Aramark has partnered with meal kit maker Home Chef to deliver packages of fresh, pre-portioned ingredients and recipe cards as part of 25 university dining plans. “We learned students wanted to know how to cook as part of their ‘adulting’ journey,” says Karen Parker, vice president, Channel Growth & Marketing at Aramark. “We also witnessed the popularity of the meal kit solutions in the general marketplace and wanted to tap into that popularity.”
Aramark’s research found that 40% of students surveyed cook at home more than once a week, primarily because it is cheaper and healthier. If priced appropriately, 60% of students said they would use meal kits at least weekly. Initially, Aramark considered creating the meal kits internally. “We quickly realized that most of the meal kit companies had sophisticated business models with significant infrastructure and logistics solutions that required significant capital and human investments that we couldn’t easily match,” Parker says. “So we turned to subject matter experts to help us deliver a first-class experience to our customers.”
The meal kit program is designed to complement the more traditional elements of a meal plan, says Parker. “They are not designed to be a substitute for the convenience and value that meal swipes and declining balance dollars offer students who are managing their course load and extracurricular activities,” she said.
At Arizona State University (ASU), for example, students, whether they live on or off campus, have the option to purchase a meal plan that includes a $120 credit for Home Chef meals. Students then sign up for a Home Chef account on its website where they can specify any food allergies or special diets, enter a shipping address and select a delivery day. To use the $120 credit purchased through ASU, students enter their unique voucher code before completing sign-up.
Students can choose from 38 different meal options each week and plan meals five weeks in advance as well as customize ingredients. They can also skip a weekly delivery at any time if they know they will be eating elsewhere or on vacation. All changes to meals and delivery must be made by 12 p.m. CST the Friday before the scheduled delivery day. The meal kits are delivered via FedEx Ground in a temperature-controlled box.
Available meal kits are categorized by prep and cook time, difficulty level, spice level and the time period before the ingredients expire. There are recipes endorsed as “Staff Picks” such as Bone-In Pork Chop and Jalapeño Cheddar Biscuits served with broccoli and chive crema, and “Home Chef Express” kits like Chicken Fajitas with Cheddar and Sour Cream that can be made in under 15 minutes. Other categories include 5-Minute Meals, Calorie Conscious Meals, Carb Conscious Meals, Entrée Salads, Oven-Ready and Culinary Collection. There are also portions more appropriate for entertaining or leftovers such as the six-portion version of Korean Pork Noodle Bowl with Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper.
“Gen Z-era students are accustomed to using platforms like Uber, Spotify and Amazon Prime to make their life easier and more productive,” says Parker about the new meal kit program. “Many also consider themselves ‘foodies’ and have more sophisticated and adventuresome dining expectations.”
While the meal kit model initially catered to working adults who like to cook but didn’t have time or patience to grocery shop, such kits overcome just as many obstacles for students who’d rather prep their own meal than eat out. For one, many students don’t have transportation to visit grocery stores for ingredients or are stuck shopping at stores with very limited selections. What’s more, meal kits assemble all the necessary ingredients and come with trusted recipe instructions, sidestepping the aspects of home cooking that those new in the kitchen might find stressful.
“The typical Gen Z student is also interested in personalization and flexibility,” says Parker. “By providing the option of Home Chef meal kits, Aramark empowers students to choose from a broad array of ingredients and recipes, have them delivered at a time and place of their choosing and gives them the flexibility to customize each dish in their own kitchen to suit their tastes. For example, they may choose to eliminate an ingredient, substitute an alternate, or following the recipe exactly.”
In Aramark’s pilot test of the program, 60% of student participants surveyed were “very satisfied” with their meal kit meal plan purchase, the highest rating on the scale. What’s more, 75% said Home Chef meals “exceeded” or “far exceeded” their expectations, 95% rated “high” or “very high quality” for the meals they received, and 85% were “much more likely” or “somewhat more likely” to purchase a meal plan next year if it includes Home Chef meals. Aramark and Home Chef have plans to expand the program to more schools this spring.