Emily Griffin likes to cook, but the working wife and mother of a 2-year-old found planning meals on Sunday for the coming week and then shopping for the ingredients onerous.

So when a family member gave her a free trial to Blue Apron, one of the many meal kit companies that have come on the scene since 2012, she jumped on it.

“It’s the convenience factor,” she said. “I don’t have to create a whole meal plan and there’s little food waste. And it’s good if you like to cook because you can explore different things.”

The food kits, which include everything needed to make a meal in about 45 minutes, seem to run counter to the farm-to-fork foodie movement for which Maine is known. But Griffin says Blue Apron supports local agriculture in the areas where it packages. It also will take back, with a prepaid label, any packaging, although she says it tries to package using recyclable items.

“The food may not be local to here, but a lot of it is local,” said Griffin, 34, of Lisbon Falls. “I’m a huge fan of it. And we did a (farm product share program) out of Freeport this summer with salad to supplement Blue Apron.”

Meal kit makers emerged in 2012 and quickly grew into what is expected to be a $1.5 billion market this year, with more than 150 companies competing nationally, regionally and locally, including Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated, according to market research firm Packaged Facts of Rockville, Maryland. A Brunswick company, Local Market, had so much success this summer with meal kits made from local farm fare that it plans to resume the service in the spring.

Griffin has used the service weekly, getting three, two-person meals every Saturday. She’s been so satisfied that others in her family have joined in. Her mother, 62, lives alone in Brunswick and uses Blue Apron, as does her uncle, 52, a priest in Bath who has odd hours and likes the convenience, she says.

Griffin works full time at a software company and runs a second business on the side selling LuLaRoe clothing for about 25 hours a week on nights and weekends. Her husband drives more than 700 miles a week as a sales representative for Federal Distributors Inc., a beer distributor in Lewiston. So the time saved on planning and running to the stores, let alone buying ingredients like spices that she’ll only use a few times, has made the $10 meals worth the cost.

“You can’t even get takeout for under $35,” she said. “I think the kits will grow. People can’t afford to go to (restaurants like TIQA in Portland) once a month for farm-to-table. They’re awesome, but they’re expensive.

“This is super-attractive for people who aren’t in Portland proper,” she said. “You have a well-rounded palate without breaking the bank.”

Griffin said some meal kits mix ingredients in ways that never would have occurred to her, such as kale with couscous and vinegar dressing.

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Blue Apron has been providing meal kits since 2012.


Meal kits still are in their infancy, and cost is one of the main drawbacks, according to the Chicago market research firm NPD Group. The average cost of a standard in-home dinner is $4 per person, but it’s $10 for a single meal using a kit, closer in price to a take-out meal. Although $10 might be a bargain for residents of large cities, those in rural areas might find it steep. Still, NPD Group says about 3 percent of U.S. adults, about 8 million people, have tried a meal kit over the past year, and two-thirds were satisfied with the service.

The kits typically are sold by monthly subscription and come in boxes complete with all ingredients and recipe cards for making the meals. In July, The New York Times started selling boxed versions of its printed recipes to be delivered by Chef’d, including with meal ingredients for making braised halibut with asparagus, baby potatoes and saffron.

Even the big food companies are jumping in. Tyson Foods said earlier this year that it will launch a curated line of dinners called Tyson Tastemakers. And Martha Stewart has started Martha & Marley Spoon.

A Packaged Facts study estimated that meal kit delivery startups have raised more than $650 million in venture capital, but still haven’t turned a profit because they are in growth mode, setting up new facilities, hiring workers and bringing in new customers with deep discounts.


So, do meal kit companies represent a major shift in the way we eat, like TV dinners did 50 or 60 years ago, or are they just a fad?

It’s probably too early to say for sure, but Sharon Smiley, co-owner of Local Market in Brunswick, thinks meal kits are here to stay. “Once (customers) buy one, a lot of them reorder,” she said. “People like quick and healthy meals.”

The market first tried offering meal boxes with food sourced from local Maine farms last May to October, during the height of the growing season. Boxes ranged from $30 to $38 and fed two people.

She stocked the boxes, based on recipes from the store’s chef, with vegetables from Left Field Farm in Bowdoinham, White Oak Farm in Warren and Farm Fresh Connection, a Freeport-based collaborative of some 20 farms. She also used pasta from Blue Ribbon Farm in Mercer and bread from Standard Baking Co. in Portland. Each boxed meal came with a recipe card and photo of how to plate it. Added to that were spice rubs and other items needed for flavor.

Recipes were based on prepared food already sold in the store, then advertised on social media. “Instead of shopping at two or three different places, customers could pick up everything here,” Smiley said. She plans to sell the boxes again starting in the spring.

Boxes were made-to-order and sold only on Thursdays, primarily to young professionals and older couples, Smiley says.


Jessica Simpson, 36, a single working mom from Cape Elizabeth, has tried several of the boxed meals. A manager at her family’s Shoppers True Value Hardware store in South Portland, she has ordered the meals once or twice a month for six months at a time over the past five years. The ordering is flexible, and she can choose from different meal options each week, including vegetarian meals.

Simpson says she started ordering the meal kits when free offers appeared on her Facebook account. So far she’s tried Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and most recently, Sun Basket out of San Francisco.

“It’s a way to get different foods that you wouldn’t necessarily get at the restaurant,” she said, adding that sometimes she gets more out of two meals because her 6-year-old son only eats part of his meal. She thinks there’s less food waste overall.

“The food quality is really good. The portions are good,” she said.

Simpson especially likes the quinoa black bean chili, which she says she’d never made before, but her son picked out the “round things,” meaning the quinoa.

Seafood and meat come in frozen packs, and the meal packs are shipped mainly through overnight services.

Simpson says she likes Sun Basket because it has a lot of meals from different parts of the world, and cards that come in the box tell about the food.

“The cards also tell you the amount of calories, protein, fiber and other information,” she said. “The concept is really good for people who like to try different things.”