Do you find planning your meals a real chore? Do you struggle to find time to go to the shop to buy your groceries? Do you just hate reading long confusing recipes and weighing out ingredients? I don’t find any of those things particularly difficult but these are the value propositions of the numerous “ingredients in a box” services that are popping up in major cities across the world. So what’s all the fuss about? Well in the name of experimentation, we decided to find out.
I’ve heard ads for Blue Apron on umpteen podcasts and I’ve seen hundreds of Hello Fresh apron-wearing marketing folk flyering on the streets of London. But these have never caught me at a time when I’ve been thinking about buying groceries or deciding what to cook based on the ingredients in my fridge. I’ve never sampled any of their food so have no idea what it tastes like and I cook very well so have never felt the need to bring in the pros to save my tastebuds from another bland casserole or overcooked meat.
When I heard of these services I dismissed them immediately. I can buy my own groceries! I don’t need a recipe to follow! I don’t need to pay a premium for someone else to portion out my ingredients and deliver them to me all ready to go. I’m smart, I can do this myself!
At a recent visit to the Taste of Winter event at London’s Tobacco Dock we came across a stall for Gousto – another one of these meal in a box services. To be fair, it would have been hard to miss them as they had a massive installation which took over an entire room. There was a Christmas tree, a fireplace, a kitchen area, a huge display of fresh produce and a number of tables with iPads mounted on them where prospective customers could check out the Gousto website and be tempted to start a trial by one of the numerous sales assistants. We browsed around and got chatting to one of the staff and started flicking through the list of recipes on offer for the following week’s delivery. Thai beef noodle salad, Yasai curry, Lamb biryani and Ras el Hanout Chicken; my mouth started to water at the prospect and, having already sampled a few warming winter cocktails and a glass of champagne, on a whim we decided to trial a box.
We selected 3 meals, picked a delivery slot and tapped in our details on the Gousto website (on one of their conveniently positioned iPads). The whole experience was very simple and user friendly.
Dinner in a box, delivered to you
Just like the online ordering experience, the ingredients in a box concept is simple: the right amount of fresh produce for a set menu of recipes, delivered weekly, on a pay as you go or subscription model; quality produce and easy to follow but tasty recipes. Many of the other services available like Blue Apron available in the states, Hello Fresh and other ingredients services in the UK operate in a similar way but at various price points. One aspect that I particularly like about Gousto is the ability to choose the meals rather than just putting up with whatever you’re sent by many of the other providers.
I really enjoy cooking and am often quite creative in the kitchen. I like experimenting with flavours and textures but do have a few old favourites that I cook on a regular basis. I initially thought these meal in a box services were for lazy people who didn’t know how to cook. I do know how to cook but sometimes, occasionally, perhaps, maybe, if I’m being honest, do fall into the lazy category. I can remember at least one or two occasions when I’ve opened the fridge to find nothing but a jar of jalepenos, a tub of hummus two weeks past its best, a pint of milk and a single egg.
Modern life is busy. Time is precious. We work too much. We don’t sleep enough. We don’t eat healthy enough and sometimes, I make a conscious choice to sit and relax on the sofa instead of heading down to the shops to stock up on food. Sue me.
Fortunately, my Gousto box arrived to fill the fridge. Let’s look at what it contained, how everything was prepped and answer the million dollar foodie question: did it actually taste any good?
Our box contained three recipes: Thai beef noodle salad, Yasai curry and Teriyaki chicken. The meat was wrapped in an insulated wool package with ice blocks to keep everything cool and everything else was neatly packaged up in plastic bags, clearly marked with the ingredient name and the weight. My first thought was that this is a lot of packaging and it seemed like a waste to have one carrot in a plastic bag and 4 sachets of soy sauce instead of suggesting that customers keep that as a store-cupboard ingredient. This concern about food waste isn’t unique to Gousto. An article on BuzzFeed outlines the trashy consequences of Blue Apron.
The majority of the Gousto packaging is recyclable (as is Blue Apron’s) and the reduced food waste by sending only the ingredients necessary for each recipes goes a long way to offsetting the increased packaging waste. Gousto even have a whole page on their website that talks about their commitment to reducing food waste. It’s good to see companies taking this seriously and openly providing information about where the food comes from, its nutritional value and calorific content – not just on a per ingredient basis but for each recipe serving.
Just follow the recipe
So we’ve got the ingredients, now we just need to choose a recipe to follow.
And this is where I came unstuck as a home cook who doesn’t normally follow recipes. Initially I tried to follow each step in turn and I found I had to keep interrupting my flow to go back and chop something or boil a kettle. The instructions were very clear and the timings were fairly accurate but the concept of following a recipe was so foreign to me that it took much longer than the estimated 30mins. Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought…
But since this initial stumble, I’ve got my process down-pat and have successfully turned out a further five dishes. Now I chop, dice, slice, grate and prepare all the component parts ahead of time. I then read through the series of instructions to get a sense of what’s going on and then just get stuck in, only occasionally referring back to the recipe card for clarifying minor details.
What’s the verdict?
A box of ingredients from Gousto for 3 meals for 2 costs £34. This is more expensive than going direct to the supermarket but it’s much cheaper than a takeaway or a restaurant meal. The box price works out to just over £5.60 per head per meal. The only thing you need to supplement this with is a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Not bad. At this price point, it’s more expensive than the weekly shop and does only cover 3 meals (plus a couple of leftover lunches). However, I’m rarely in more than 3 night a week and am often faced with an empty fridge.
We got a discount by signing up at the Taste event (to be clear, we have not received any discounts or favours from Gousto for writing this article – they have no idea we’re even writing it). The discount sweetened the deal a bit in terms of the price but I would still call it good value. The produce is fresh (organic in many cases) and the recipes have all been delicious – I’m not a snob (ok, maybe a little) but the food is genuinely very high quality. I was impressed. Both with the food and the fact that mine almost turned out like the photo on the recipe card!
So would I sign up for Gousto full time? I’m leaning towards yes at the moment. I don’t like how much packaging waste there is (although there’s almost zero food wasted). I’d rather it was cheaper, but I’m always willing to pay for convenience.
The main reason I’m going to give this a go longer term is for the health benefits. With a fridge stocked with just the right amount of healthy, fresh ingredients, I can be fairly confident I’ll be consuming more fruit and veg and eating more sensible sized portions. I really do need to watch what I eat and lose some weight; with the festive season upon us, that’s even more true than ever.
I’ll be following up on this experience in a blog post later next year and will report back on whether we kept up the experience and whether or not I lost any weight or saw any health benefits. Sign up for our newsletter and you’ll be the first to know how it goes.
If you’d like to try out Gousto for yourself, we have an invite code for you. If you sign up with the code THEFOODRUSH you’ll get 50% off your first two boxes and we’ll receive £15 off our next box.