October 30, 2015 9:00 pm
Updated: October 30, 2015 10:56 pm

Health-conscious meal delivery services take convenience to a new level

WATCH: It's not often takeout food means healthy food, but some local companies are trying to change that. Is it worth it, though? Anne Drewa investigates.

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Eating healthy while on the go can be a challenge for today’s health-conscious consumers, and it’s one reason a number of companies are capitalizing on the growing desire for nutritious food without the effort. Experts say meal delivery services with a focus on nutrition are the next big thing in the convenience food industry.

But is the convenience worth the cost?

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The multi-billion dollar convenience food market had a humble, yet bland start with sliced bread. Then came along TV dinners, ready-washed salads – all designed to take away time spent in the kitchen. Now, small startup companies are bringing healthy, gluten-free, locally sourced meals to consumers’ doors and experts are saying it’s all part of the next evolution in the meal delivery movement.

Along with making a healthy choice for food, it’s also advertised as a way to cut down on food waste. The average prices range from $9 to $15 for a single-portion meal.

Ingredients delivered to your doorstep

For retired Vancouver resident Francis Fournier, the price is worth it. She’s a weekly subscriber of meals from a Vancouver company called Fresh Prep. The company delivers fresh and local ingredients for gourmet recipes delivered straight to your doorstep. There are instructions provided on how to cook the meal in less than 30 minutes. All the ingredients needed to make the dish, including spices, are portioned out and chopped. The meals themselves are prepared by local chefs and approved by nutritionists. It’s a move that Fournier says helps her cut back on throwing out food and cash.

“They give you just the right amount of ingredients. You get to use a lot of things that you wouldn’t use ordinarily, like in this recipe, there was some curry paste. If you go to the supermarket and get this little jar of this and that, you’ve got all these jars that you haven’t used and you pay just as much. I paid a heck of a lot more than having it all laid out.”

Two former University of British Columbia (UBC) students Husein Rahemtulla and Dhruv Sood first came up with the idea while they were in school. The pair wanted to cook healthy meals at home, but were either lacking time to cook or go grocery shopping. Rahemtulla says a huge element to starting this company was to cut food waste and help people focus on eating healthily.

“It’s almost like a food-sharing program where we buy it in bulk and we send out exactly what you need in the portion that you need it. We are very proud of the little waste that we have here,” says Rahemtulla. “You are saving money on those ingredients, you are saving a lot of time, so I think it’s a very valuable thing for the customer to have.”

The company, which launched in Vancouver on Feb. 1, has since grown. It has had “over a thousand unique customers” and in terms of subscription customers, “50 who get it every week.”

Workers start early in the day picking up farm fresh produce, and then chop and pack ingredients for their daily orders. The company is partnered with a number of farms and distributors throughout Metro Vancouver.

Prepared meals delivered

If cooking is not for you, there are other options where companies, such as Vital Supply, partner up with your office and local gym to provide you with chef-prepared meals. Those meals are also locally sourced and approved by a dietitian.

“It’s definitely a growing industry,” says Mack Davis, co-founder for Vital Supply.

“It started out in the fitness world with people pre-making their meals of the week so they can meet their fitness goals. Where we see the gap in the industry and where we see this going is more gourmet and great-tasting food that’s healthy as well.”

Meals typically run for around $13 for a single portion.

Yoga instructor Kate Marshall’s business is partnered with Vital Supply. Many of her students say they enjoy the convenience of having a healthy meal right after a workout.

“For me, it’s all about nutrition; as a business owner as well, taking that time I would usually dedicate towards cooking, grocery shopping, thinking about what am I going to have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Now, I can eliminate all that thought out of my day-to-day and focus on my business,” adds Marshall.

The future of meal delivery

UBC Sauder School marketing professor Dr. Yann Cornil says there is a “huge market opportunity in Vancouver and any large city.”

“When it comes to food choices, convenience is an increasingly important factor of choice. People are busier than ever…they work, have less time to cook or go to the supermarket. Convenience was traditionally associated with unhealthy foods.”

He adds it’s hard to estimate the market size, but believes it’s reasonably big. One problem he foresees for the industry is the capacity of startup companies to be competitive in the food industry.

“If you want to be profitable, you need to be big. It’s especially the case in the competitive food industry. Most of the companies that are delivering healthy foods are quite small.”

According to a 2010 Consumer Trend Report conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “fully-prepared and partially prepared meal solutions that address decision-making, time, energy and skill shortages of today’s consumers will find a home in the marketplace.”

 

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