I’ve been seeing more and more stories about meal kits, and specifically Hello Fresh meal kits on Instagram lately. Due in no small part to a very clever advertising campaign which uses approachable family and lifestyle influencers to communicate the message that a meal kit is the answer to planning your dinners.
Is it worth it though? Is it all hype? Will the meal kits feed my hungry family of four? Does it generate loads of non-recyclable waste? Are the ingredients decent quality? And ultimately, will I buy it again? I’m going to try to answer these questions (and more) below in my Hello Fresh review. Since I announced I was paying for the box myself in the interests of a fair review I’ve had literally hundreds of messages from curious followers. Mainly down to them not being able to trust the word of the influencers who not only endorse the brand, but also share discount links, meaning that their stories are actually a form of advertising. Influencer advertising is hugely problematic for some and not as transparent as it could be.
What did I get?
I ordered a box of 3 family meals for 4 people. That’s a total of 12 individual portions.
The box arrived on a Tuesday morning with chill packs included. I wasn’t at home so a neighbour took it in for me. The contents were still cold when I got back to the house.
Each meal was wrapped in a brown paper bag with a coloured number code and this corresponded to a matching recipe making it easy to differentiate between ingredients. The meat and dairy was packaged separately with the chill packs.
How much did it cost me?
I used an influencer code because I was darned if I was going to pay the full value of €72.99 for a box containing 3 family meals. Using this code, the first week cost €32.99, the second week cost €52.99, the third €62.99, and after that the price reverts to the full whack.
How does this compare to what I’d pay for meal ingredients in the supermarket?
If I’m honest, not great, even at the lowest price bracket. My grocery budget for a family of 4 is €140 per week and that’s for all our meals and snacks (3 meals per day for 4 people = 84 meals). That’s a cost of €1.67 per portion. Hello Fresh works out at a cost of €2.75 per portion with a discount code. Without a code you are paying €6.08 per portion. If you were to spend that on every meal portion your main meals over a week would cost over €170 for a family of four.
What about the waste/packaging?
Most of the packaging was either recyclable or compostable. Even the spice and stock packets came in paper wrappers.
Is there enough to feed hungry teens and adults?
Plenty, nobody was left hungry for two of the meals (I’ll explain the third later) and the plates were heaped high.
What is the ingredient quality?
The company says that their meat products will last 3 days in the fridge, and that other ingredients will last a week. Some of the vegetables were bashed and battered on arrival, with bruises which meant they’d barely last a day. Onions were soggy in the middle which is a clear quality issue and I got two nuggets of dried out ginger which was meant to be fresh. Some vegetables started to go mouldy in the crisper drawer in the fridge after 3 days. Not good.
The beef was marked Quality Bord Bia brand, the chicken was marked as Irish but did not have the Bord Bia mark which means it was sourced from Northern Ireland. The only clear Irish brand included in the parcel was several packs of creme fraiche from Glenilen Farm. The vegetables and ambient items could have been sourced from anywhere and supplier information is sorely lacking from their website.
I have no issue with less than stellar quality produce. I do buy it all the time for my family, but on a much lower budget.
If I am paying a premium price, I expect top notch ingredients.
Were the recipes easy to follow?
I received 3 meals; a chipotle chicken with roasted potatoes, a thai style beef noodle dish, and a chicken korma dish.
The chipotle chicken was tasty and the 11 year old managed to cook it with little supervision. However, some of the recipe instructions were overly complicated.
The second day I cooked the thai beef noodles. The instructions said they would take 20-25 minutes to cook and instead it took nearly an hour. The recipe was clearly made for two people and didn’t allow for higher volumes of food. It tasted nice but I was a frazzled mess at the end. The flavours were great and everyone cleared their plates.
The third day the teenager (who is a very competent cook and studying home economics) “cooked” the chicken korma. The recipe instructions were again overly complicated and designed for a meal for two people, not a family of four. The sauce ended up curdling and the family declared it inedible. Which is very frustrating considering the price.
Hello Fresh prides itself in easy-to-follow recipes and this was not reflected in the recipes I received.
When I mentioned on Instagram that I was undertaking an independent review of Hello Fresh I did receive several messages from previous and existing customers praising the company. Pros for them included being able to take a mental break from meal planning, inspiration for new dishes at home, and handy for those who struggle to shop and cook independently. I think this is where Hello Fresh excels.
For a family on a budget this is not a cheap meal option, especially if a meal ends up in the compost bin or ingredients go to waste.
During lockdown I occasionally ordered a Boojum meal kit and their recipes were easy to follow and the kids loved the treat. That cost about €25 per kit and it was a once in a while order. If there was an option to do similar with Hello Fresh, providing the recipes were more effectively written and tested for family meals then I’d consider buying again.
If you are a busy family that reaches for takeouts regularly but can cook once the ingredients are in the house then this might be for you. It costs roughly the same as 2 takeout meals for 4, but is far more healthy and fresh.
It’s not for me, but it might be for you.
The influencer connection
There is a significant reason why influencers are frequently sharing bespoke discount codes for these mealkits. I believe that posting a hashtag like ‘affiliate’ is not enough in this case.
According to Hello Fresh own website, influencers receive a free kit to display to their followers which is fair enough. After this, they say that influencers will “Receive €30 for every new customer who orders a HelloFresh box with your discount code and €15 for every recurring order“.
The motivation behind sharing discount codes in this case is huge.
If you would like to support a favourite influencer and order a kit this is a super way to show your appreciation. However, you can see that influencers are heavily motivated to give this service a ringing endorsement. Some of them may be laughing all the way to the bank.
As I recently pointed out in the Irish Examiner, regardless of the savings to be made with so-called loyalty schemes, what customers really want now is for grocery prices to come down.
Overall this is a very pricey way of dining with poor quality ingredients and recipe testing from a family point of view.