Are delivery meal kits in Denver dead? Or more relevant than ever?

Like dread, uncertainty and sourdough starters, delivery meal kits peaked in 2020. That’s when we threw our money at companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh in a desperate attempt to relieve us of yet another night of summoning the energy to answer the question of what’s for dinner.

Delivery meal kit companies were at the right place at the right time and, similar to Zoom and apps like DoorDash and Postmates, they cashed in on our homeboundness. But after skyrocketing in 2020, the delivery meal kit giants have been struggling. Blue Apron lost $26.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2021 and 2022 will likely be even worse; HelloFresh’s stock price dipped 55 percent. It makes sense. We can go back to restaurants; maybe we can chop those carrots ourselves after all.

Some recipe cards from Hello Fresh. (Barbara Ellis, The Denver Post)

I spent 2020 stuck at home alone with two elementary school-age kids and somehow never ordered a meal kit. (Fine; it’s because I’m cheap.) Many of them hit $14 a serving, comparable to a restaurant, and if I’m spending that much for dinner, I prefer to not have to cook and clean up after. But I see the appeal: Many meal kits are healthier than eating out; you can skip a trip to the grocery store; they can help you learn to cook; and it’s one less thing to have to decide upon or worry about.

Something has changed in 2022, though. My reliably $100-a-week grocery bill is now at least $120. Add to that the twice a week when nothing in my fridge and pantry sounds good and I end up ordering out, costing us, at best, $35 (and really more like $70). Maybe the meal kits have better combatted inflation? It was worth exploring.

Several of my friends had been a part of that meal kit 2020 spike. They all eventually abandoned them, though, citing the high cost, guilt over excess packaging and that some took almost the same amount of time and effort as cooking from scratch. One family had a bad experience with the delivery and receiving damaged food.

Still, there’s an audience, and at a time when so many of us are experiencing burnout, maybe meal kits will once again have a moment.

“There are days I get home from work, and I don’t want to cook,” said HelloFresh devotee Dave Pallozzi of Lakewood. “I don’t want to figure out what’s for dinner. But now I’ve got three meals in my fridge, so it reduces my decisions.”

Pallozzi orders three, two-serving meals each week, which costs him $71. He originally bought the HelloFresh subscription as a Christmas gift for his mother and brother in New York. After they reported enjoying it — and lost weight with the meals because of the appropriate portion sizes — he decided to try it himself.

“I became single recently so needed to get back into being 100 percent responsible for all my meals,” he said. “The box shows up on my door on Saturday– I didn’t have to go to the grocery store, I didn’t have to buy something that comes in a one-pound size and I only need three ounces. It’s the ease and the simplicity. As grocery prices have gone up, if you factor time spent at the grocery store, you’re almost break-even.”

Local companies have gotten in on the delivery meal kit game, too, like Denver-based Prefare and The Spicy Radish. “Elements of national meal kits are dead, but I think there’s a local food movement, which meal kits are part of,” Prefare founder Doug Humble said. “People, when they think fresh, they don’t think national companies shipped via FedEx. I think that connotation of national shipping for fresh produce just doesn’t sit well with people for the long-term. If customers don’t attach freshness to food, they [national delivery companies] won’t survive.”

Humble started Prefare back in 2013, and the company makes most everything from scratch in Denver, from butchering its own meats to mixing all the dressings. Staffers also use a milkman delivery model to minimize packaging waste, where the customer sets out a cooler for the food. He said that Prefare’s audience tends to be families in their 30s into their 50s, living in neighborhoods like City Park, Highland, Greenwood Village and Golden.

I decided to finally jump on the meal kit bandwagon (or at least their delivery schedule), and ordered from three companies: the mega Blue Apron; Boulder-based (but now HelloFresh-owned) Green Chef; and the locally owned and made Prefare. Here’s how it went.

