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COLUMN: Pre-portioned meal kits one of the hottest trends in food

['Wendy Elliott Column']
['Wendy Elliott Column']

The benign looking cardboard box with the Goodfood logo is waiting for us at the back door. It’s plenty hot out, but there are five cold packs in the insulated box protecting the food inside.

Wow, right away we have three fairly fancy meal options for supper. The ingredients arrive in vacuum-packed pouches, small zipper-locking baggies and screw-top bottles. Everything is labeled in English and French.

We go for the mushroom pappardelle with ricotta, arugula and walnuts - because it is vegetarian and thus only calls for 20 minutes cooking time. Delicious! The lemon-infused ricotta makes a nice sensory splash.

The other two dishes, Braised Berbere Chicken and beef and rice bowls, get prepared the day of our street’s annual block party. Nobody raves over either, so they fit right in with the neighbourhood tastes.

I’m not too fond of the taste of the pink watermelon radish in one, but the Berbere spice blend in the other is tangy. The recipe sheet explains everything, including the fact that Berbere flavours come from Ethiopia.

Founded in 2014, Goodfood is based in Montreal and the company ships to nine provinces. Three other meal kit firms also operate in eastern Canada from either Toronto or Germany. They all provide three meals for two people for about $65.

Our son in Halifax, who works in the food industry, likes Goodfood’s service. When he comes home, everything is there waiting, in just the right amounts and no shopping is required.

He and his fiancé are finding they can learn some food prep by following the well laid out recipe sheets that feature six photos and advice on how to plate the dish. It well works for them. A friend of theirs prefers the calorie count offered by an outfit called Miss Fresh. There’s lots of choice in this new meal adventure.

We’ve decided we’re not ready to jump on the meal kit bandwagon. We’ve tried to buy local for years now and knowing especially where our meat comes from seems important to us. The box from Montreal can’t benefit local producers.

There’s also too much packaging. Even though it is recyclable, there is just a lot. When you request a trial box, Goodfood does want you to sign on as a subscriber, but we had no problem opting out.

For all that, these pre-portioned meal kits are one of the hottest trends in food. I understand they rank between make your own from scratch and restaurants dining in terms of cost. Time to prepare is reduced because no shopping is required.

According to Investor’s Daily, only four per cent of Canadians have tried a meal kit so far, but estimates are the trend will ramp up in the next few years. Walmart and Amazon are already onto it. In fact, the United States now has more than 150 meal kit companies across 50 states.

While commenting on the trend, Sylvain Charlebois, who is dean of the Faculty of Management and a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University, does note that meal kits still don't resolve one age-old issue - you still have to clean your dishes after you're done. Technology hasn't solved this problem yet, but surely someone will come up with some means soon.

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