As the first, and currently only, fully USDA certified organic meal kit company, Green Chef must adhere to strict requirements to ensure its ingredients meet the government’s high standards and are not cross-contaminated with non-organic ingredients. To do this, it uses custom software and processes that trace the food from the supplier to the customer’s door and creates a high degree of transparency, Michael Joseph, CEO and co-founder of Green Chef, told FoodNavigator-USA.
While this already is a tall order, the company takes its commitment to transparency a step farther to reach consumers, who increasingly want to know more about where their food comes, Joseph said.
He explained that to give consumers more insight into their food, Green Chef features key suppliers on its website with a picture, brief description of why it trusts them and a link directly to the suppliers’ websites where consumers can learn – and buy – more.
When available, Green Chef includes branded ingredients in its meal kits, which can extend the brands' exposure to consumers and help drive initial trial. For example, in January it included a single-serve carton of Horizon Organic Milk to be used in a polenta dish. Consumers who want to buy the product can then find it at a retailer near them or, if available, from the supplier’s website.
When suppliers don’t have branded packaging, Green Chef connects them with a vendor who specializes in retail packaging to help them create branding and packaging that they can then also use in other business ventures, such as partnerships with food service or for retail sale on their websites, Joseph said.
“We are proud of our partner brands and want our suppliers to thrive,” so Green Chef is “incredibly open-minded” about how it can help them grow, Joseph said.
He added that the company is actively seeking additional partners who can help it fill orders now that Green Chef is shipping nationally. The Boulder, Colo.-based company opened its second distribution facility in Swedesboro, New Jersey, in December, which means it can now ship to the Midwest and East Coast.
That said, Green Chef will only partner with companies that “operate with respect for the environment and their employees,” treat animals humanely, follow sustainable, natural practices and meet rigorous quality standards, according to the firm’s website.
A meal kit set apart
In addition to claiming to be the only organic meal kit company certified USDA organic, Green Chef sets itself apart from competitors in the increasingly crowded category by substantially reducing the amount of time it takes to prepare meals.
Most meal kits require about an hour of effort from consumers, but Green Chef’s meals take only 20 to 40 minutes, which is more reasonable for time-constrained consumers on busy weeknights, Joseph said. The company also saves consumers time by alleviating them of needing to plan meals – they simply choose their plan preference and three appropriate meals with perfectly portioned ingredients and directions will be shipped for the week.
Green Chef also is unique in that it offers dietary specialization – a segment of the meal kit category not fully met, according to recent consumer research. Customers can select from vegetarian, omnivore (veggie, meat and seafood), carnivore (three meat and seafood meals), gluten-free and paleo.
Fast growth and more to come
Since shipping its first order in October 2014, the company has grown to now serve “tens of thousands of households” with the help of 200 full-time employees, Joseph said.
“Our growth is explosive … and we are expecting to continue on the order of about four times the size we were last year,” he said.
He attributed the growth of Green Chef, and meal kits in general, to the convenience it offers, savings compared to retail grocery prices (about 70% in the case of Green Chef) and an increased desire for organic, natural and healthy food.
Also, kits are now an acceptable way to buy food, and often is easier to navigate than online grocery shopping, he said.
Looking forward, Joseph said he sees tremendous growth potential for meal kits, which are far from saturated. To capitalize on this, Joseph noted, Green Chef will continue to improve its meals and online experience in the coming months and years.