Back in June I decided that it’d be a good idea to give HelloFresh another try. I’d been with HelloFresh once before, around 2012/2013, but that hadn’t worked out. As I recall, HelloFresh was a bit different back then, with more of a focus on local, seasonal produce. Something that was amazing during the summer and autumn but, come winter, the only vegetables on offer were the brassicas… And that got old real fast. There’s only so much broccoli that a man can take!
So, I binned it and went back to whatever it was I’d been doing before HelloFresh… Presumably, really heathy and nutritious scratch cooking. Although, there is an outside chance that there was also an unhealthy mix of takeaways and supermarket ready meals. But, for the sake of argument, let’s just all agree that it was mainly scratch cooking… *whistles innocently*
This June, however, I got swept up by the marketing for HelloFresh, something that currently seems to be everywhere! I checked out their website and things appeared sufficiently different from what I remembered that I was willing to try again. Well, that and the discount codes.
When I started, I had the same plan that everyone has: stay until the discounted period runs out, then bin it. Keeping the recipe cards, obviously!
The funny thing is, I think that HelloFresh expects their customers to do exactly that. It seems like their business model is built around this entire concept. Something that explains their need for the endless advertising and marketing campaigns…
For example, when I signed up, there were three bonuses to aim for, the last of which was with the 8th box. Now these bonuses weren’t anything huge, just things like a free dessert or a free lunch. Probably the main reason that these bonuses existed at all, was to draw your attention to the fact that you can also buy lunches and desserts from HelloFresh. My point is that I’ve just received my 21st box and there are no additional bonuses in sight for my continuing loyalty. And, under normal circumstances, this would be fine. After all, it’s not like I typically expect to get a bonus for staying with a service for five months. It’s just that three rewards in the first two months tends to prime you to expect more of the same. And then not getting said rewards leaves you feeling neglected.
And a neglected customer isn’t a satisfied customer, which goes some way to explain way HelloFresh has such a retention issue. At least according to a post on the Inc. site:
Nearly half of subscribers … cancel within a month. Just 20 percent stay on as long as six months.
It all seems very strange to me.
But then, I’m not here to get bogged down on the dubious business model that HelloFresh is using.
No, I’m here to tell you whether I think that HelloFresh is good enough for you to give it a go…
Well, to my mind, that depends on these key factors:
- How many you’re cooking for
- Your budget
- How much time you can give over to cooking
- How competent you are in the kitchen
Before all that, though, I should point out that there are four menu choices available on the website, and I’ve only used one of them, the Family Menu. That said, the Family menu seems to include recipes from all the other menus, so I’m going to assume that it’s a good representation of everything on offer.
One other thing to point out is that you can only order a maximum of five meals a week. Which is to say, meals for five nights. You can also order meals for two, three or four nights of the week. So, if you’re looking for a plan that can cover you for one, six or seven nights a week, HelloFresh is not a good option for you.
Right, with that said, let’s look at the first factor:
The number of people that you’re cooking for.
HelloFresh will only provide meal boxes for two, three or four people. If you’re just cooking for yourself, and choose your meals wisely, you can effectively batch cook and keep the leftovers from the two-person meals for other nights.
If you’re looking to feed more than four people in a sitting, then HelloFresh is no good for your needs.
How much you pay is based on the “Price per serving”. Naturally, this price gets lower, the more servings you buy. And this can mean only one thing: it’s time to make a table…
Quick, to the Bat-Spreadsheet!
Well, that’s weird!
The price per serving for 12 servings, when it’s 3 meals for 4 people is £3.50/serving. Whereas the price per serving for 12 servings, when it’s 4 meals for 3 people is £3.75/serving. The same inconsistency is true when you consider the 6 servings options. 3 meals for 2 people is £4.33/serving, while 2 meals for 3 people is £4.83.
As each of the meals comes in its own bag, the logical conclusion would be that there is a surcharge based on the number of meal bags in each box. Right up to the point that you look at the 8 servings options. Here the price is the same, at £4.83/serving, regardless of whether this is 4 meals for 2 people or 2 meals for 4 people.
I don’t get it!
Nor do I understand why the price per serving is higher when you buy 20 servings (£3.20/serving) compared with when you buy 16 (£3.19/serving). And I know that we’re only talking a penny a serving but, come on HelloFresh: that’s not good maths.
Oh, one other thing to be aware of is that there’s always a delivery charge of £4, no matter how big or small the order you make.
Before the girls both left for university, I was ordering 5 meals for 4 people. This cost me £67.99 a week, which works out at £3.40 per serving and £13.60 per meal. Now that the girls have gone, I’m ordering 4 meals for 2 people. And this comes to £34.99 a week, which amounts to £4.37 per serving and £8.75 per meal.
