Cook Thanksgiving like Martha

Martha Stewart is taking on the meal kit market starting with the American holiday

Martha Stewart has teamed up with Marley Spoon to offer meal kits (above).
Martha Stewart has teamed up with Marley Spoon to offer meal kits (above).PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ MARLEY SPOON
Martha Stewart (above) has teamed up with Marley Spoon to offer meal kits.
Martha Stewart (above) has teamed up with Marley Spoon to offer meal kits.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ MARLEY SPOON

NEW YORK • This is the moment of the aspiring chef.

Want to have your groceries delivered to your door? Easy. Make the same dinners as world-famous restaurateurs? No problem. Do both together?

There is a meal kit for you, what- ever your diet - omnivore, vegan, gluten-free, organic, kid-friendly or some combination.

Yet, despite all the options, the buzz and an estimated market value of US$1.5 billion (S$2.1 billion), only 3 per cent of United States adults have tried a meal kit, according to a recent survey from NPD Group.

Martha Stewart is determined to change that.

Last August, she announced that she was teaming up with Marley Spoon, a Berlin meal kit company that offers its subscription and delivery service in Germany, the Netherlands and Britain.

On Oct 3, the rebranded US arm, Martha & Marley Spoon, based in New York City, announced a particularly American opportunity to give it a go: Thanksgiving.

For US$179, customers could order the recipes and all the ingredients they need to make a Martha Stewart- approved Thanksgiving dinner for eight to 10 of the loved ones they deem Martha-worthy.

That includes a 5- to 6kg free- range, antibiotic-free turkey, along with the gravy, sides of stuffing, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes (a Stewart family recipe) and apple pie. (A box with just the sides is available for US$119.)

As with any Martha & Marley Spoon box, customers will still have to put in the cooking, set-up and cleaning time. For those who missed their chance on Thanksgiving - ordering ended last week - the box was successful enough that the Martha & Marley Spoon team plans to run more specialised holiday boxes.

Like many of its competitors, Martha & Marley Spoon makes a point of selling high-quality, carefully selected ingredients. In this case, the turkeys are the main attraction. The team decided on Goffle Road Free Range Poultry Farms in Martha's home state of New Jersey.

But Mr Fabian Siegel, founder and chief executive of Marley Spoon, hopes to find new customers beyond the holiday.

"Why not make weeknight cooking just as easy?" he said.

For Stewart, getting into the meal kit business was partly about reducing food waste. 

"I get depressed going to supermarkets," she told reporters at a press event at her New York City test kitchen last September.

In the US, 19 billion kilograms of food was wasted in 2010, just at the retail level. Another 40 billion kilograms got thrown away at home.

In a crowded field, where all the competitors promise great recipes and ingredients and the convenience of home delivery, the new business is betting that Martha Stewart's wide repertoire of time- tested recipes and carefully cultivated brand will help attract new customers to Marley Spoon.

Stewart's dozens of books cover the gamut on cooking, decorating and hosting. Her magazine, in print for more than 25 years, reaches millions of people, as do her Facebook and Instagram accounts. She has collections at Macy's, Kmart and even Staples. She is a television star, with her own season of The Apprentice and several cooking shows under her belt, and a current one on VH1, co-hosted with rapper Snoop Dogg.

Besides bringing new recipes and helping to reach more customers, Mr Siegel said Stewart's "smart cooking techniques" that ensure dinner in 40 minutes or less is also part of the package.

It did not hurt that Marley Spoon's culinary director, Ms Jennifer Aaronson, was the editorial director of food and entertaining for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for 13 years.

Still, Martha & Marley Spoon faces challenges. The biggest reason customers steer clear of kits is the cost, the NPD report said.

Making a meal at home costs only about US$4 a person, the report found, while meal kits average about US$10 a person. Martha & Marley Spoon meals cost US$8.70 to US$12 a person, depending on how much is ordered. The trade-off is convenience. A  Yahoo! survey last year found that 47 per cent of those hosting Thanksgiving start planning at least a month in advance. This meal kit required ordering only before Nov 16 (or before the turkeys ran out) and following the instructions that come with it.

Still, if convenience is the ultimate goal, catering - FreshDirect is offering a 10- to 12-person meal for US$219 - might be the better option. Serve it on your own dishes, rustle up a few things in the kitchen and who has to know it was not made at home?

Also, on Thanksgiving, and even on a weeknight, some people like the inconveniences of home cooking. The search for the right recipe, the visit to the farmers' market, butcher shop or fishmonger, and the leftovers that can be incorporated into more meals down the line.

Stewart does give Marley Spoon an edge. "It will get attention because Martha Stewart's attached to it," Ms Kim McLynn of market research group NPD said.

But she is not the only celebrity in the meal kit game.

Mark Bittman, a long-time New York Times food writer and cookbook author, is the face of vegan Purple Carrot, and Ayesha Curry, a new cookbook author and wife of basketball star Steph Curry, announced Gather in June.

"My take is that there would be fans of Martha Stewart's (who try it), but it would be a very targeted consumer," Ms McLynn said.

Not even Mr Siegel pretends this is a product for everyone. Cooking with Pat LaFrieda meat or Murray's Cheese will always be more expensive and the people who try his kits who are not already in the habit of cooking are unlikely to try them again, he said.

He is after the ones who are used to making their own meals. "It would be wrong to claim you can't cook cheaper, but you can't cook this menu cheaper," Mr Siegel said. "At this point, we are not serving Sloppy Joe or taco night."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Cook Thanksgiving like Martha'. Subscribe