Purple Carrot, Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated have created an entirely new segment of the grocery industry: The meal kit.
These handy (or overly expensive and wasteful, depending on whom you ask) kits contain all the ingredients you need to make a meal. Some services focus on healthful eating or vegetarian meals, while other emphasize their sourcing or unique recipes.
All these services cost about $10 per serving, give or take a dollar and whatever promotion they might have going on.
With sales in the billions, it’s no wonder meal kit companies are inspired traditional grocery outlets to create their own meal kits. Central Market has had them, to some degree, for years, but only recently has H-E-B introduced what feels like a direct competitor to the iced-down box that might drop on your door.
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You might have seen at H-E-B the little trays of salmon or chicken with a small side of vegetables and a grain that you heat up in the oven or microwave, but this latest round of prepared meal kits requires the cook to do some of the work.
These H-E-B Meal Simple meal kits ($14-18) come in a cardboard box with a recipe card explaining the steps in the meal. From options including chicken stir fry, teriyaki salmon and chicken marsala, I chose the beef stroganoff with green beans. The beef was already sliced and the green beans trimmed, two nice touches that differentiated it from the ingredients as I’d buy them on their in the store. The stroganoff sauce came in a bag and — wait for it — so did the cooked noodles.
After I’d cooked the beef and the green beans, I opened the bag of broken, soft egg noodles and nibbled on one of them. They tasted as bad as I’d feared, so I tossed them in the trash and cooked a pot of egg noodles I had in the pantry.
With the sprinkle of Parmesan and red pepper flakes, the meal felt like a slightly different meal than what I might have made otherwise, but it didn’t taste gourmet. Gourmet isn’t exactly H-E-B’s brand, but the dishes didn’t have the appeal of some of the more creative dishes we are seeing from the national meal kit delivery companies. That doesn’t mean these kits won’t sell, of course. They are priced at $7-9 per serving, which is about the same as the H-E-B tray meal that you don’t have to cook.
On a side note, I also recently tried one of the new H-E-B Veggie Toss Kits ($3.48), and I was also underwhelmed. I picked the sweet potato noodle and alfredo sauce, but the two flavors just didn’t meld well. The sweet potatoes cooked nicely and the little package of sauce was decent, unlike the noodles in the kit above, which were inedible.