Meal kit trend an opportunity for produce growers, entrepreneurs

Meal kit trend an opportunity for produce growers, entrepreneurs
“I can’t imagine ever ordering one,” de Jonge said with a laugh. “I live on a farm and we’re surrounded by vegetables.”

Still, the Lethbridge-area farmer — owner of Broxburn Vegetables, which produces a wide range of greenhouse and field produce — recognizes a trend when he sees one. Like many small to mid-sized food producers in Alberta, de Jonge views the explosion in popularity of meal kits — subscriber services that deliver pre-chopped, pre-measured meal ingredients along with recipes straight to the customer’s door — as an opportunity.

“I think if you’re in the city and you have a busy life or you’re not so mobile, these things could be really convenient,” de Jonge said. “And people want to know how their food was grown and how it was handled. If you order a meal prep kit from a company, and you trust how they do their business, you feel better.”

Recently, Broxburn Vegetables has become a supplier for Rooted Meal Prep, a Calgary-based vegetarian and vegan meal delivery service. Broxburn veggies are delivered to Rooted’s customers along with recipes for entrees such as stuffed peppers, lentil bolognese and ginger chickpea stir-fry.

Rooted founder Sheena Rozak, who said her company has delivered meals to 750 subscribers in the past year, said she launched her business in part because she believed in eating local. A trained chef, Rozak wanted to get away from the restaurant industry’s reliance on large, anonymous wholesalers and deal directly with small producers.

“With meal kits, it’s not like a restaurant where you’re buying food and then hoping it sells,” she said. “You have a certain number of subscribers who have bought the meals in advance, so then you can work with local farmers better.”

Rooted isn’t the only company looking for high-quality produce to fill boxes for meal kit subscribers. The meal kit industry is now estimated to be worth about $200 million in Canada, with brands such as Chef’s Plate, Yummy Dishes and Miss Fresh all available for delivery in Calgary.

Some of these companies are larger than others, but most boast that their boxes are filled with fresh, local ingredients.

“We have an unwavering commitment to maintain long-term partnerships with local producers, with the goal of encouraging our economy,” Montreal-based Goodfood says on its website. The company launched a new production and distribution facility in Calgary in May to serve clients across the Prairies and into British Columbia.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the demand, which is really exciting,” said Goodfood’s vice-president for Western Canada, Mo Awada. “It seems like Calgarians, and Albertans in general, really love the idea of a meal kit.”

HelloFresh, an international publicly traded meal kit company based in Germany that launched in Canada in 2016, has a distribution centre in Edmonton. Conal Gould, HelloFresh Canada’s head of procurement, said the company packs its boxes with things such as peppers from Medicine Hat-based Red Hat Co-op and Airdrie’s Highline Mushrooms.

“Our goal is to shorten the supply chain from producer to customer as much as possible,” Gould said. “That would mean for Calgarians and people in southern Alberta, the majority of their ingredients are coming from suppliers based in Alberta.”

Gould said HelloFresh offers its suppliers a direct link to the consumer without having to first go through a wholesaler and then a supermarket. He said some suppliers the company uses may only have a small, local retail presence — but the distribution of the meal delivery boxes gives them a broader geographical reach.

“Some of these companies tell us they get emails from consumers asking where they can buy more of their product,” Gould said. “I think it’s really cool to be able to offer that scale and reach to suppliers that don’t necessarily have the distribution themselves.”

Spolumbo’s Fine Foods & Deli and Byblos Bakery are two Calgary-based food producers currently on HelloFresh’s supplier list. Remo Trotta, sales and marketing manager for Spolumbo’s, said he believes the rise of the meal kit delivery model is opening doors for smaller food producers.

“The fact you don’t necessarily need to have a brand name and a relationship with a large, head-office conglomerate in order to provide a product that a delivery company is willing to deal with? That absolutely creates some opportunity for smaller producers,” Trotta said.

George Daklala, owner of Byblos Bakery, said he has been working with HelloFresh for about a year and is pleased he recognized the meal kit trend as early as he did.

“It’s a good opportunity,” Daklala said. “There’s a lot of people (suppliers) who have seen the opportunity and are trying to connect with them (HelloFresh) or someone else.”

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