Meal prep businesses save customers money

File Photo/Melissa Campbell/AJOC
10856_256.jpg
 
Carina Howe and Cathy Edlin prepare meals at the Alaska Dinner Factory in Anchorage in this 2007 file photo.
File Photo/Melissa Campbell/AJOC
   
When it comes to dinnertime, most people fall into one of two camps: There are those who rely on drive-thru or pre-packaged meals during the week, and those who spend hours wandering the aisles of the local supermarket trying to come up with healthy yet quick-to-fix meals.

It’s never been easy, and now with the skyrocketing cost of fuel, food prices are steadily climbing.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of milk has increased 26 percent over the year. Egg prices jumped 40 percent. That means higher prices at the checkout line as well as at restaurants, which are raising their prices to cover the cost of raw ingredients.

In spite of all this, there is a surprisingly economical alternative that, until recently, many people considered a luxury: The meal prep business.

According to an international survey released by the International Association of Meal Prep Businesses, 48 percent of the 1,818 respondents who use meal prep services reported a decrease in their monthly grocery bill.

There are primarily two reasons for this, said Linnea Cummings, owner of the Alaska Dinner Factory in Anchorage.

First of all, customers only paying for food they use.

“Nothing’s going to waste,” Cummings said. “Why spend the money for an entire stalk of celery when you’re only going to use some of it and the rest will just go bad in your fridge?”

Secondly, there’s no temptation to impulse buy.

“Even when you have a grocery list, it seems like you always leave the store with at least a few items you had no intention of buying,” Cummings said. “That temptation doesn’t really exist here.”

Although all meal prep businesses are different, most operate in essentially the same way. Customers schedule a time to come in, and when they arrive, all the ingredients are ready to go. The business does all the shopping, chopping, simmering and, most importantly, clean up. Customers assemble their meals at workstations that house the meats, cut-up veggies, sauces and spices. They are encouraged to alter the recipe to suit their tastes.

At the Alaska Dinner Factory, customers choose a six-meal package for $130 ($3.61 per serving) or a 12-meal package for $220 ($3.05 per serving). Cummings said she’s able to keep her prices low because she buys in bulk, a method of grocery-buying that simply isn’t viable for singles, couples and small families.

 

10857_256.jpg
 
Fresh ingredients sit in refrigerated containers at the Alaska Dinner Factory. A recent survey released by the Association of Meal Prep Businesses said 48 percent of respondents who use meal prep services reported a decrease in their monthly grocery bill.
File Photo/Melissa Campbell/AJOC
   
Tammy Gongliewski, owner of Super Suppers meal prep business in Eagle River, said headlines about the rising cost of groceries have brought customers to her store in droves.

“We’ve been so busy,” Gongliewski said. “A lot of people can’t afford to eat out as much now, but they still want to save time. And you don’t want to buy an entire jug of, say, balsamic vinegar at Costco if you only need a teaspoon. A lot of families just want to plan ahead, and we make it easy.”

Super Suppers charges $22 for a meal that serves four to six, and $13 for a meal that serves two to three.

“If you’re looking to feed four people, that averages out to $4.40 per person per serving,” Gongliewski said. “When you compare that to even fast-food it’s pretty inexpensive, plus you don’t have to feel guilty about what you just ate.”

According to Super Suppers’ Web site, its customers can save hundreds of dollars and 20 to 30 hours of time every month.

“If you look at it from a purely economic perspective, meal assembly stores make good financial sense,” said Leslie Hanna, president of the International Association of Meal Prep Businesses. “Apply your ’hourly rate’ to the time savings achieved - minimized time spent grocery shopping, prep work and cooking - and then factor in the substantial reduction in wasted food, it all adds up to a good deal.”

Updated: 
11/12/2016 - 12:29pm