Are Meal Kit Start-Ups Creating the Food of the Future?

How Social Media Helps Brand Managers Capitalize on the Growing Meal Delivery Trend

In an increasingly fast-paced world, taking the time on Saturday morning to plan a week’s worth of meals and do all of the required grocery shopping is a lofty goal for most. Takeout and spontaneous weeknight grocery trips are frequently used to fill empty refrigerators and finish recipes.


Meal kit startups recognized this trend, and they have capitalized on consumers’ demands for quick and easy meals by creating box meals delivered straight to customers’ doors. Advertised as a healthy and economical alternative to pre-prepared foods and restaurants, companies provide fresh ingredients and instructions for quick and easy meal preparation. Only in its infancy, there is uncertainty as to where the meal kit industry will lead. Finding out who is talking about it and what they are saying provides brand managers with valuable information that can help them weather the rocky start-up process.
Based on volume alone, it appears as though the meal kit industry is a lucrative field. Within the past three years, the meal-kit conversation has exploded. In fact, it has grown by an astounding 2,434%, from 21k Tweets in 2013-2014 to 161k Tweets written in 2015-2016.
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Although the meal kit industry is the rapidly expanding, it has not affected all of the brands equally. Seeing how the players have changed highlights which strategies have worked and which have not. Although @Plated had the most mentions in 2013-2014 (6.8k) and 2014-2015 (25k), Blue Apron took the lead in 2015-2016 with 47k mentions beating @HelloFresh (+24k) as well as @Plated (+21k).
The conversation surrounding Blue Apron sparked in July 2014 and grew by 136% over the following 18 months. The dramatic increase in interest can also be seen in the spike in the number of @blueapron followers which has risen to over 37k Twitter followers.
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Audience demographics also highlight how advertising and marketing strategies should be shaped to build brand loyalty with the customer base and attract those who are not yet entered the meal kit conversation. Based on profiles with identifiable gender, it appears as though the Blue Apron audience is predominantly female, with women making up 58% of the conversation and men making up 42% of the conversation. Interestingly, based on profiles with identifiable age, 80% of posts are written by people over the age of 35. Those between the ages of 18-34 only make up 16% of the conversation. While it appears as though meal kits are catering to millennials who are uncomfortable in the kitchen, people of all ages are joining in.
 
 

Gender Wheel Blue Apron

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The Blue Apron conversation is made up of a mixed audience of Twitter users who are interested in cooking and start-ups as well as active social media users who are 91 times more interested in blogging that the general Twitter audience. The audience is 51 times more interested in the Food Network, 46 times more interested in chefs, 17 times more interested in recipes, and 7 times more interested in cooking. They are also 28 times more interested in venture capital, 15 times more interested in Silicon Valley, and 7 times more interested in advertising, innovation, and entrepreneurship than the general Twitter audience.  Affinities-Blue-Apron

Although successful start-ups are always attracting new investors and entrepreneurs, it is less clear why consumers are interested in buying products from companies like Blue Apron. Fortunately, social media allows advertisers and product developers to understand what consumers are talking about.

 

Looking at a Topic Wheel, it is clear that customers are excited about the new possibilities that the meal kit provides.  Segments of the conversation like “Trying Blue Apron” and “First Blue Apron” highlight the fact consumers are just beginning to use meal kits and positive sentiment suggests that they are pleased with their experiences. They’re also providing feedback related to recipes and cooking with the help of Blue Apron. These highlight two of the most important aspects of the meal kit, good meals that are fun and easy to prepare.

 

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Changes in topics of conversation can also be seen over time. “First Blue Apron” and “Trying out Blue Apron” are steady over time, suggesting that new consumers continue to use the meal kit and report on their experiences. A spike occurs when Blue Apron gave away a Cooking Lesson in NYC. Blue Apron Recipe has increased over time and several growing spikes can be seen in the conversation. In addition to more people trying Blue Apron, it appears as though more people are also enjoying new dishes.

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Meal kit start-ups’ rapid growth has attracted investors who envision a changing food industry that includes pre-planned and delivered meals that offer consumers greater efficiency and healthier options. Social media shows that Blue Apron has become an industry leader that is not being talked about by millennials but older individuals who are interested in food and trying meal kits. Positive sentiment suggests that customers have been pleased with their Blue Apron experiences and recipes, in particular. What is less certain is whether or not they will be return customers.

Brand managers can use audience characteristics and topic conversation to make sure that first-time users turn into loyal customers. They can do this by making sure that they focus advertising and marketing efforts on boosting millennials’ interests as well as generations who are focused on busy careers or feeding families. Monitoring share of voice and topics of conversation also serve as useful tools to stay ahead of the competition. Seeing a shift from trying Blue Apron to generally positive feedback will confirm that brand loyalty is being built and identifying customers’ favorite recipes and ingredients will strengthen this process. While there is always uncertainty in the field of start-ups, well-informed brand managers can build industry leaders by meeting customers’ needs and reaching out to new audiences.

For more information about today’s food commerce trends, read our analysis on organic food conversation.

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