To put this into some context, Marks and Spencer do a Dine In meal for two range, for £10 a meal. And this deal includes a main course, a side dish, and the choice between a starter and a dessert. At the other end of the scale, Asda offers a 1.4kg Richmond Sausage Casserole for £4! And both of these alternatives are ready meals, meaning they require minimal time in the kitchen. Which brings me on to:
Time you can devote to cooking
I’m in the very fortunate situation where I can comfortably devote an hour each day to cooking the evening meal. And, for a surprising number of HelloFresh meals, an hour is what you’re going to need. In my experience, the timings on the recipe cards are wildly optimistic. In practice, whatever the timings say, you’re better off adding half again. As such, 20 minutes becomes 30 minutes. 30 minutes becomes 45. And anything over 40 minutes turns into an hour, or more…
Now, it’s possible that this is just me being slow. But the truth is that I’m an experienced and reasonably able home cook… Just like every other 50-year-old who has spent decades in charge of the cooking. So, if I’m having to allow this extra 50% on the timings, then I would imagine that anyone with less experience than me is also going to have to do likewise. Emma certainly did, when she was cooking HelloFresh meals. Something she did once a week to prepare her for her return to university. Ah, I miss those nights off…
Oh, and Emma, of course, I miss her as well (and Ceri, for that matter, even if she didn’t do any cooking!).
All of which leads me nicely to the final point:
Your competence as a cook
The truth is, you don’t actually need any competence as a cook. The HelloFresh recipe cards are so good that they will allow anyone to cook the meal on the card. Even Julie would produce something edible two times out of three…!
Of course, having a large hob, a decent oven and a lot of nice pans certainly helps you get the most out of the recipes. Which isn’t to say that I couldn’t have cooked these meals as a twenty something, in the small kitchen of our first house. It’s just that having all the right tools and equipment makes everything a damn sight easier.
The funny thing is that for an experienced home cook, a lot of the HelloFresh recipes seem too fussy for their own good. For example, a lot of the Mexican themed dishes include an avocado and a lime, so you can make your own guacamole. Yet some of this type of recipe include little cartons of pre-made guacamole. If these little cartons of guacamole exist, why does HelloFresh keep insisting that I make it from scratch? They must know how temperamental avocados can be. Particularly those that arrive in a box delivered by DPD! Why do they keep adding to my preparation time when they’ve got a pre-made alternative?
It’s not like I didn’t already know how to make guacamole!
The same is true of ginger. Half the time I get sent packets of ginger puree and the other half there’s a lump of ginger root that I need to Microplane. Why make things more complicated by sending the root when the puree option is right! there!?
My feeling is that HelloFresh is trying to keep all the recipes at a minimum level of time and effort. But for experienced home cooks, this is likely to seem like a missed opportunity. I’m not buying HelloFresh so they can make me feel like I can cook. I know I can cook! I’m buying HelloFresh for the new menu ideas and for tasty, easy meals. Every time they make something unnecessarily complicated takes me another step closer to giving up on the whole thing. After all, I’ve now got dozens of recipe cards…
Overall, my experience with HelloFresh has been a good one.
Having said that, there are a number of ongoing considerations:
- Every couple of weeks there is something wrong with the ingredients for one of the recipes. The first ever meal I cooked was missing the chicken element. Fortunately, I had some other chicken to hand, so I worked round it. And, to be fair, HelloFresh dealt with it immediately. In the ‘Contact’ page of the website is the option, “Report an Ingredient or Recipe Error”. I clicked this and told them about the missing chicken, and they just refunded the meal. The other errors have been things like missing sachets of sauce, or the wrong type of spice. Nothing worth reporting, but I do now hang on to anything I don’t use in case I need it because of an error in a later box.
- The boxes arrive with an insulated bag of the food for the fridge. Also in this bag are a few plastic bags of, what started out as ice. By the time the boxes are delivered, these ice bags are half melted. And one of the bags always has a leak. Always! This means that the chilled foods and the sheet of insulating material will be wet… My advice is to unpack this bit over the sink.
- Alongside the insulated bag of chilled foods are paper bags of the rest of the ingredients for the meals. One paper bag per meal. You would naturally assume that these paper bags can be put straight in a cupboard until you need them, right? Your natural assumption would be wrong! Each of these bags needs to be opened, and certain of the contents put in the fridge as well. Typically, fruit, veg and dairy products. If you check the ingredients list on the relevant recipe cards, there will be a double asterix (**) next to each item that needs to go in the fridge.
- Because the food is fresh, a lot of it won’t last the whole week. This means that you need to check the use-by dates on all the food you receive and plan your meals accordingly. Some of the recipe cards will warn you about this and carry an “Eat Me Early” label. As such, you need to bear all this in mind if you’re ordering meals for 5 nights. Unless you’re willing to freeze some of it, you need to limit the number of meals you order that are based around chicken, pork and shellfish.
On the plus side, the HelloFresh website is incredibly good. It’s extremely easy to change your orders for the coming weeks. There’s also no difficulty in changing your meal plan, the number of people you’re cooking for or the number of days you want to receive meals. There’s even a simple way to pause the deliveries if you’re going on holiday.
Another huge plus is that there is a vast number of recipes to choose from. Not only that, but it also seems that the cards for all of these recipes are available to view on the website. Even the ones that you haven’t ordered…
So, do I think that HelloFresh is a good idea that is worth a try?
Which is why I’ve stuck with them for 21 weeks and have no intention of quitting yet.
I think the time commitments will make HelloFresh tricky for some people, although there are plenty of ’20 minute’ recipes. I think that the cost might put other people off. Certainly there are cheaper ways of feeding yourself, but not all of them are as healthy as HelloFresh. Personally, I think the quality of food is worth the price I am being asked to pay.
In truth, though, I think HelloFresh is best suited to anyone who is stuck in a rut with their cooking. Anyone who finds themselves cycling through the same tired dozen or so meals, week in, week out. I think that it is these people who turn to HelloFresh to find new recipes that can bring the joy back to the evening meal…
People like me!