Brian Zomorodi, vice president of quality and food safety for Apio Inc., Guadalupe, Calif., visits with Danielle Gilmartin, senior operations manager for New York-based HelloFresh at a reception at the 2018 freshPACKmoves conference May 22 in Monterey, Calif. ( Tom Karst )

MONTEREY, California — Meal kit business continues to grow for HelloFresh and the company’s attention on packaging needs is growing along with it.

Speaking May 22 at the 2018 freshPACKmoves conference, Danielle Gilmartin, senior operations manager for New York-based HelloFresh, said the company delivered more than 26 million meals in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2018 and 48 million meal worldwide, up from 15.5 million meals in the same quarter last year in the U.S. and 30 million worldwide.

Started in Berlin in 2011 and New Jersey in 2012, HelloFresh has grown to nine countries, expanding throughout Europe, into Australia, Canada and the U.S. 

“We have grown 70% in the U.S. and that trajectory is expected to continue,” she said. She said HelloFresh invites new ideas from the packaging community to help it deliver sustainable packaging.

“We are on a mission to partner with different people in the industry to revolutionize (packaging) to make it easier for our consumers to have it be easily recyclable for them,” she said in her presentation.

Earlier this year, HelloFresh acquired Green Chef, which Gilmartin described as the only true organic meal kit company. The acquisition of the company has allowed it to expand offerings to consumers with dietary restrictions, include keto, paleo, gluten free and vegan options. Green Chef is expected to generate $15 million on a quarterly basis for HelloFresh, she said.

Between Green Chef and HelloFresh, the meal kit provider offers 20 meal choices for customers on a weekly basis.

HelloFresh has distribution centers throughout the U.S. where the company packs and ships meal kits. The company has distribution facilities in New Jersey, Texas, California and Colorado.


Packaging solutions

As much as they love fresh and convenient meals, consumers can bristle about the packaging involved with meal kits, whether it’s plastic bags, clamshells or boxes.

HelloFresh is looking to make packaging as sustainable as possible, she said.

“Some of these (items) are easily recyclable, such as corrugated boxes, and the meal kit bags are compostable,” she said.

HelloFresh has worked to create efficient distribution by cutting steps in the supply chain.

“We typically go right to the producers, pack in-house and ship to our customers,” she said. That results in less time in transit, which can help to eliminate food waste.

Even though meal kits are reducing food waste, they also result in packaging that consumers must deal with, she said. 
HelloFresh last year invested in a project to reduce box size by 20% and also cut the number of packaging stock-keeping units with meal kits.

“At the end of the day you are still having at least one box delivered to your house every week,” she said. “We have to make sure (the meal kit) gets there undamaged as well.

Gel packs often draw objections because it is inconvenient to recycle and dispose them. “Does that mean we move to dry ice?” she said, noting there are safety concerns at the receiving and distribution level.

Gilmartin said the growth of HelloFresh is out-pacing the development of new packaging. “We are still using corrugated boxes that we used when the industry started seven years ago,” she said.

She said HelloFresh is looking at the use of soft or hard coolers, and considering the possibility of returnable containers for meal kits.

“We are really looking at different ways to innovate in this industry,” she said. “What we are trying to do is find partners, different companies and universities to help us innovate in this space and to insure we are delivering high-quality fresh food in a sustainable manner to our customers.”