By the time Suruchi Mangal, 27, who works as a merchandiser with Impulse, an apparel supplier brand in Gurugram, reaches home on week days, it’s usually past 8pm. The last thing she wants to do is step into the kitchen to start prepping for dinner. “I felt guilty about ordering in restaurant food every night," says Mangal. Before Mangal hired a cook, she used to order Being Chef’s ready-to-eat meals often. A year and a half ago, the founder of Being Chef sent her a DIY meal kit. It comes with pre-portioned ingredients such as spices or herbs, oil, pre-cut vegetables as well as partially cooked sauces or base gravy. “All one needs to do is follow our eight-step recipe card and the meal should be ready in five minutes," says Shubham Maheshwari, founder of Being Chef. Now, Mangal orders the DIY kits (mainly pastas and Indian gravies) on weekends when the family wants a special meal or when the cook doesn’t turn up.

Mumbai-based physiotherapist, Darsha Daru, 42, who often orders the ready-to-eat meals as well as DIY meal kits from Burgundy Box, likes the fact that she can control the amount of oil and masala that goes into the food. This wouldn’t be possible with restaurant-ordered food. “I order from them when I have guests over as it looks like I have cooked," she says.

Suruchi Mangal orders them on weekends or when her cook does not turn up. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Suruchi Mangal orders them on weekends or when her cook does not turn up. Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Gourmet food at home

While Being Chef offers a range of 17-18 vegetarian meal kits ranging from a couple of pasta and Chinese options to biryani and Indian gravies along with half-cooked parathas and kulchas, most other meal kits across cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai offer more gourmet cuisines along with a few Indian dishes thrown in. For Abha Damani, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur who likes to try out different cuisines from the comfort of her home kitchen, meal kits are a great option. “Since everything is in measured quantities, there’s no wastage and it only takes about 20 minutes to put together a meal," says the 40-year-old who orders iChef’s DIY meal kits about twice a week. Featuring Thai curry, salads, soups, pasta, risotto and regional Indian food, iChef offers a weekly changing menu of 15-18 dishes that are priced at 200 onwards for a meal for two. “If I had to buy these ingredients separately, it would cost a lot more. Also, one ends up chucking expensive ingredients such as cheese or exotic herbs because you don’t know what to do with the rest of it," Damani adds. Daru, enjoys the fact that she can enjoy restaurant quality food at home at 30-40% cheaper prices.

Ayushe Guha, 24, a public relations professional from Bengaluru, tried her first meal kit about a year ago from Eten, a meal kit delivery service in December 2017. “I had several meetings on that particular day and no time to go home and cook. I ordered for a spaghetti aglio e olio meal kit. It was delivered in an hour—the cheese was grated, garlic finely diced and there were fresh basil leaves. It was a joy to cook," she says. Guha, who orders kits from Eten on and off, says that the biggest upside is that she doesn’t have to run to multiple grocery shops to source hard-to-find ingredients. “Plus, sometimes, I even ask Eten to customize the box with additional veggies or condiments which is possible if you order in advance," she adds.

The spice of life

Most Indian households like those of Damani, Mangal, Daru and Guha have domestic help in the kitchen to do prep work or cook, yet the people who run the meal kit business say that does not compromise the value they bring to the table. Vishal Shah, CEO of iChef, puts it, “Majority of house help is not qualified to make the kind of dishes in terms of taste profiles that we as consumers have graduated to due to our increasing exposure to different cuisines. What is helping the rapid adoption of our offering is the behavioural change in the psyche of the Indian customer." After all, “You do want a change in taste sometimes from what your cook does weekly, otherwise it gets monotonous," says Daru.

For others, customized meal kits that cater to certain dietary requirements are a godsend. Chennai-based food consultant Sajan CK, 48, who has diabetes and is on a low-carb keto diet, first turned to Awesome Chef’s Nutribowl when he was looking for help with his diet. Nutribowl, which promotes a low carb, high fat diet (LCHF), offers meal kits curated by its founder Anjali Anand who followed the diet herself for eight months before launching the line in mid-2018. “At home everyone has rotis and rice but I needed low carb options. That’s when I heard about the Nutribowl meal kits and decided to subscribe to their one-week meal kit. I was happy with the variety as I got to have keto-friendly zucchini noodles, Thai curry with cauliflower rice and grilled chicken with vegetables," he says.

Niche to necessity

While changing lifestyles and exposure to new cuisines is helping spur the growth of the meal kits category, it’s still a niche market in India. For this reason, most of the businesses providing meal kits such as Being Chef, Burgundy Box and Awesome Chef have expanded their portfolio—either offering meal boxes or health-specific requirements. Even Chef’s Basket, perhaps, the only pan-Indian brand to offer meal kits, has changed its product line considerably since it launched in 2013. Nipun Katyal, co-founder of Chef’s Basket, says, “We have two sets of customers—one is the millennial who orders our kits online because they want to try something different and don’t want to go through the hassle of doing too much prep work and the other is homemakers who buy these kits from supermarkets for their children."

While they sell about one lakh units per month, other businesses refused to divulge their turnover. Maheshwari claims that Being Chef’s recipe kit category has seen a 30% growth year on year; while Eten sells between 30-50 boxes per day. Shabnam Mehra, co-founder of Burgundy Box, predicts that meal kits will become a necessity in the next 10 years when “house help becomes scarce or too expensive and more and more people have lesser time or inclination to cook meals from scratch".

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