Saturday, July 1, 2017

Meal Kits? You're Kidding Me!

Meal Kits are a sign of the times - and not a good sign.

Home Economics used to be taught in school, and in some schools, still is.   However, I suspect a new generation of young people are not taking these courses, as they are deemed beneath them.   I recall how I suggested to a friend of mine's daughter that she take typing class in school, as it was one of the best things I got out of High School.   Her reply was, "I don't wanna be no stinkin' secretary!" as if using a keyboard was limited today to only secretarial staff (a job that is rapidly disappearing, anyway).  We all have to keyboard these days, like it or not.

It struck me as odd for her to say that.  When asked what she wanted to do with her life, she said, "I dunno."    But at the same time, she had definite ideas of what she didn't want to do, and very elitist ideas about work - for a 14-year-old.   There were certain jobs that were beneath her and that was basically most jobs.   Sadly a lot of kids think this way (including those well into their 20's) that somehow you graduate from college and immediately move to the Board Room or Executive Suite, bypassing all those shitty low-wage jobs the rest of had to go through on the way up.

Not surprisingly, she fell into drug use and petty crime and it took a decade or two for her to turn her life around, being forced to work all those shitty jobs she turned her nose up at, many years prior.   But I suspect her attitude about typing class might have been a result of parental attitudes.  I know a lot of parents who cripple their children by saying things like, "I don't want you to have to suffer like I did!  I want better for my children!" - perhaps believing themselves that kids can go from college-to-boardroom in one jump.

When Mark tried to get an after-school job at the local ice cream stand, his parents shot it down.  "You'll have the rest of your life to work!" his Dad said, "Enjoy being young!"   But what his Dad didn't realize was that work could be fun, it was a good experience, good training, a good way to make money, and good for your resume.  My parents felt the same way about me working as a kid.  "My kids won't have to work!" parents say, destroying their children's chances for success and independence.   Hmmmm.... maybe this is intentional?   Like I said, a lot of parents love to lord over he ruined lives of their children.

I suspect Home Economics probably would have been turned down by my friend's daughter as well.  "I don't want to be no stinkin' housewife!" she would have said, preferring to be a half-witted drug-addled shoplifter instead.  But learning how to cook a meal, take care of a house, and other domestic chores which we all have to do these days, whether we like it or not is important to living a successful and happy life.

Mark took home economics in his Senior year in high school, which resulted in a trip to the Principal's office.  They were skeptical of his reasons for going (he had already been accepted at hotel-restaurant management school) but reluctantly allowed him to attend classes.   Today, if the school even still has home economics (or whatever trendy politically-correct name they have given it) both boys and girls are allowed to attend.  And I only wish I had at least one semester of such a class, as it would have served me well once I went off to college.

We are graduating children from High School who can't balance their checkbook, can barely use a keyboard, and can't even prepare a meal for themselves unless it comes out of a can or a frozen box. 

Enter Meal Kits.  Much ballyhoo has been made about Blue Apron and other "meal kit" companies, which for a price, offer to send you a kit of food items to make a meal at home.  Why are these popular?   Well, they are and they aren't for starters.   A small minority of "busy" people with more money than common sense are buying these kits, convinced they have no time to shop, and little time to cook.   But the reason behind them is simple:  People just don't know how to cook anymore.

For example, Mark was making a spinach and cheese soufflĂ© when company came over, and our friend visiting from out of town was shocked that Mark had all the ingredients on hand (frozen spinach is a great thing to have in your freezer, you can put it in anything from eggs to, well, whatever).   "I can't believe you have cream of tartar in your pantry!" she said.  But that made me think of what most folks I know actually have in their pantries, and that ain't much.   A box of Cheerios, maybe some crackers, lots of canned soup, and that's it.   People just don't cook anymore, and even the pathetic attempts at home cookery attempted by my late Mother would seem heroic by today's standards.

Oh, sure, we can all thaw a frozen entree in the microwave.  We can over-cook steaks, burgers, and hot dogs on the grill.  We can eat the leftover cold pizza that was delivered the night before.   But cook a meal from scratch?   No one knows how to do it, and moreover, they are afraid to do it.  No one has "dinner parties" anymore as they are too embarrassed to serve the dreck they make, so we all meet at a restaurant, instead.

What I find amusing about the Blue Apron website is that it shows the "ingredients" of one of their packages including a tiny bottle labeled (generically) "soy sauce" - as if keeping a bottle of soy sauce in the cupboard was some onerous task.  For chrissakes, they sell it at Dollar Tree.  For a dollar.

