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In titling this post, I wasn’t quite sure how to describe what, exactly, Hello Fresh does. It’s not quite meal delivery, because the meals are not prepared for you. But it’s more than just grocery delivery, because they send you specific ingredients and the recipes to make the meals. But “Hello Fresh Ingredient and Recipe Delivery Service” sounds cumbersome. So “Meal Delivery Service” it is.

I first became aware of Hello Fresh when I received a flyer and coupon with some wines I ordered from NakedWines.com. There’s an example of successful cross-marketing. I suppose they assumed that people who order wine online might also be interested in ordering pre-arranged meals online. They assumed correctly!

The coupon was for $40 off our first box. After looking at the Hello Fresh website, I determined that their usual price is $69/box, and each box contains three meals. So $29 for our first box seemed like a great bargain. Because they require no commitments and you can cancel at any time, I figured it was worth a shot. They send you everything you need for the recipes in the exact quantities, except for a few staples they expect you to have on hand, such as butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Each week there is a choice of five meals. They pre-select three of them, but you can change the selections if you wish. A vegetarian option is always available (and there’s a vegetarian-only box), but I am a dedicated carnivore, so we haven’t tried any of the vegetarian meals.

We’ve now received four boxes, and I have to say, the food is very good. The quality of ingredients is high, and the quantity of food in each meal is rather nice. Unfortunately, we have had several problems over the past four weeks. As a result, I have very mixed feelings about Hello Fresh. Below is a recap of each of our four boxes and the problems we had.

Week One

IMG_6082Our box arrived on Tuesday. The ingredients come packaged in plastic bags with labels identifying which recipe they belong to. The food is packed inside a styrofoam container with a cardboard exterior box. Several ice packs are included to keep the food cold during transit. I unpacked everything without really inspecting it, and just put it all in the refrigerator.IMG_6083

The recipes for the first box were Seared Mahi Mahi with Peach Salad and Honey-Mint Vinaigrette, Hamish’s Speedy Steak Stir-Fry with Noodles, and Cara’s Pesto Chicken Burgers. On Wednesday I went to make the mahi mahi recipe and realized that we had two bags with ingredients for that recipe and were missing a bag for the pesto chicken burger recipe. Hmm, not off to a great start, Hello Fresh. I logged into my account online and sent them a message about the mix-up. This was around 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

Mahi mahi.

Mahi mahi. (All food photos are the actual meals I prepared, not the Hello Fresh professional photos.)

The mahi recipe was delicious, and the honey-mint vinaigrette was really fantastic. They estimate about 30 minutes to prepare this meal, and I found that to be roughly accurate. Most of that time is spent chopping ingredients. The cooking time itself was quite short.

We tried the steak stir-fry the next night. Again, time to prepare was roughly accurate–they estimated 20 minutes, but it took closer to 30 with all the chopping. The meal itself was yummy and filling.

Steak stir-fry.

Steak stir-fry.

I had put off making the pesto chicken burgers because I had to go to Trader Joe’s and buy the ingredients that Hello Fresh had failed to send. We had an extra bag of mixed greens, peach, and cucumber from the mahi recipe, so I served that alongside the chicken burger instead of the arugula salad they intended. But I had to buy basil, tomatoes, mozzarella, and bread crumbs. The meal was fine, but it was my least favorite of the three.

As for my complaint to customer service, by Thursday afternoon I STILL had not heard back from them regarding their foul-up with the box. I sent a second email to them, and I also attempted to call their 1-800 customer service number. At around 4 p.m. on a Thursday, no one answered. There was no automatic system, no voicemail, nothing. It just rang and rang and rang. I don’t even know what to make of that.

I finally received an email from their customer service on Friday. They apologized for the error and offered to credit my account for the cost of the meal, which was $23. This was the appropriate response, but their timing was completely unacceptable. I expect no more than 24 hours to elapse between the time I contact a company and the time they respond, especially when it’s something they really effed up.

Week Two

The recipes for the second box were Lemon Chicken Caesar Salad, Lisa’s Herby Salmon Skewers with Israeli Couscous, and Meatball Pizza. This time when the box showed up, I carefully inventoried the ingredients to be certain we had everything we were supposed to have. We did. I also opened all the plastic bags and stored ingredients appropriately, instead of tossing everything in the fridge.

Salmon skewers.

Salmon skewers.

The salmon skewers were excellent, but the prep was a little more time than I wanted it to be. Also, there were only four skewers, and we had significantly more salmon and zucchini than could fit on four skewers. We ended up grilling the extra pieces separately, and my husband ate them for lunch the next day with leftover couscous.

The chicken caesar salad was also delicious.

Chicken Caesar salad.

Chicken Caesar salad.

