking yourself. So for the ultimate convenience, obviously having the food brought to you or sent to you that's fully prepared and ready to eat, has some distinct advantages over having to, you know, cook it yourself. Because cooking means cleaning and cleaning means, you know, another layer of work.Phil:
<laugh> exactly where I was going. You know, it's about the cleanup. Having tried a lot of the meal kits, you get everything. You look at all the wasted in the little plastic bags of salt and pepper, right? And then at the end of it, you look and say, wow, what a mess I made. So certainly having, you know, the meal where you can just heat it up is a major convenience. But if I look at the prices, whether it be a meal kit or meal service they vary so much. How can you really tell what's a better quality? Is it about price?Jackie:
It isn't necessarily Phil, and you know this better than anyone else. Being an expert in supermarket pricing and understanding how pricing works in restaurants you don't always get what you pay for and you don't always have the ability to see on the surface because of the, the liberal terminology that can be used on packaging terms like natural, which are not regulated terms like farm to table, which is not regulated. You know, these terms are used very liberally by not only meal kit companies, but meal service companies. So it's really a, let the buyer beware it's a consumer. It has to do due diligence to understand if you're getting the quality that you think you are based on the price that you're paying. One thing I do know for certain though is that if it's too cheap, there's something missing because no company can survive financially providing premium quality food that is way under the market value of that food. So a little common sense, it has to come into play a lot of due diligence on the part of the consumer and then understanding what's real and what's not, which takes a little bit of digging into the company that you're buying from and maybe a little bit of digging into the sources for their products.Phil:
And I think to your point, you know, when, when we look at, you know, getting these special offers where it was 10 meals free, and at the time when all this was happening, you know, we had reported that this is not sustainable. You know, these companies are gonna go out of business and lo and behold, they've either gone outta business, been sold or a mere sliver of themselves. So you're right. And, and I think that what we forget is we focus on convenience versus what we're putting in our bodies. And to spend a little bit of time, you know, due diligence is a, is a tough word for a consumer to, to swallow if you would. But we should really think about what we're putting in our bodies versus just the convenience and, and getting, you know, it delivered at the time that we want. You know, I mentioned waste when I taste tested and tasted all these products, you know, the waste factor was huge. Is there any kind of green practices that are in place for this to eliminate the plastic single use containers? Is there any recycling that's taking place?Jackie:
Good question, Phil, and I think you hit on two important topics. One is the health consideration, and I would venture to say that that's something, and perhaps we can get to it a little later in the discussion because it's certainly a critical factor when you're looking at these options. But with respect to the green nature and the disposable nature of the products that you're sent, again, meal kits are wasteful. I mean, the, the packaging can never go back. It's not designed to be returned. It's not designed to be reused. And the company really relies on you to dispose of it, which is problematic in some cases. And knowing in almost all cases for example, my company Neutrophil, we use recycled recycled materials and we also have a recycling program for our containers. So if our single use, supposedly containers are returned to us, they are in turn washed out and donated to a local charity and they're used for homeless people. So we have been advocates in that area for many years. All of our delivery bags and everything go into charitable use if they're no longer nice enough to be used for our client base. But in a meal kit situation, you don't have that option, and I haven't found a meal kit service yet that wants their products back in any shape or form. So it's, it's a problem. And the manufacturers of the containers need to get on board and find ways to recycle some of these products. Or better yet, more companies need to do what Neutrophil is doing, and that's convert to paper products and, and using things that are sent in recycled bottle boxes or green paper cups or things like that rather than the plastic.Phil:
Let's build on what you were talking about a moment ago about the health value of these meals, of the recipes, of the ingredients. How can a consumer tell what's really good for them versus something that's, you know, just tastes good?Jackie:
Well, again, without encumbering the consumer with having to be a nutritionist or a dietitian there's some basic parameters for healthy meals that I think we're all kind of generally aware of. As consumers, we know that meals that are very high in fat, for example, are not particularly good for us, especially if they're high in saturated fats which contribute to cancer and heart disease. We know that too much sodium in any meal for anybody is not good. Regardless of your health status, as Americans, we have way too much sodium in our diet to begin with. So there's certain numbers that we need to be aware of o r percentages fat as a percentage of the total calories of the meal. You know, keeping a meal to less than 30 or 35% of the calories from, from fat even. Less from saturated fat sodium under 2200 calories is the daily allowance. 2100 calories is the recommended daily intake for sodium. So if you're having a single meal and that single meal is 800, 900, a thousand, 1200 milligrams of sodium, you know that that meal is too high for you. I do not know that the recipes that are coming with these meal tickets have a nutritional analysis assigned to them or have a substitution, for example. So if you are interested in minimizing your salt, here's something you can use instead. Or we would suggest you eliminate the salt and use X, Y, or Z instead. I don't believe that they're doing that, and I don't believe that they're promoting the health value of their meals. I had a client say to me recently that she used a meal kit service to take a break from, from our service from Neutro Pitt, and she came right back two weeks later because she said the meals were good, but just too high in salt. And I spoke to them and they said there was nothing they could do about it. So, you know, I'm back. But I think that that's a bit of a problem generally with these meal kits is they're not really oriented towards your health. They're oriented towards convenience and they're gearing it to the overall palate of the American public, which is a little saltier and fattier than is good for us. And that's why we have the obesity crisis that we do.Phil:
I want to go back to your story about your client who left and then came back. Which leads me to the question of, and, and I hear this all the time, whether it's about streaming services, whether it's about food, whether it's about meal kits, how do you stop a subscription? How do you get your money back if you're not satisfied and you just want to cancel? What did your client do?Jackie:
Well, I believe she put herself on a trial with the other companies. So it wasn't a question of having to cancel, it was a question of not continuing. And in the state of California now, if you, and I don't know if this is a national requirement or just a California state requirement for California companies, but we are required as are all companies that have subscription services online to offer an online, how do I cancel my service? So, that new law went into effect in January I believe, or it might have been mid last year, where your website is required to give a cancel button so that if your subscriber wants to stop service, they can do so online without having any trouble at all. So that's a consumer should every consumer that shops online should, especially for a meal service, should know that if it's a subscription based model, they should have the ability to cancel quickly and conveniently and not even have to have a conversation if they don't want to. So I know that we have that installed on our site and a couple of people have used it to suspend service for whatever reason is necessary. So I know it's working. Consumers should look for that. If the site doesn't have it, it's, you have to call customer service. And some of them do not have refund policies. We never hold a client's money. We'd rather not. We don't want somebody to be unhappy with our, our food. So if somebody has to stop, we'd rather be gracious about it. Chances are they'll come back. We've been in business 35 years, but it's not a question of trying to hold people's money. And I think any reputable company should be willing to give you your money back if the service isn't what you expect it to be, but not all do, that's for sure.Phil:
So, Jackie, if people want to know more information and see the products and order the products, where should they go?Jackie:
Oh, well our website is Nutrifitonline.com. That's the website for our meal service. And then, as you mentioned in your kind words about my introduction, I have a subsidiary company. It's a little brand that we started at the beginning of the pandemic, my passion project, if you will a dining events company. And that's TxokoUSA.com. Shoko is the way it's pronounced. It's a sort of anomic group that we meet and host dining events here in our private dining room, chef's table events. So that's, TxokoUSA.com T X O K O, but the Nutrifit online site is more information about our meal service in general.Phil:
So Jackie, thank you for being a trail blazer. Thank you for your insights and joining us today on Lost in the Supermarket.Jackie:
It's been a pleasure, Phil. Let's do it again.