HelloFresh was founded in Germany in 2011, and was one of the first meal delivery kit companies in the world. They offer meal preparation kits that come complete with everything to make specific recipes. The company runs vast advertising campaigns online, working with content creators and offering significant discounts for those signing up to the service. Customers in the UK pay around £4 per serving, and can choose between 2-5 recipes a week for 2-4 people. In 2020, they delivered over 600 million meals in 16 countries.
HelloFresh have expanded massively in recent years and now offer a number of different types of meal kit boxes, including ‘Rapid’, Vegetarian, Calorie Smart and Global Flavours among others.
Details of individual product sourcing are difficult to find. Under the sustainability tab on their website, there is a page on sourcing, but this only refers to three case studies (for beef, herbs and tomatoes in the UK). Vague statements are made on another page about selecting suppliers who share the company’s ‘values and high standards’. In order to fulfill their goals of reducing their supply chain, it is implied that the majority of their products are locally sourced. In 2020 in Germany they began a pilot project with ‘fTRace’ to allow customers to trace their protein products by scanning a QR code - hopefully more systems like this will come into play over time. They also joined the European Chicken Commitment in 2019, which introduces maximum stocking densities and welfare rules for poultry upbringing - however, it can be argued that this commitment represents the bare minimum in terms of animal welfare, and they joined it eight years into the company. This shows that animal welfare and ethically sourced products haven’t necessarily always been a priority, and may be part of a more recent push to brand the company as a ‘greener’ alternative to traditional supermarkets.
A personal issue I have particularly as HelloFresh is such a large company (with over 7 million customers worldwide in early 2021) is that they do not appear to use any organic products in their boxes or offer an organic box option. Organic farming has lower greenhouse gas emissions, increases carbon sequestration and reduces soil and water pollution. It is not necessarily a straightforward answer to climate change, but I strongly believe a large company like HelloFresh that prides themselves on sustainability should be offering those products.
HelloFresh claims in their advertising that their products ‘make fewer stops’ on the way to your home than groceries from supermarkets, and state on their website that their operations generate ‘less food waste’ than traditional retailers. A more specific claim stated on their sustainability webpage is that they waste 21% less food than food retailers. Reducing food waste appears to be their principal environment goal, working perfectly alongside their business model, as they pre-portion meals to the gram. In their adverts, this is referred to as beneficial for the environment, but also as a cost-cutting technique for the consumer. In late 2020, a survey run by HelloFresh found that the average British consumer had £171 of food in their fridge at a time, and up to £8 pounds of food was being thrown away every week. WRAP claims that 70% of the food discarded in the UK comes from households, adding up to 4.5 million tonnes in a year - the problem is clearly severe, and in this sense, HelloFresh’s sustainable goals are likely highly successful.
A concern for me personally is the amount of plastic packaging used in their meal kits. With everything coming pre-portioned, each component is packaged in much smaller portions than usual, resulting in much more plastic waste. On their website, HelloFresh detail how they have partner with ‘Plastic Bank’ to set up plastic collection branches in Indonesia. According to them, this stops 750,000kg of plastic from entering the ocean over three years. This is essentially plastic offsetting, and is an interesting way of accounting for the vast amount of plastic waste their products generate. My question is - are projects like these going to be scaled in correspondence with company growth? If not, the impact they have, and the result of their offsetting, will be significantly lessened over time. Overall, I think this is a major flaw in their business model, and I believe they should be working towards packaging their foods in alternative materials rather than focusing on plastic offsetting in foreign countries.
HelloFresh have now also embarked on a mission to go carbon neutral by offsetting their emissions. They have been working alongside ‘Planetly’, who have created software to calculate and analyse their carbon emissions, allowing them to offset their carbon emissions. As a result, HelloFresh has contributed to a number of carbon offsetting projects in Turkey, China and the Netherlands. However, what I really like about their approach are the more specific projects they have undertaken. In Kathmandu, Nepal, they have supported a bio-composting operation, collecting 50 tonnes of organic matter a week to turn into compost, therefore preventing it from rotting in landfill and reducing methane emissions. They have also participated in a sustainable farming project in Kenya, which has involved training local farmers and planting trees through the UN REDD+ scheme. The company seems eager to rebrand themselves in recent years as being the eco-friendly option, as well as cost effective and healthy.
For me, the main flaw is the lack of transparency and the lack of choice. When shopping in a supermarket, an individual may choose to make individual substitutions - like perhaps buy products without palm oil, or buy organic or higher welfare meat. They may seek out certifications on certain products, or choose not to buy those that have more air miles (for example, apples from both England and South Africa can be found simultaneously in a supermarket - a customer may choose not to buy those from South Africa). In that sense, HelloFresh removes an aspect of choice and the ability to make small changes to one’s consumer habits. However, it can be argued that whilst the product sourcing is out of your hands, the best thing by far about HelloFresh is the reduction in food waste. By making the meals pre-portioned, they are ensuring that almost no food will be wasted or have to be thrown out. Considering the majority of food waste in the UK comes from households rather than commercial sources, this is an excellent change, and why I believe the HelloFresh model is working towards a more sustainable future. In addition, their endeavours to go carbon neutral are definitely admirable and will likely have a mostly positive contribution, if nothing else by influencing other large companies to follow in their tracks. Over time, I hope they will improve the quality of their products and make this information more easily available to consumers.