However, the folks at Hello Fresh apparently need a primer on bread. There was supposed to be ciabatta included, which was to be cut and toasted into croutons.

Not ciabatta.

Not ciabatta.

Instead we received a seed-encrusted mini-baguette. Those are two very different things. We just cut the baguette in half, toasted it, and served it with butter, rather than making croutons out of it.

The meatball pizza was my least favorite recipe. First of all, the recipe estimates 35 minutes, but the card fails to tell you that the dough should come to room temperature before you use it. That instruction is on the bag. Allowing an hour for dough-warming significantly increases the advance time on this recipe. The other problem is that their sauce is not very good. It tastes too much like tomato paste, despite the fact that it uses a can of what is supposed to be crushed tomatoes. My homemade sauce using Trader Joe’s crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce is vastly superior to this sauce. Also, Hello Fresh doesn’t include any oregano or other herbs to make the sauce interesting.

Week Three

I once again carefully inventoried the box this week, and while everything was present, there was a casualty of shipping. A container of Greek yogurt exploded in its bag, ruining both itself and the pita that was packaged with it. I immediately emailed Hello Fresh, not having high hopes for any sort of timely response. The recipes for the week were Shrimp and Farro Bowl with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette, Hallie’s Chicken and Kale Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce, and Laura’s Steak Gyros.

Shrimp and farro bowl.

Shrimp and farro bowl.

The shrimp and farro bowl was quite possibly my favorite dish overall. We enhanced the recipe by seasoning the shrimp with Chesapeake Bay shrimp seasoning (basically Old Bay, but not Old Bay brand, because it’s got far more salt in it than we like), rather than the boring, old salt and pepper that the recipe calls for. One other quibble with this recipe is that their photo for the vinaigrette was clearly recycled from another recipe.

Do these look the same to you?

Do these look the same to you?

The photo shows a lot of green, but the sauce consists of shallot, lemon juice and zest, and mustard–none of which is actually green. Careless mistakes like this annoy me.

The chicken and kale recipe was fine, but I really detest kale, so I didn’t love it. To its credit though, the kale was tolerable.

Chicken and kale.

Chicken and kale.

I had to buy replacement Greek yogurt and pitas for the gyro recipe, but it was quite good. The yogurt-paprika sauce was a wonderful accompaniment.

Steak gyros.

Steak gyros.

And it only took Hello Fresh 28 hours to respond to my email this time. They credited me $15 for the problem, which was acceptable to me. It only cost me about $8 to replace the ruined ingredients.

Week Four

Hello Fresh’s success rate improved from 33% to 50% with our fourth box, because nothing was wrong with it. The recipes we received were Shrimp and Hearts of Palm Salad with Avocado Dressing, Tomato and Corn Salsa Pizza, and Spiced Pork with Zucchini and Corn Succotash.

Shrimp salad.

Shrimp salad.

The shrimp salad was amazing, mostly because of the avocado dressing. I seriously wanted to just eat it with a spoon. And Hello Fresh salads are, generally speaking, quite large. They tend to include an entire bunch of Romaine lettuce, which produces two generously sized salads. We’re having the pizza tonight, and this time, I’ll know to take the dough out of the refrigerator well in advance of when I need to start prepping dinner.

Overall Thoughts

Pros:

The quality of ingredients is good.
The meals are, for the most part, quite delicious.
It’s very convenient having just the right amount of food, especially for things like mint, parsley, and other herbs that you usually have to buy in excessive quantities at the grocery store.
Having three meals per week pre-planned makes things easier for me.
The recipes are generally easy to prepare.

Cons:

Some of the produce shows up worse for the wear. Tomatoes and bell peppers especially tend to get damaged in transit.
Not all of the recipes are up to snuff, flavor-wise, with what I can prepare myself.
Sometimes ingredients are missing or incorrect.
Their recipe cards often have typos, and sometimes the photos don’t even remotely match reality.
Their customer service is terrible. Perhaps they’ve expanded too quickly, but they need to get a handle on this ASAP.
I’m uncomfortable with the amount of packaging that comes with each shipment. And as far as I know, only the corrugated cardboard box is recyclable. I appreciate their efforts to preserve and protect the food, but they need to find a more eco-friendly way to do it.
The expense cannot be justified. For the two of us, my husband and I have averaged about $16/day on groceries this year, and that includes food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We only dine out for dinner occasionally, and my husband packs a lunch nearly every day. With Hello Fresh, we were spending $23/day just for dinner. It’s a great concept, but we won’t be continuing with them because the cost/benefit analysis does not work out in their favor.

If you want to give Hello Fresh a try, sign up using the code EC33ZT, and you’ll save $20 on your first box.

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