Local meal kits find a fit for Madison customers

Meal kit operations find ways to sustain growth

While national meal kit company Chef’d has suspended operations and Blue Apron’s customer base has dropped, many local meal kit businesses continue to grow. A few have found their fit here in Madison by offering healthy, wholesome and locally sourced food and differentiating themselves from the national model.

Nationally and locally, the process is similar. After you select dishes that fit your taste and dietary restrictions, the ingredients appear at your doorstep days later. Generally, the dinners are portioned and ready to be chopped and thrown in a saucepan.

Meal kits provide a supplemental option for days when people feel stressed or tired after work and don’t want to plan an entire meal, says Jon Marrone, owner of Isthmus Eats, a local meal kit business. But Madison meal kit companies offer a special touch that some national meal kit companies don’t.

“We hand-deliver every meal kit,” says Marrone, who along with a delivery driver drops off meal kits on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Isthmus Eats opened in April 2018 and soon signed enough subscribers to turn a profit. Business has grown ever since. Currently, about 150 customers find an Isthmus Eats meal kit at their doorstep weekly.

In addition to convenience, Madisonians can feel good about reducing food waste by using meal kits. This includes the waste from the refrigerator, as meal kits provide only the ingredients used in the recipes, so nothing is thrown away. Local meal kits find a fit for Madison customers

Some local services also reduce packaging waste. Pasture and Plenty, a local meal kit service and storefront deli, uses returnable Pyrex glassware, putting the percentage of plastic packaging it uses at nearly zero. And because it collects reusable glassware from customers in a canvas tote, Pasture and Plenty produces far less packaging waste than most national brands.

“On average, national meal kits come with 22 pieces of waste per kit,” says Christy McKenzie, owner of Pasture and Plenty. “At our eight-month mark we looked at the numbers and realized we saved more than 100,000 pieces of waste. That felt pretty good.”

Pasture and Plenty started offering meal kits in August 2017 and has been growing ever since. The business expanded to include a catering service and a restaurant with on-the-go meals, weekday breakfast and lunch, and Wednesday dinners. A subscription offer comes with one meal kit, one ready-to-eat meal and a farm-to-freezer meal per week.

An additional benefit of Madison’s meal kit companies is that they allow subscribers to cook with local ingredients. For instance, national meal kit company HelloFresh works with hundreds of suppliers around the U.S. to package and ship meal kits all over the nation. Pasture and Plenty works with more than 50 local food producers and farms. Isthmus Eats exclusively sources local meat, cheese, butter and honey.

Although Madison meal kits provide some families with easy access to healthy, home-cooked meals, both McKenzie and Marrone recognize that the services are not realistic for everyone. Some studies have shown that people who earn more than $100,000 are the top subscribers to meal kit services.

In 2019, Pasture and Plenty hopes to add some kind of charitable aspect to the meal kit offering.
“We are asking, ‘How do we connect our customers to issues in food security?’ We want it to be in a way that helps educate and works with us to help address those issues,” says McKenzie.

Mackenzie Krumme is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.