Ironically, as far as old-school Russians are concerned, the word “kit” combined with groceries would probably make them think of an old-man string bag containing a boring box of buckwheat, some sugar, a bottle of sunflower oil and maybe a box of chocolates – if distributed before a public holiday. The advent of foodtech companies, however, has given the word combination a fresh and relevant ring to it – meal kits are the choice of modern hipsters and millennials, as well as fans of eating vegan, of healthy eating, custom plans or gastronomic experiments.
How does it work? Simple as that – the customer is offered the choice of one or several meals (most subscription plans include ordering five different dinners for the week), and boxed ingredients are conveniently shipped to their door along with step-by-step recipes with photos and detailed instructions on how to make, say, avgolemono fish and puntaletta or squid stuffed with oyster mushrooms.
The customer no longer needs to run to the store for a missing ingredient, to choose between fish and meat, or estimate the amount of oil, cheese or lemon juice by eye – everything has been selected, measured and delivered for them. All they need to do is put on an apron, fire up their stove and feel like a chef about to amaze their guests (well, family members) in almost no time – cooking with meal kits never takes longer than 30 minutes.
Meal kit delivery services are getting more and more orders, expanding their customer bases and product ranges, and attracting investment for further development. According to CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev, “the growth potential of the Russian meal kit delivery market is estimated at $1 bln over the next 5-7 years.”
What are the best foodtech companies offering their customers kits to cook their own turkey in truffle sauce or hake with glazed vegetables and asparagus? Let’s figure this out, along with some anti-crisis life hacks from the founders of three popular meal kit delivery services.
Chefmarket is a pioneer in delivering meal kits paired with recipes. The service was launched in 2012 by Sergei Ashin, a graduate of the London Business School MBA, who replicated a business model he had seen in Europe.
He invested RUR 6 mio ($82.3K) in the project and spend the money on renting a “kitchen factory,” hiring cooks, developing recipes and delivering meal kits to first customers. Then Ashin started attracting investors to develop his foodtech startup. His first investors included Moscow Seed Fund, AddVenture and the Mitsui corporation in Japan.
Chefmarket delivers ready-made meals to Moscow, St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and several regions, including Moscow, Leningrad and Nizhny Novgorod regions. Recipes are created by several chefs who cook and taste them, and brand chefs who develop menus. Each of them is in charge of their own specialty. Sudo Teijiro introduces home cooks to nuances of Japanese cuisine. Irina Chadeyeva teaches baking and Pierre Dukan shares secrets of low-calorie meals. The team of brand chefs that includes plenty of celebrity names tries to introduce new meals every week.
A sample set from Chefmarket will cost RUR 1.9K ($26) and will include kits for three dinners for two – for example, tagliatelle with shrimp and zucchini in a creamy sauce. Customers can choose from several options: an original menu (RUR 3.4K or $47), a family menu (RUR 500 ($7) cheaper and the ingredients are slightly simpler), a 20-minute meal menu (RUR 3.23K or $44) and a balanced menu (RUR 3.8K or $52) with low-fat meals containing no fatty meats, salt or sugar.
Sergei Ashin commented:
“A good startup will grow even during a crisis. Let me tell you a secret. Our growth rate did not slow down either when sanctions were imposed or when the ruble dropped. We simply continue to grow 20% to 30% every month, no matter what. During a crisis, people change their consumer habits, which creates a breakthrough window for startups. So don’t be afraid of anything.”
This DIY meal service was launched in 2014 and is one of the leaders in the ready-made meal segment. Elementaree operates in Moscow and St Petersburg. The company managed to benefit from the lockdown as the number of orders has doubled since the beginning of the year. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Bonduelle, a vegetable processing company, announced their plan to act as joint investors and support a steady growth of this promising meal kit service.
Elementaree founder, Harvard Business School alumnus Olga Zinovyeva has big plans for her business. According to Olga, the partnership with RDIF and Bonduelle will provide the company with access to the most up-to-date production technologies. Elementaree plans to use the funds to boost production capacities and expand the menu and geography to Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk.
Elementaree offers a test meal kit for a discounted price: pre-portioned ingredients for five dinners for two will cost RUR 1.9K ($26). For instance, you can have fish with green couscous on Monday, lasagna on Tuesday and tom yum chicken noodles on Wednesday. There are options from a variety of international cuisines.
The chef’s five best dinners will cost RUR 2.5K ($36). You can order separate dishes (for instance, marbled beef kebab for RUR 369 or Moroccan vegetable soup for RUR 207), and also choose from vegetarian or fasting meals.
“Hardships are something very beneficial. The ability to cope with problems provides a large competitive advantage; only in 30% cases everything goes as normal, the other 70% are unforeseen complications. Therefore those who can manage them will win. If you can keep everything under control, it would probably mean that you are moving too slow, while new crises show that you are keeping a good pace. You should build your courage every day, for it is an opportunity to reach a new level, cope with your fears and learn something new. So the habit to overcome hardships becomes part of you, and you perceive another crisis as another day with new opportunities,” Olga said.
Vkus Na Dom
The Vkus Na Dom (Taste Delivery) was founded in 2014 by Anastasia Nechayeva and Kirill Pastushin, a couple from St Petersburg. They invested their own money, RUR 700K ($9.9K), in the project. The service began to generate profit in just a few months after the launch. Word-of-mouth marketing allowed for attracting investment of over RUR 20 mio ($283K). The service currently offers meal kits in Moscow and St Petersburg; it is developing successfully and building trust with more clients every day.
According to Anastasia and Kirill, menu meals are thoroughly selected: first, the chef cooks up food, then the focus group made up of company staff members tastes meals and gives them scores. If the average score is high the meal gets included on the menu, with the product kits and a detailed recipe sent to a tester who tries cooking meals at home and makes adjustments. Only then sales begin.
Clients can choose between special, healthy, regular or home menus. A special menu food kit for cooking five meals for two persons will cost RUR 3.8K ($54). Those include stuffed squid with mashed potatoes and peas, a turkey steak with baked vegetables, and chicken with couscous. The ‘home’ menu is a bit simpler and costs RUR 2.8K. You can additionally order kartoshka chocolate cake truffles (RUR750 for 6 pcs) or other desserts. The service offers a system of bonuses and discounts.
“Lookdown provides an excellent opportunity to cook something new that you could eat only in restaurants or cafes. Our service’s mission is to show that you can enjoy cooking delicious meals at home. Just try making your kitchen the heart of your home and revive a tradition of family dinners held in a warm atmosphere – this will help you live through a difficult period. We assembled our first delivery kit ourselves; when we finally fell asleep after two days of working nonstop we felt it was like hell. This is indeed difficult, but you have to put one foot in front of the other,” Anastasia and Kirill say.
Of course, cooking meals using products you bought at a store is a bit less expensive than purchasing kits from foodtech services. Yet, meal kit services are getting increasingly popular as they help save time and, most importantly, make our life more interesting and fun and help us get out of a rut of cooking boiled rice and cottage-cheese pancakes every evening. What about black spaghetti with garlic shrimps or roast beef with cherries? This is going to be a true culinary enjoyment instead of a boring home dinner.
By Natalia Sysoyeva