Meal kits definitely have a lot of sustainability benefits besides reducing food waste. I know how easy it is to overlook the value of them when we think about the environmental impact of the extra packaging and delivery that comes with each meal (I did so myself before this review!). But keep in mind that transportation and packaging are also part of our everyday trip to the grocery - we just think and see less of it in its entirety. According to a study published in the journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Hello Fresh has a 25% lower carbon footprint than store bought groceries because of their optimized supply chain and delivery route. In the paper, they also found that the cooling packs in the meal kits are better for the environment than refrigerating foods at retail stores. I commend Hello Fresh for continually trying to lessen their footprint in their packaging, but I do wish they were able to publicize more of their data when it came to ingredient sourcing, their workplace and delivery. Because of the lack of transparency there, I am hesitant to give a full three. As well, Hello Fresh’s targets the upper class with meals averaging around $12. As environmentally efficient as it is, it may not be as cost efficient which can make it less ideal for lower to middle class individuals. All in all, if its plans are within your budget, I would recommend Hello Fresh over a trip to the grocery store! Hopefully, the Fully Loaded Pork Taquitos will be on your own hall of fame.
Sitting on their shining, virtual hall of fame are Hello Fresh’s Fully Loaded Pork Taquitos. Like any good ol’ mouthwatering taquito, its made of fresh yellow onion, southwest spice blend, flour tortillas, lime, sour cream, hot sauce, ground pork, tex mex paste, mexican cheese blend, roma tomato and guacamole. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Hello Fresh, this isn’t a regular to-buy list for your next trip to the grocery store. Rather, these fresh ingredients are perfectly portioned out to feed the mouths of people in your household and are then delivered to your doorstep.
Its packaging can range anywhere from a regular cardboard box made from a mix of recycled and virgin fibers to a recyclable kit bag containing a cardboard separator. The contents inside these boxes or bags are similar to what I would find in a typical Amazon delivery: packaging and more packaging. The metallic bubble wrap and ice pack covers are fully recyclable at drop off programs for #4 plastic film. However, I’m not entirely confident in how accessible “fully recyclable” can be when a quick search on Google shows me that there are only two recycling centers relatively close to me collecting #4 plastic. But their corrugated liners, honeycombed paperboard with pulper-safe metallized film, and insulation made of bio-based film sandwiched between paper are recyclable. Finally, each box also comes with recipes printed on shiny paper.
While there seems to be a gap in accessibility between some of these recyclable items, I do want to recognize their transparency and the effort they make to ensure their products are properly recycled. On their website, they have an entire section dedicated to recycling the Hello Fresh box, accompanied by images for each step. Their 2019 sustainability report also provided many of the measurements used in this review, and they go into far more depth on there too!
Hello Fresh makes the genuine effort to create products as sustainable as possible, with their brand focussing specifically on reducing food waste. The process, like any company, still has room to improve however, I do believe they are making genuine strides towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 of halving global food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030. One way they are doing so is with their business model delivering the perfect amount of ingredients directly to the consumer. Their model skips many traditional supply chain steps such as storing food at different centres before reaching the grocery store and remedies the common problem of oversupply. Less than 1% of their purchased ingredients go to waste and of that amount, most of it goes towards local charities supporting individuals facing food insecurity. That leaves us with around 0.6 grams of waste per euro dollar, which is one third of the 1.78 grams of waste per euro dollar in traditional suppliers.
Now that we’ve got the big picture, let’s look more closely at each step of their non traditional supply chain. To help you better understand its environmental footprint, I broke down my review into the three parts of their supply chain: ingredient sourcing, packaging and delivering. Each of the following paragraphs will be reviewing one of those aspects respectively.
Hello Fresh boast its 1500 suppliers, hand picked for their quality and sustainability, with many of them being local. However, I felt like that detail of being local was only something briefly mentioned when in reality, I think is an important aspect to the local economy and sustainability. 90% of their fresh produce are from suppliers who are Global GAP certified or GFSI certified or equivalent certified. I took a brief look at the former certifications and they both consist of an audit from a third party who seem to be pretty legitimate. What throws me off is the groupings of certifications - how much value is it really to know that something is equivalent certified? While 90% is a large number, how many of that 90% is GAP certified? I would have liked to see a bar graph of the number of suppliers with each of these certifications before I can fully trust that their ingredient sourcing is sustainable.
Each meal contains around 80 g of cardboard and 40 g of plastic and mixed materials. To put that into perspective, that’s around two shoe boxes of cardboard and one shoe box of plastic and mixed materials. Their website does not go into detail about where they source their cardboard and plastic from, but the global carbon footprint of this industry is relatively low at 1%. Despite the low impact, Hello Fresh is dedicated to continually innovate in each country. Some of their initiatives to help with cardboard and plastic usage as well as ensuring that their consumers are recycling include their recycling pick up service in the Netherlands and Belgium, designing new chicken packages, creating water ice bags in place of their gel coolers and lighter meal bags. They have also publicly committed to reducing their packaging, both in when shipping to the customer and receiving items from their suppliers, and avoid it when possible. In cooler months in New Zealand, celery and cucumbers were shipped directly in the box and Canadian producers had shipped lettuce, potatoes, radishes and many others without packaging too. I would have liked to see a graphic or a data table of some sort detailing how much each country had avoided completely. To me, it still feels like New Zealand and Canadian producers were anomalies rather than examples of a common practice. Furthermore, I would love to have seen the evidence on how they ensured their suppliers were using minimal packaging.
The meal kits are described to be delivered as efficiently as possible with delivery routes planned out ahead of time to minimize fuel and maximize their output. They continually are striving to put systems in place to optimize their route planning software, track their miles, and use more eco-friendly vehicles like their most recent electric van in the Netherlands. Around 7 grams of carbon dioxide are emitted per euro revenue, which is around the distance it takes to run a fourth of a track.
Hello Fresh is one of the world’s leading meal delivery services, serving over 280 million meals and working with more than 5000 employees. While I have already spoken to their environmental sustainability, Hello Fresh is as dedicated to social sustainability. Many of their leaders are filled by internal workers, allowing for workers to grow in the company, and they only work with suppliers who share their ethical work practices and safety compliances. They also are committed to creating workplaces that are racially and gender diverse with 77 different nationalities at the Berlin office. However, like my many comments above, I would have liked to see more of a the distribution across their different offices, as well as the different countries, rather than one statistic.