How Meal Subscription Services Develop Successful Growth Strategies

In 2012, meal delivery companies became a thing. You could get pre-portioned meal kits or prepped food sent directly to your door. Time-pressed customers who dislike cooking more than ever flocked to them in an effort to find easier ways to obtain high-quality food. In 2017, the fresh-food meal-kit delivery market was valued at approximately $4.65 billion U.S. dollars and is now forecasted to reach around $10 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 and $11.6 billion U.S. dollars by 2022. To meet the needs of hungry consumers, over 30+ meal subscription services have come to market largely driven by profit projections from analysts and large venture capital investment

For many of these companies, obtaining and sustaining growth has had its challenges.  But where there are challenges, there are also solutions. By focusing on data, creating more specialized meals in order to meet dietary needs, and continually using customer feedback to improve the food experience, smart meal delivery companies are getting creative in how they tackle the biggest challenges in this sector of the food industry. I talked to three companies about how they developed their customer acquisition and retention strategies; here’s how they are growing and retaining happy customers. 

Hungryroot Builds Its Strategy On The Dietary Preferences Of The Hyper-Health Conscious

Hungryroot is a healthy, personalized grocery service, that sends customers weekly boxes with ready to eat and pre-prepped foods that can be combined to create tasty meals in under 15 minutes. Founded in 2015, the company successfully refined its growth strategy with VC investment in 2018, and recently opened a temporary store in New York City. With an extremely diverse, health-conscious and national customer base, the company’s continued success has come from putting the dietary needs and taste preferences of its customers at the forefront of acquisition and retention strategies.  

“Variety, flexibility, and personalization are paramount to Hungryroot subscribers,” shared Ruth Spencer, head of brand marketing at Hungryroot. From the taste of individual products to suggested food combinations, Hungryroot’s customers have the ability to tell the company what they like, what they don’t like and what else they want from the service. This feedback has given Hungryroot the ability to understand customers’ eating habits and create menu choices to accommodate almost any diet including: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and soy-free.

When it comes to acquiring new customers, Hungryroot has found that balancing its advertising yields consistent results. The company currently uses Facebook and Instagram ads, paid search, and email marketing as its primary channels. They’ve also started to see promising results from influencer and affiliate marketing.  “Once a new customer has signed up, we’ve seen a consistent high rate of retention from all channels, which speaks to the value that we are providing for customers, post-checkout.” Ruth said.

By leveraging customer data in smart ways, they’ve been able to develop targeted marketing strategies based on dietary preferences and geographic locations of their current customers, in order to acquire new ones. Their retention strategy is directly correlated to customer feedback and service practices. Once you try it, you may not leave it. So, may I suggest the cashew cheddar, and mango cultured coconut cream? 

Freshly Makes Meals Delivered To Your Door The Next Foodie Trend 

Freshly is making not cooking, hip. Founded in 2013, the company has raised a total of $107 million in VC funding. While their funding is impressive (with one of its major investors most recently being Nestle), their growth strategy is balanced across all of its marketing channels, and relies heavily on engaging their time-pressed customers in product development.

According to Adam Gassman, senior director of growth marketing at Freshly, the company’s marketing strategy takes into account short term acquisition, but it primarily focuses on the long term (which is retention).  Freshly takes an integrated marketing approach that balances between brand and paid performance. Adam personally believes that leveraging formulaic ad journeys has been a critical success factor for them. He shared: 

The goal is to identify a relatable customer pain point, then message the brand as the solution to making that problem less burdensome. We look to leverage a day trading mindset across all our channels. We live in the numbers all day long and push where we see opportunities and pull back where we see inefficiencies. We never let a bad ad or campaign run too long, but always give a new test a set budget to gauge its efficiency and ability to scale. Some days we’re super aggressive on opportunities the same way we’d be if we saw an opportunity in the market and other days the market is too choppy and we operate more conservatively. Being agile and willing to pivot quickly has been our biggest asset.

Because of the continual optimization of their campaigns and scrutiny of audience behavior,  Freshly is seeing that their attribution model needs to be as dynamic as their customers’ online patterns. In addition to using data to effectively drive their marketing efforts, the company credits its success to the focus of listening to and using customer feedback to improve the experience with the brand on a daily basis. 

“Our customer service team is there for support, not sales,” said Nate Champion, senior director of strategy for Freshly. “From assistance with account management to meal recommendation to even providing help with nutrition we make sure all of the customers’ needs are met in all aspects of our business.” 

Freshly also takes dietary preferences a step further, factoring in the taste and ingredient preferences of individual  customers. Their goal is ultimately to be able to offer a range of meals to a variety of audiences. In terms of quality of ingredients, shipping efficiency, overall taste and cost, Freshly takes the lead amongst meal delivery services. Advanced customer segmentation in their marketing is strong enough to make any data analyst blush. 

Green Chef Built Meal Kits To Fit Anyone

While there is a large percentage of the population who hate to cook, there are a growing number of people who are willing to cook at home, if they have the right portions, ingredients and instructions to prepare what’s come to their door in a box. Enter Green Chef, the first USDA-certified organic and certified gluten-free meal kit service in the market. The company is almost a hybrid between the meal prep and the meal delivery kit. Recently acquired by HelloFresh, Green Chef has seen steady growth in its customer base because of two critical factors –– food supply transparency and offering highly customizable choices. 

Supply chain transparency has led to an extremely loyal and vocal customer base. Because of this, the company has enabled their customers to provide feedback on all aspects of their food so they feel included in the menu creation process. “As a data-obsessed brand, customer feedback is extremely important to us and we are always refining our offerings to make sure our customers are receiving the best possible at-home cooking experience,” said Dana Murrell, Principal Chef at Green Chef.

Feedback and community driven menus have also led Green Chef to become one of the most customizable meal subscription services on the market.  Their individual and family plans feature menus for Keto, Paleo, Plant-Powered, Gluten-Free, Pescatarian, and Omnivore diets. Carnivore is only available under the Family Plan. Given the fact that these diets are harder to shop, cook, and plan for, this makes Green Chef one of the most viable options for people who have stricter diets and/or trying to address multiple food sensitivities and thus, gives them a unique marketplace position to maintain their customer subscriptions. 

“We’re constantly innovating at Green Chef to give home cooks the best experience in the kitchen. Each carefully packed Green Chef box contains premium pre-measured ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes for balanced dishes,” said Dana. “We also recognize that consumers genuinely care about what goes into their food and where it’s sourced. Green Chef is committed to supporting local farmland, family farms, and craft economies to bring the highest quality ingredients to our customers.”

Three Ways Meal Delivery Services Can Drive Growth & Customer Acquisition

In looking at the successes of Freshly, Hungryroot and Green Chef, there are three main tenets of success that any meal company can employ when developing a successful growth strategy:

  1. Put the customer at the center of all you do. Include them in menu planning, share food sources and be a resource to help them understand and meet their dietary needs. 
  2. When you develop a vibrant, loyal community, make sure you base your digital marketing strategy on the social, demographic and geographic information available when developing and executing new strategies. 
  3. Always define your goals by channel and make sure those goals dovetail with the other goals you’ve set for each channel. The tactics and execution of the programs should naturally align and show you where your greatest gains can be made. 

While data is always an essential part of any successful growth marketing plan, human interpretation of that data is where scale can be found. And when it comes to your customers, being honest, listening to them and accommodating will win every time. That’s something you don’t need data to tell you.