It seems that everywhere you look, there's a new grocery delivery service popping up. And with Amazon's recent purchase of Whole Foods, it seems that the trend is unlikely to stop.
One of the first onto the scene was Hello Fresh. The company bills itself as a "Weeknight Dinner Solution." It provides a series of recipes, from which customers choose 3-4. A week later, the ingredients and recipes are delivered to the customer's door, ready to cook and enjoy. It's a great concept, and one that has driven the company into the public spotlight and encouraged them to expand their offerings into wine and general organic packaged items. In fact, the company delivers 4 million meals each month, and while stock prices are dropping for the company, capital infusions and new customers keep coming.
However, there are several hurdles for the company. Many of these issues arose for me when I received my box of groceries. And with that said, what follows is my honest (and long) review of the box that I received, the level of customer service that I observed, and observations on ways that the company can improve.
For full disclosure, I received this box for free from a family member who had referral codes. I did not pay for the box, but HelloFresh did not sponsor this review in the slightest. Also, I cook almost every day and it's something I truly enjoy. I grew up cooking next to my mother, so I feel at home in the kitchen.
The first thing that I noticed upon choosing my recipes was the normal cost of a box. For three meals for two people (six servings total), the weekly cost was around $60. That's a lot. On average, my husband and I spend $50 a week on groceries, and that's for six meals with leftovers, snacks, and treats. True, we carefully choose meals to utilize as many bulk items as we can. We use a lot of rice, lentils, quinoa, and beans to save money and for the health benefits. But we also don't hesitate to buy speciality ingredients that can be a bit more expensive, and we buy organic whenever possible. As such, I feel that the price per serving is pretty high, and it would turn out to be not worth the cost.
The next thing I noticed was the choices for meals. A lot of them were pretty boring by my standards. I enjoy international foods and things that use interesting spices and pair up fascinating flavors. With HelloFresh, I was confronted with pork chops with mushroom sauce, basic stir-fries, and a steak that would cost $10 more. I understand that not a lot of people are quite as adventurous with their cooking, but perhaps customers would enjoy a bit more variety in their options.
In the end, I chose the balsamic fig chicken, the creamy mushroom pork chops, and the Banh Mi burger. While not the most exciting of recipes, I was nonetheless thrilled to try something new in the form of grocery delivery.
Unfortunately, the whole experience would prove to be underwhelming. Because when the box arrived, much anticipated by my husband and I, it was a mess. The corner was smashed and ripped, and the entire bottom and right side of the box was soaked through. When we opened the box to retrieve our items, we discovered why.
One of the gel refrigeration packs had burst, covering everything with a thin layer of clear slime. The paper bags cradling our items were soaked and needed to be rinsed or discarded, every item not in a bag had to be rinsed, and even our recipe cards were a bit damp. The box leaked gel all over our counters and floor, and we spent quite a bit of time cleaning it up so that our cats wouldn't get sick trying to eat it. As we broke down the box, the gel got on our clothing, and then spread to the fridge like some sort of viral outbreak.
I attempted to contact customer service, but got no response. I wish I had taken pictures, but I was so busy cleaning up the mess that the thought didn't even cross my mind. Right away, I was frustrated and a bit angry at the poor packaging of everything.
Despite my growing misgivings, I was still looking forward to the recipes and cooking with the ingredients that had been brought to my door. As I opened the packages to inspect the ingredients and separate out what needed to be refrigerated from what didn't, I discovered the first problem with the first recipe: Balsamic Fig Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Mixed Greens.
The recipe card included a picture of a lovely salad, nestled next to a mound of sweet potato cubes and elegantly displayed chicken drizzled with a fig and balsamic reduction. But our ingredients didn't look quite so lovely.
The chicken provided was tiny, and would be just enough for a small-ish serving with absolutely zero leftovers. Since we rely on leftovers for our lunch the next day, this was a huge disappointment. But even more so was the pitiful salad that we were provided.
