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By Brad Tuttle
Updated: March 20, 2020 1:45 PM ET
Items from a "family-plan" Blue Apron meal kit box.
Scott Eisen—Getty Images

What’s for dinner? This most basic of questions has gotten increasingly complicated as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

Restaurants are closed or only open for takeout or delivery. Grocery stores are reducing hours, and many people worry about the health risks of going shopping when recommendations call for self-isolation and social distancing. Ordering groceries online isn’t necessarily a solution, either, because the big services like Peapod, FreshDirect, and Amazon Fresh are overwhelmed and often can’t fulfill orders.

What about online meal kit delivery subscriptions like Blue Apron and Home Chef, which send members recipes and pre-chopped, pre-measured, ready-to-cook meals on a regular basis?

Until very recently, the outlook for the meal kit business was dismal. Though some services built up a loyal base of customers who found them fun and convenient, meal kits have struggled to win over the masses. Would-be customers have passed on meal kits after deciding they were too expensive (upwards of $13 per serving), the portions were too small, the subscription plans were too confusing, or they were otherwise just weren’t worth the trouble if you genuinely enjoy cooking.

Blue Apron, probably the category’s best-known brand, saw its stock price below $2.30 last week, down from $6 at the start of 2020 — and a precipitous decline from a high around $150 after its mid-2017 IPO. In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Blue Apron announced the closure of one of its facilities, in Arlington, Texas.

But the coronavirus outbreak has caused people to become more creative when it comes to feeding their families, and consumers and investors alike appear to be giving meal kit delivery a second look.

“Over the last week we have seen a sharp increase in consumer demand,” Blue Apron said in a statement released to Money.com. “We are increasing our capacity for future orders and expect to fulfill this increased demand by the next available weekly cycle,” starting on March 30. Blue Apron stock spiked this week too, reaching a high over $16 per share on Wednesday, before retreating back under $12 on Thursday, and the company just announced it’s hiring more workers (“no experience necessary!”) at fulfillment centers in New Jersey and California.

Meal kit operator Marley Spoon is also looking to hire workers (at facilities in Newark, N.J., Dallas, Texas, and Tracy, California), and told Money.com in a statement it is “currently experiencing unprecedented demand from customers looking for the delivery of meals that they can cook at home.”

In some cases, meal kit customers are encountering delays or surprise substitutions in their orders, though it’s hard to get a sense of how widespread the problems are. HelloFresh, told Money.com that it has “prepared for a variety of scenarios, some of which include planning for fluctuations in demand.” Blue Apron responded to one complaint on its Facebook page by saying: “Due to increased demand, some of the recipes that you previously selected may no longer be available. We will be emailing customers soon with further information.”

The meal kit company Home Chef said it is working “to ensure delivery continuity,” and that “if we anticipate delivery delays as the situation evolves, impacted customers will be notified.” Amazon warns that regarding its service, Amazon Meal Kits, “inventory and delivery may be temporarily unavailable due to increased demand,” though it is run in conjunction with the company’s online grocery option, Amazon Fresh, which has been swamped.

Given the speed and ease of using meal kits to help put food on your table, right now could be a particularly appealing time to try them out. Every service has a range of deals to entice new subscribers to sign up, including free shipping and low introductory prices.

Just be warned that these services may not exactly be at the top of their game, given the increase in demand. What’s more, all of the existing issues that soured shoppers in the past about meal kit delivery haven’t disappeared. Among the frustrations you’re bound to encounter is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to sift through the menu options and see exactly how much you’ll pay without giving up some personal information: You often must set up an account, with an email, password, address, and all.

Here are some of the top meal kit delivery plans to consider, with pricing info that’s available. Shipping may cost $9 or $10 extra for each order.

Blue Apron

• $7.49 to $9.99 per serving
• Vegetarian options, along with dishes with meat and fish
• 2-serving plan with 2 recipes a week costs $27.95 the first week ($47.95 regularly)
• 4-serving plan with 2 recipes a week costs $51.92 the first week ($71.92 regularly)

Dinnerly

• From $4.49 per serving
• Uses digital recipes and fewer ingredients to lower costs
• 2-serving plan with 3 recipes a week costs $23.93 the first week ($38.93 regularly)
• 4-serving plan with 3 recipes a week costs $53.87 the first week ($68.87 regularly)

HelloFresh

• $7.49 to $8.99 per serving
• Vegetarian options, along with dishes with meat and fish
• Up to $15 off your first order

Home Chef

• $6.99 and up per serving
• Options include slow cooker dishes, entrée salads, and no-cook meals
• Up to $30 off your first order

Martha & Marley Spoon

• Choice of 22 weekly recipes created by the Martha Stewart empire
• 2-serving plan with 2 recipes a week costs $29.99 for first week ($49.99 regularly)
• 4-serving plan with 2 recipes a week costs $56.91 for first week ($76.91 regularly)

Sun Basket

• $10.99 to $12.99 per serving
• 2-serving plan with 2 recipes a week costs $51.96
• 4-serving plan with 2 recipes a week costs $103.92
• Up to $35 off for your first order

More from Money.com:

Coronavirus and Online Grocery Delivery: Everything You Need to Know

Investors Had All But Given Up on One-Time Unicorn Blue Apron. Then Came Coronavirus

Is Grocery Shopping Safe During the Coronavirus Outbreak? Here’s What Experts Say

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