The financial media, of course, gets this all wrong.  The report was that the IPO of Blue Apron didn't turn out as expected because "Amazon" will take over this market space.   I think the real reason is far simpler than that - this is just another trendy thing on the Internet without any staying power.    Think Groupon.  And while it might seem that "everyone" is buying meal kits, that "everyone" is limited to upper-income tech people (and people who write about tech) in Silicon Valley, New York City, Washington DC, and a few other places.   The bulk of Americans are not having "meal kits" delivered to their door.   In fact a huge number of Americans are on food stamps (no word as to whether Blue Apron takes SNAP).

The other problem with this company and business model is that it can't be protected by Patents (although no doubt they are trying, I pity their poor attorney!).   There are few, if any, barriers to entry.   And there are, in fact, many other companies "in this space" doing the exact same thing, making meal kits and delivering them to people.   It will only be a matter of time before Domino's delivers a "pizza kit" to your door, complete with dough, sauce and toppings.   Just assemble and bake!  (Dominos, if you're reading this, you owe me a royalty!).

But seriously, there is no protectable business here, and any other company, including Amazon, could enter this "space" and start offering kits as well.   But I suspect the real competition will be reality, as people realize they are paying far more for their food than they need to be.   In fact, the company may be putting itself out of business with its business model.   Once people realize they can make their own foods at home from fresh ingredients for far less than the cost of a "kit" they may break down and visit this thing called a "grocery store".  (And grocery stores may start to offer such "kits" as well, and in fact, already are).

At $9.99 per meal, this is not a cheap way to eat, particularly when you consider that you are still doing all the work.   $9.99 is very close to if not over, the entree price at some mid-level restaurants (in real America, not New York City).   Not many people can afford this - at least for long.   It is one of those "convenience" things that Sooze Orman recently railed against, and she was right.

But ironically, Blue Apron may end up inadvertently teaching people how to cook.   Each "kit" comes with a recipe card (which looks to be nicely laminated) as well as all the ingredients.   Since there are only three entrees per week, the customer still has to fend for themselves for the rest of their meals.   More than one customer will take that recipe card to the grocery store and realize they can make Seared Chicken and Pasta Salad for far, far less than $9.99 per serving (I suspect for 50% less, if not more).

And hey, they make it easy, even if you don't sign up for the service.  If you click on the links above, it will ask you if you'd like to have recipes sent to your e-mail inbox every week.  And the recipe and cooking instructions, step by step, with pictures, are on the website for free.  It is so idiot-proof that even the worst of cooks can make it.  For free.   How do you make money from a business model like that?

But, on the other hand, maybe this won't happen.   From the "Comments" I am reading on the site, it seems that the people who subscribe to this nonsense are not "gourmets" or even "foodies" (a term that makes me vomit) but actually people who don't like food much.   Blue Apron is like a music school for the tone deaf, and not just that, but people who hate music.  Consider this exchange:
Linda L*** ·
Michigan State University

What can I replace mayo with? Hate mayo lol
Like · Reply · Jun 6, 2017 2:02pm
Jennifer L***
Greek yogurt
Like · Reply · 1 · Jun 13, 2017 9:09pm
Suzanne C**** ·
Portland State University

Mayonaise [sic] really creeps me out, the color, the texture, and OMG - the smell. But I do eat it as long as it stays disguised.
Like · Reply · 17 hrs

Jennifer's comment is at least helpful.   But likely Linda and Suzanne don't know what real Greek Yogurt is all about - most grocery stores in the yogurt section stock sugary and fruity yogurts that are "fun!" and "kicky!" and clearly aimed at women (by the packaging).  Most of it is pink.  Ugh.  Greek yogurt, which is an excellent substitute for sour cream too, has a more sour and savory taste.

But to not like Mayonnaise?  A crime against humanity!  It is one of highlights of French cuisine.  Of course, it is hard to get good mayonnaise here in the States, as we tend to prefer huge jars of thin white stuff.   And few people have the patience to make their own as a friend of mine does.

So there you have it - Blue Apron, food for people who hate food, but want to be "foodies" because they watched a food show on TeeVee.

Ugh.   Another plotting point on the graph of the Decline of Western Civilization.  I hope I'm not around for the end-point.

 Meal Kits - Because Life is Too Hard®