Blue Apron

Blue Apron's Romesco Beef Ditali. (Provided by Blue Apron)
Blue Apron’s Romesco Beef Ditali. (Provided by Blue Apron)

I was giddy when my first delivery arrived: two dinners for two from Blue Apron. I unpacked my giant box and was surprised to find a not-so-giant amount of food. I was missing a bag of spinach and a second tray, but I did get a rogue bell pepper that I couldn’t find in any of the ingredient lists, so I guess we’ll call it even.

It took less than 15 minutes to assemble everything, but then about 50 minutes in the oven to cook. It wasn’t exactly fast, but the active part was a breeze and the clean-up was minimal. The kids loved the tomatillo rice and beans and I loved the romesco beef and ditali pasta. Honestly, I was shocked by how good it all tasted. Little details like almond slivers, capers and currants made it feel restaurant-special.

Time to make: 50 minutes total, but less than 15 minutes of actual work.

Nutrition info: Available online.

Packaging waste: Large cardboard box, plus several individual plastic wrappings.

Was it good? Very! Plus, both meals were things I wouldn’t normally make.

Cost: $57.27 for a total of four meals bought via the a la carte Blue Apron market. (Prices are slightly lower if you sign up for a subscription.)

Verdict: The food was great, but at more than $14 a serving, I could order out instead.

Green Chef

The Greek Beef Feta Patties from Green Chef. (Provided by Green Chef)
The Greek Beef Feta Patties from Green Chef. (Provided by Green Chef)

Ordering from Green Chef is like ordering at a restaurant: There are so many choices! Its communication about when everything would arrive was great, too, so I knew exactly when to expect my delivery. My meals — pesto shrimp and couscous, sesame ginger pork bowls and Greek beef and feta patties — took more work to make, though. Each clocked in at about 30 minutes of active time, including chopping vegetables, making rice and cooking proteins. One recipe required three different pots and pans alone. On the plus side, everything tasted great, and with my introductory offer discount, it was more affordable than the others.

Time to make: At least 30 minutes, all active.

Nutrition info: Available online.

Packaging waste: Large cardboard box, plus several individual plastic wrappings.

Was it good? Yep! I especially loved the lemon-basil caper sauce in the Greek dish, which came pre-made. (Smart, because I can’t re-create it!)

Cost: $40.14 for three meals that each served two, thanks to my introductory discount.

Verdict: On the fence. It usually takes me about 30 minutes to make dinner, so this didn’t really save much time or energy. Plus, the actual pricing is higher post-discount, so I don’t think it would be worth it.


Steak and quinoa from Prefare. (Allyson Reedy, Special to The Denver Post)
Steak and quinoa from Prefare. (Allyson Reedy, Special to The Denver Post)

To reduce packaging, Prefare asks that you set out a cooler for a delivery person to put the food, along with a couple of ice packs, inside. On the day of my scheduled delivery, I had left myself a reminder to set out the cooler in the morning. But they beat me to it; I woke up Monday morning to a text saying that my food had been delivered — at 12:27 a.m. I did not expect my Monday delivery to come so quickly into Monday. I jumped out of bed and tried to save the food, but it had been out there for seven hours. We cooked the Greek steak and veggies with quinoa salad anyway, because it had cost $30.90 for that meal for two and, like I said, I’m cheap. But the cooler snafu was a rookie mistake, and those reading the fine print more closely than I did could easily avoid it.

Time to make: 25 minutes, not all active.

Nutrition info: Unavailable.

Packaging waste: Less than the bigger brands. Prefare encourages users to leave out a cooler, and the food comes in refrigerated, reusable bags. (That you then set out the next week, along with the reusable ice packs.) Just be sure to get that cooler out there the night before!

Was it good? Yes. But while the steak was impressively good and tender, we didn’t enjoy the flavors as much as the others.

Cost: $30.90 for two servings. (Prefare offered this code for four free meals if you want to use it: Denver121)

Verdict: $15 a person is a little steep for my budget, but families looking for a local option might enjoy it.

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