I thought it had just gotten squished. I thought, hopefully, that shaking the bag would bring more lettuce out of the void. But alas, no. The "salad" was a tiny handful of lettuce, not even a side salad by restaurant qualifications. The rest of the ingredients seemed fine, but I was so spurned by the salad that I waited to cook the recipe until Thursday, although we got the box and saw the ingredients on Monday.
After my husband cooked the chicken, however, I was pleasantly surprised. The flavor was pleasant and balsamic fig sauce was pretty tasty. The salad was pretty bland, as the recipe only said to put olive oil and lemon juice on it, and the sweet potatoes were basic. Overall, it was a tasty recipe and probably something I might cook again with some adjustments to seasoning and more affordable ingredients. It was a rocky start, but I had hopes for the rest of the recipes.
I should have trusted my first instincts, especially when it came to the next recipe: Creamy Mushroom Porkchops with Brussel Sprouts and Potatoes.
First off, the pork chops were standard, albeit a bit small of the price of the box (Are you sensing a theme yet?). There were a handful of baby gold potatoes and a decently sized shallot. The mushrooms, however, were sad. There were five mushrooms. FIVE! And they were basic white button mushrooms that are a dime a dozen at any grocery store. Surely they could splurge on nicer mushrooms, or perhaps more of the buttons. But I soldiered on, determined to experience all that HelloFresh had to offer.
We ended up having friends over for this particular meal, so I went to the grocery store and supplemented the supplied ingredients with my own. It's nice that it was easy enough to add more portions, but I was able to triple the entire recipe for about $15, which says a lot about their price point.
The recipe itself was quite tasty, albeit a touch on the bland side. It's basically a stroganoff with pork chops instead of flank steak. Not bad, by any means, but definitely not worth the $10 a portion price tag.
The potatoes were, as with the last dish, pretty basic. But they fulfilled the starchy component of the meal well. The brussel sprouts were also tasty, and roasting them with salt and pepper is my favorite way of preparing them. Overall, not a terrible meal. But there were enough downsides at this point that I halted all future deliveries.
The last dish that we made was, by far, the one I was most excited about. Up to this point, everything had been pretty basic and utilized ingredients that I am very familiar with. But the Banh Mi burger was something new, some slightly adventurous, and something seemingly delicious. It has more ingredients, more spices, and even utilized fresh lemongrass, which is difficult to find here in the South. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.
The pork included in this recipe was, to no one's surprise, disappointing. The portion size this time around was fine, what with the added ingredients in the burger. But the pork was so fatty that cooking the burgers was nearly a disaster. They shrank significantly because of the high fat content. And while fat makes for delicious food, this was just an absurd amount of grease.
The carrots, although I used them well within a week, were wilted and soft. The cucumber had started to turn as well, although it was still edible. The spices and lemongrass, however, were a nice touch and added a flavor component that had been lacking.
Over all, though, this burger was my favorite meal of the bunch. It had a wonderful flavor and all of the components worked well together. There were flaws, to be sure, but the recipe is solid. And in the end, that's the key takeaway from my experience with HelloFresh.
Let me end this by saying that I am very lucky. I enjoy cooking, I'm good at it, and I am blessed with more grocery stores than I can shake a stick at. I can drive ten miles in pretty much any direction and find a store that will carry at least the basics, and at most a bounty of organic options.
However, I feel that for the price, HelloFresh is not meeting expectations. It fits a niche: busy people who can't find the time to look up recipes, meal plan, or buy groceries. And you know what? That's fine. But I feel that if HelloFresh (and others like it) want to compete with the new offerings of Amazon, they're going to have to up their game.
And if you're interested in HelloFresh but are balking at the price, do what I do. Pick a day of the week to plan meals. Use Pinterest, Yummly, or any of the bevy of options online. Make a grocery list from that menu. Spend an hour at a grocery store once a week, buy what you need, and do for yourself what HelloFresh is offering it's customers. It requires a bit more effort and a bit more planning, but your budget will thank you. I promise.
Writer, Photographer, Dream-Seeker