Are online grocers the answer to obesity?

Online grocers like Blue Apron and Plated, which offer convenient, healthy eating options, could inspire positive change in a bigger way

Blue Apron and Plated, which encourage people to cook at home, can inspire people to share meals with loved ones. Credit: Jeff Kubina

Online grocers like FreshDirect and Peapod have revolutionized grocery shopping in the past decade, enabling people to purchase necessities with just the click of a button.

FreshDirect and other online grocers, which started in metropolitan areas, have expanded to rural areas. Their popularity has paved the way for a new crop of fresh delivery startups. Companies such as Plated and Blue Apron are on a mission to not only change the way Americans shop, but the way they eat.

Technology makes cooking convenient

Plated and Blue Apron target urban professionals whose busy lifestyles allot little time in the day to prepare meals. Rather than simply buy items individually online, users select dishes they want to prepare. The companies mail subscribers easy-to-follow recipes and all of the ingredients needed to cook a meal at home. Ingredients are perfectly portioned for meals, so home cooks avoid throwing away food they don’t use. Subscribers might also feel unburdened by not having to wrangle with what to cook on a daily basis.

Budding home cook Meredith Lawson, who lives in New York City, says her subscription to Blue Apron is a lifesaver.

“In this city we’re constantly rushing from one thing to the next — you want to edit down the time you spend in lines and in crowds,” she says. “When the shopping and the recipe are done for you, that eliminates a lot of stress.”

Online grocers aren’t cheap

Convenience often comes at a price. Blue Apron’s service costs $10 per plate and requires a minimum of three meals per week that serve two people.

Plated’s pay-as-you-go meals cost $15 per plate, and meals are slightly cheaper for members. Members must pay monthly fees, however, and subscriptions require four plates minimum. Therefore, members pay about $60 at minimum each month.

The cost of these services fall somewhere in between eating out and buying your own groceries, The New York Times’ Julia Moskin wrote.

In-person sharing makes a comeback

For people who can afford subscriptions, Plated and Blue Apron offer benefits outside of convenience. Typical customers are urban professionals with families to feed and disposable incomes.

These startups, which encourage people to cook at home instead of dine out, also inspire people to share meals with friends and family. In an increasingly technological, arguably disconnected world, breaking bread with loved ones doesn’t happen as often as it should. These startups are changing that.

“The experience of sharing a meal around a table is one the most human things that we share across the world, but we have become disconnected from that,” Plated’s co-founder Nick Taranto says in a video.

The need for face-to-face interactions grows stronger as people become more dependent on technology. Ironically, some tech startups, including Plated and Blue Apron, can spark in-person encounters.

Is this model the answer to America’s obesity problem?

Perhaps Plated and Blue Apron can inspire social change in an even bigger way.

Obesity is an epidemic across the United States. Everyone can benefit from healthy, home-cooked meals, especially those living in poverty who are at a greater risk for obesity, according to the Food Research and Action Center’s analysis.

Contributing factors to obesity include a lack of access to healthy ingredients and high levels of stress due to financial and emotional pressures. In the case of generational poverty, many never learned how to cook from their elders.

Perhaps this model of supplying people with fresh ingredients and straightforward recipes can be applied to people who don’t have disposable incomes. On-demand, portion-controlled meals, in which the startup keeps track of calorie counts and nutritional information the way Plated and Blue Apron do, would help people struggling to lose weight significantly. This is something for entrepreneurs to consider as grocery shopping evolves thanks to technology.

Greta Braddock
Greta Braddock brings years of fashion industry experience, including product design, trend forecasting and inventory management to her role as a writer for Tech Page One. Her work has been featured on coolhunting.com.
Greta Braddock
Greta Braddock
Tags: Business,Entrepreneurship,Retail