Dinner is known as the anchor meal of our day, but for a large number of people across the world, dinner is changing. How? And why?
Meal- kits are one answer; the last 6 years have seen a rise in companies competing to bring the best, freshest, organically sourced ingredients to your kitchen, competing against groceries and even take-out delivery services. If the name isn’t self-explanatory, companies like Blue Apron and Purple Carrot source and send ingredients for recipes that you and I can cook in the comfort of our own homes.
It’s an industry unto itself: there are high-end meal-kits, fast prep meal-kits, plant-based meal-kits, some that set the menu, and others with more choice. The meal-kit world is figuratively your oyster. But, in the universe of these services, how do you choose? Which one is the best?
In this and following reviews, I compare these subscription-based services and share notes on the experiences I had using them. Keep reading for a full comparison of Blue Apron, the New York based meal-kit leader, and Purple Carrot, a vegetarian and vegan based service out of Massachusetts. If you’re short on reading time, click here to jump to my concluding thoughts.
When I think of meal-kits, I immediately think Blue Apron. Blue Apron is the leading company in the direct to consumer meal-kit market, and six years later still maintains its premium position for quality ingredients, fast delivery, and customer service. I’ve been cooking with them for the last few weeks, and so far the experience has been great.
Like most of the companies I’ll be reviewing, a new box of ingredients was sent to my doorstep with fresh ingredients, produce, meats, and other flavorings that the culinary wizards at Blue Apron have pulled together. For reference, in the last few that I’ve cooked savory marinated Korean beef and bok choy, crispy tahini chicken and snow pea tomato salad, seared steaks with miso butter, and spiced chicken with mashed potatoes. All delicious.
In the box are, of course, ingredients, but also recipes that I can cook according to suggestions or experiment with on my own. I can choose the serving size, modify frequency of delivery, and contact customer service from desktop or conveniently from the Blue Apron app on my phone.
If the thought of plant-based meals brings up images of dry, tasteless rabbit food, think again. Enter Purple Carrot, a Massachusetts based meal-kit service that brings healthy, tasty plant centered ingredients and recipes to your doorstep.
Purple Carrot is turning the stigma of plants as the unenjoyable but needed part of a well balanced meal on its head and into the mainstream. It’s a subscription service like Blue Apron and many others I’ll be reviewing like HelloFresh and Green Chef, with a play on food that strikes a balance of being good for your heart and body, the environment, and is endorsed by five time Super Bowl winner, Tom Brady. Turns out that vegetables really are the food of champions.
Lots of pros from me on Blue Apron. Beyond branding and their delivery reliability, the packing is put together so the goods are well insulated with relatively minimal bubble wrap, and reusable ice packs.
Blue Apron box opens to two card-stock menus and a reflective insulation bag.
The product is fresh, and garnishings and sauces that are included are high quality. I mention that because if a company pays attention to the details, the larger pieces generally fall in line behind them.
The actual quality of the produce that Purple Carrot included were high (as expected), though I think general design and in-box packaging left something to be desired.
Purple Carrot sorts all of their ingredients into three separate plastic bags to save us time in accounting for all the food on our end. I know, I know. Packaging is a superficial criteria to judge a product, but I think companies like HelloFresh and Green Chef strike a great balance by using compostable paper. The plastic here wasn’t marked, so into the garbage bin (guiltily) they went.
General notes: my first order with Purple Carrot didn’t actually go through, so I had to contact customer service to troubleshoot. Their turnaround time was fast, and I had an answer and solution within 24 hours as promised. One con here was that stated delivery time and actual delivery time were out of sync. The Purple Carrot website indicated a confirmed delivery a day, while the delivery service site showed the package still in transit. This led to confusion, and in the time between actual delivery that it had gone missing.
Blue Apron was on point here with estimating total prep and cook time. The time included in the recipes was spot on, within a few minutes give or take. Of all the meals I’ve tried to date, they average around 40 minutes or less and the order of steps to take is smart and efficient. Appreciated no surprises with timing around the busyness of dinner.
