How the Meal Prep Trend is Influencing Package Design
By: Taylor Getler
In the age of Instagram, health-consciousness is at a high. Not only does the food have to be good for you (so that the consumer can look good), but the meals themselves have to be attractive, colorful and ripe for photographing. Of course, preparing such dishes can take up a lot of time, which busy young professionals often do not have to spare. Hence the “meal prep” trend, which has exploded in popularity over the past year or so.
Meal prepping involves whipping up large batches of food that can be packed up and eaten throughout the week, meaning that is not unusual for a young, fit person to spend an afternoon baking a whole pack of chicken breasts or roasting several pans of vegetables just for themselves. Now that more people are condensing the time that they spend cooking into one or two points of the week, brands are seizing the opportunity to cater to meal preppers’ unique needs.
One such company is Kroger, which launched their Prep+Pared line earlier this year. These kits provide all of the ingredients necessary for a nutritious meal, individually packaged in unadorned plastic bags. Every element of the kit’s design speaks to simplicity and wholesomeness, from those basic plastic wrappings to the stripped-down color scheme and bare cardboard.
Publix aimed for a similarly spare design for their Aprons meal kits, simply attaching a picture of the meal and its corresponding recipe to a nondescript paper bag. The line debuted around the same time as Prep+Pared, offering pre-measured ingredients that create meals estimated to make two to four servings. The brown bag here normalizes the experience of buying meal kits in-store, integrating it with other grocery purchases so as not to stand out.
Baldor’s brand Urban Roots provides side dishes in clear plastic cups, with very minimal branding reserved for just the stickers on the lid and side. Whole ingredients are layered on top of one another (with some recipe components like nuts and seeds bagged separately within the cup) for a bright, earthy, appetizing look.
True Meal Prep lets online shoppers customize meals and order them in bulk, sending them out in the exact kind of lightweight plastic containers that consumers would be using if they had prepped the meals themselves. Here, we see how the meal prep trend is differentiated from the meal kit service trend, even though some meal kits, like Prep+Pared and Aprons, are built around prepping. The distinction in meal prepping is in the nutrition of the meals and, more importantly, in the bulk, make-ahead fashion that they are cooked.
Meal kit services like Blue Apron and Plated send subscribers boxes of meals that are intended to be prepared and consumed in the same day. True Meal Prep is different not only in that they send out fully-cooked meals, but that everything about the way those meals are packaged suggests that they are meant to be stored and eaten over several days.
Even Tyson now has a line of “Ready for Slow Cooker” raw meat-and-vegetable packs to expedite the cooking process, with the vegetables and meat separately shrink-wrapped to prevent cross-contamination.
While the meal prep trend has been growing, it hasn’t been without controversy. Critics have pointed to the excessive use of non-recyclable plastics and other wasteful materials in the packaging for many popular brands of meal prep kits. Naturally, startups are responding to this with their own environmentally-friendly products.
One Potato delivers meals for families with children (they include free cookie dough in every box), and they have a strong commitment to sustainability. According to their website, the cardboard box can be included with standard paper recycling, the bags and bottles are marked as #2 and #4 recyclables, the outer liner and ice packs (after the non-toxic gel has been disposed) are recyclable plastics, and the inner liner is biodegradable.
Like other brands, One Potato uses a pretty minimalist design, with a distinct font, singular color, and their slogan, “One Family. One Meal.”
Terra’s Kitchen is a truly innovative company in the business of delivering sustainably packaged, prepped meal kits. Each kit is delivered in a “specially engineered vessel” that customers ship back and is then reused up to 100 times.
The sleek, simple container is fully insulated, and it holds both interior drawers and reusable ice blocks. The design is more dynamic than what we’ve seen with other brands, as the packaging is inordinately dynamic and functions almost like a temporary mini-fridge. It also keeps the ingredients well-organized and efficiently stored.
The common thread that we see over and over again is the idea of minimalism—mostly clear plastics to allow the rich colors of the vegetables and stand out, or brown kraft paper for a rustic feel. The packaging must make the meal seem simple and easy to assemble because when consumers are meal prepping, they are really taking on a fairly sizeable challenge. Cooking a week’s worth of lunches, breakfasts or dinners (God help the shopper that prepares all three) can take hours, and unassuming, natural-looking packaging makes the experience seem like less of a daunting undertaking.
Taylor Getler is a Business Development Associate at Works Design Group, a branding, package design, and creative services agency in the Philadelphia area.