Which Food Subscription Service Is Right for You?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Blue Apron, Plated, Marley Spoon or Hello Fresh - Which food subscription service is right for you?

I recently sat through a subway ride listening to a couple discuss the items in their cupboard and grocery bags, divining what they could cook out of that just-bought and soon-to-expire melange. This, I thought, is precisely why I use food subscription services. It takes the guesswork out of cooking: just for a few dollars more than what I would spend at the grocery store, all I have to do is open up a box, follow a recipe, and be pleasantly surprised at the delicious end result. These boxes of goodies delivered to my doorstep have taken me through a winter of discontent, a spring holed up in my thesis cave, and a summer of seeking more substantial options than my go-to homemade salad. When J is in town, it's a fun, economical and egalitarian dinner option for us—either of us can easily do the cooking and because it's convenient, we're happy to do it. Lately, we've taken to divvying up the work since he prefers prep while I like cooking. When I'm cooking for one, a meal for 2 can sometimes stretch to 3 or even 4, which makes the food subscription an economical choice for me. In my quest to find the food subscription service that suits me best, I've tried some of the most popular ones out there. So if you're wondering which subscription service is right for you, here are my personal experiences with trying various boxes ...

Blue Apron
Price point: $9.99 per serving ($59.94 for 6 servings)

What I like: Blue Apron is my go-to service primarily because it offers the lowest price point—and given my current status as student-loan beleaguered city gal, it makes the most sense for me. I have ordered Blue Apron the most throughout the year, having found it to be the best value for the price. I've enjoyed the diversity of their meals, with my favorites being the Asian and Middle Eastern recipes. I also appreciate how most of their recipes tend to be one-pan cooking affairs—I subscribe to these services because of convenience, so I am thankful when they don't make me use 2 pans plus the oven to cook one meal! Added bonus: Blue Apron now offers a wine subscription service to up your dinner game with a wine pairing—so it's obviously a subscription service after my heart!

What I don't like: The lower price point is reflected in the slightly less convenient menu options and packaging. Meal selection usually gives you two sets of 3 dishes to choose from but you cannot actually choose any 3 out of the 6 (the way you would with a more expensive service like Plated). When you open your box, the ingredients come in one big jumble, so you need sort them per recipe later. I find this to be a very minor inconvenience, which only becomes irritating if two recipes call for a certain ingredient in different quantities and it's hard to tell which is which. Because I've used Blue Apron the most, however, I've also observed that the portions, in particular for the protein, seem to have shrunk over the year. Nevertheless, it's still my go-to subscription box favorite!

For more information on Blue Apron, visit www.blueapron.com.

Which food subscription service is right for you? A Marley Spoon meal Marley Spoon's Grilled Lamb Chops with Minty-Yogurt Sauce, Charred Corn and Green Beans

Marley Spoon
Price point: Advertised as $8.70 per serving (but the final bill comes to $61.50 for 6 servings or $10.25 per serving)

What I like: Marley Spoon offers a premium service for a lower price. First, its meal selection is very flexible, allowing you a true choice between seven different recipes. Second, Marley Spoon's delivery process is very convenient. On the delivery day, I received a text message giving me a choice of which hour I would like to receive my delivery—a great feature for those who would not otherwise be able to use a subscription service if they don't have a doorman or super to receive their deliveries while they are at work. I appreciated being home to receive a fresh box of ingredients from the pleasant delivery guy so that I could immediately put everything in the fridge. Inside the box, ingredients were neatly divided per recipe, with a handwritten note for a personal touch. The ingredients were of great quality and the protein portions were generous, though I was surprised that one recipe required me to purchase my own eggs (other services included eggs when called for, and only expect you to use your own oil, salt and pepper).

What I don't like: I had a rough start with Marley Spoon, which tarnished an otherwise a pleasant experience. I gave the service a try after a $30 discount coupon popped up on Facebook but after completing sign up and payment, I found that the discount had not been applied. I was a tad annoyed but figured it would be quickly rectified, but customer service response was painfully slow, despite my contacting them by webform, email, Facebook, Twitter and phone. Over the phone, I was told that they could apply the discount on my next order as the charge had already gone through, which I found presumptious considering the experience was disappointing so far. I eventually got the refund but I am still incredulous that it took so much time and effort on my part for it to happen. While writing this post, I decided to get another delivery when I saw that Marley Spoon advertised the lowest per serving prices, but cancelled when I realized that the final total of $61.50 did not jive with the advertised $8.70/serving price and could not find an explanation of what the additional $9.30 was for (shipping is free). Maybe another time ...

For more information on Marley Spoon, visit marleyspoon.com.

Hello Fresh
Price point: Advertised at from $10.75 per serving for omnivores (final bill comes to $69 for 6 servings or $11.50 per serving) and from $9.08 per serving for herbivores (final bill comes to $59 for 6 servings or $9.83 per serving)

What I like: Hello Fresh promotes itself as the fresh and healthy option among food subscription services, and provides subscription boxes for omnivores and herbivores at different price points (which is fair). I did notice that my boxes included larger portions of vegetables than carbs (unlike Blue Apron which from my experience bulks up portion sizes with grains and noodles); I appreciated this as it reflects how I generally try to eat. Hello Fresh offers true flexibility in recipe choices, allowing you to choose between five recipes. Their ingredients are conveniently packaged per recipe and I quite liked how condiments came in cute little bottles, which are easy to reuse or recycle (unlike other services which package condiments in small plastic containers or packets that go straight into the trash).

What I don't like: My main qualm with Hello Fresh was that almost every recipe required me to boil something in a pot, cook something in a pan, and bake something in the oven—all of which adds up to a whole lot of dishes to wash. Perhaps this has to do with cooking each ingredient in the healthiest way possible but at the end of the day, I am a sucker for convenience, so this factor plus the higher price point means that I order Hello Fresh sparingly. However, I do find Hello Fresh to be a good option for those making an effort to eat healthy, home-cooked meals.

If you choose to try out Hello Fresh after reading this post, please consider using my referral code (UGX3XT), which will give you a $40 off your first box and me a $20 discount off my next order. You can sign up for Hello Fresh here.

Which food subscription service is right for you? Four Plated meals Clockwise from top left: Plated's Beef Pho, Grilled Chicken with Soba Noodles and Miso Vinaigrette, Chicken Braised in Massaman Curry, and Seared Fish with Chermoula, Citrus and Potatoes

Price: $12-20 per serving ($72 for 6 servings of regular meals)

What I like: Plated's distinguishing characteristic among food subscription services is that it offers the most diversity and flexibility, with a wider choice of delivery dates and a menu with 7 regular-priced entrees and 2 premium entrees that you can freely mix and match. Their ingredients are conveniently delivered bundled per recipe and recently, Plated has made the effort to source environmentally friendly packing materials, which will be appreciated by those who worry about their carbon footprint. My Dutch boyfriend, who was incredulous at being able to cook beautiful plates of Vietnamese beef pho and Thai massaman curry using this service, found Plated's recipes more clearly written compared to Blue Apron.

What I don't like: Plated has the highest price point, with regular meals priced at $12 per plate and premium meals priced at $18-20 per plate. Plated makes sense for those who have a bit more disposable income to spare and are looking to try dishes they would not otherwise cook. For me, the price point is a tad too high to order regularly but I would consider ordering the premium entrees for a special dinner party.

For more information on Plated, visit plated.com.

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