Purple Carrot ran a little behind the prep time included on the recipes. I think because so much of the dish rests on the foundation of vegetables and the chopping, dicing, and peeling needed to get the ingredients ready, prep time was longer for a relatively new chef like myself. Something to be aware of for new chefs or novices around the cutting board.
It’s hard to put these two in direct comparison because while both are meal-kit services, I think they fall into different categories. Blue Apron is a premium, all around service that provides very high quality ingredients, while Purple Carrot serves a niche market within the greater market.
For me, a large part of the difference in taste was the chicken, beef, and fish. Full disclosure that I’m neither vegetarian or vegan, and if I had the choice, I’d opt for a richer tasting dinner with a deeper set of ingredients that will keep me full for a longer time.
Purple Carrot uses a base of vegetables as the primary ingredient for the dishes; Again, I liked the food but was concerned with not being full after a vegetable based meal. In my case, I used carrots, squash, bell peppers, and jackfruit to create two unique dinners. On their own, the vegetables are pretty bland, but Purple Carrot makes up ground by including interesting flavoring to make up for this. The pairing works well, subtle base that carries a lot of punch with the herbs and spices.
Both the meal-kits provided fresh produce, and while I held a higher standard for Purple Carrot vegetables given they don’t provide meat, I was satisfied with quality.
I think taste was something that really stuck out for me. I’ve always been particular about what vegetables I eat, but Purple Carrot did deliver on their promise and I was pleasantly surprised.
Carrot Dogs and Potato Salad from Purple Carrot.
The ingredients are of course fresh, and were also packaged in a way where everything was kept cool during delivery. I liked the food, especially the German Style Carrot Dogs in time for July 4th.
This is dependent on serving size, and type of ingredients included in each box. I’d argue that these two meal-kits fall into slightly different subcategories. Blue Apron is truly mainstream, and while Purple Carrot is making efforts to take veggie based meals in that direction, I still think of the service as a specialized option for vegetarians, vegans, or diet conscious athletes.
Nonetheless, onto pricing. Blue Apron frequently offers a rotating promotions for ordering a first box, so my first shipment with two meals was free 🙂 Thereafter, total price ran me about 60 USD for three dinners for two people each week. That comes out to about 10 dollars per serving. Here’s a screenshot for your reference:
Purple Carrot, after a 20 USD coupon offered, came out to 52 USD for a box serving two people but then jumps up to 72 USD per week. As a young professional cutting checks to rent and more, I think the price point is high even after discounts and promotions.
On top of that, at a lower price point, I felt I got more quality for each dollar with Blue Apron
I think this is recognized as a downside of meal-kit delivery services in general, that being the amount of plastic, cardboard, and trash byproduct that’s left over each week.
Almost every Blue Apron ingredient has its own plastic wrapping, or plastic box, and while the company does a solid job labeling what is recyclable, they shuttered the service where you can send plastic and box back to the company to be recycled. This might be okay in places with single-stream recycling like my current city San Francisco, but parts of the country with less than stellar recycling systems will likely see all that plastic go into landfill, or worse, our oceans.
Unlike Green Chef which has committed to offsetting emissions from all of their operations, Blue Apron and Purple Carrot are not particularly focused on off-setting their byproduct. Purple Carrot does provide a recycling page for their trash, and it seemed they used less plastic because each of the three dinners was pre-sorted into just one plastic bag. The company unfortunately uses insulation packaging that can’t be recycled, but does include a page on their website (above) with videos for how to break down or clean most of the material that can be recycled.
Regardless, nice to see a company proactively provide steps that we can take to minimize what we contribute to landful
I think Blue Apron is the general winner here, across packing, consistency with delivery, and precision with their estimates for how long the dishes will take to cook. In the most important criteria, food quality and taste, Blue Apron is the clear winner with really high quality marinades that added a depth of flavor that wasn’t as strong in the competitor.
Overall, the Purple Carrot meals did taste good, and I think the service is a solid option if you are vegetarian, vegan, or looking for a specific type of plant based diet. Lastly, neither of these are for people on a tight budget, or busy professionals as the price point and time investment with preparation is relatively high.
by Insider Envy Staff