Revealed: how ‘convenient’ recipe boxes really measure up on price

<span>All the right ingredients: but do these kits really add up when it comes to cost?</span><span>Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer</span>
All the right ingredients: but do these kits really add up when it comes to cost?Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Consumers who subscribe to “recipe box” delivery services can save up to 74% of the cost of the meals by buying the ingredients separately in the supermarket, research by the Observer has found.

Analysis of the contents and prices of some of the most popular meal kits shows that buying the individual ingredients is far cheaper – even if you have to get whole bottles of sauce or packets of rice.

The kits, which include measured ingredients to make a dish and delivered to consumers’ doors, boomed in popularity during the pandemic. Sold as a convenient way to have fresh meals, they typically contain meat, fish and vegetables and small sachets of sauce and spices, as well as recipe cards.

Our analysis was of four of the most popular kits – from Hello Fresh, Gousto, Green Chef and Mindful Chef.

We compared the cost with prices at Tesco, the country’s most popular supermarket. And we looked at two things: the cost of the same quantity of ingredients – so that, if a recipe demanded 15ml of soy sauce, we portioned that out – and the upfront full cost for someone who had none of the ingredients already.

All the boxes we examined were composed of two meals for two. Consumers can add several meals, often with decreasing costs per portion.

Green Chef

Green Chef, which says its recipes are developed by nutritionists, takes orders for two or four people, for between two and five meals a week.

It describes itself as the “recipe box for healthy eating”. Delivery fees vary depending on where you live, but the cost for a box for two delivered in London came in at £7.98.

We ordered pork chilli con carne and pork steak in mustard sauce for two for £33 – that’s £8.25 a portion, and weighed the contents.

For the chilli, the same ingredients by weight cost just £2.13 a portion, according to our analysis – almost 75% cheaper. Even if you bought the full supermarket packages of each item – such as 220g of cheddar, even though just 60g is needed – the total cost would be £4.79. And this would leave you with more pork, passata, broccoli, spices and sour cream to use in the future.

A kit for pork steak in mustard sauce costs £8.25 a portion but came in at £3.13 after being broken down. Buying all of the ingredients costs £6.17, still a 25% saving.

Hello Fresh

Green Chef’s sister brand, Hello Fresh – which distributes its boxes from the same centre – takes orders for between two and four people, for two to five meals per week.

Delivery was quoted as £4.99. Orders to Northern Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man may be charged an additional fee.

Its peri-peri chicken breast traybake costs £6.75 a portion. The same ingredients by weight would be just £2.11 in Tesco.

The company also has a sticky honey beef rice bowl at £6.75 a portion. The ingredients by weight come to £2.11 in Tesco – almost 70% less. By buying in bulk, there is still a saving, but just 8p.


Gousto takes orders for between one and five people for two to five meals. Delivery is £3.99.

It has a chicken with tomato sauce and harissa mash meal at £6.50. In Tesco, the ingredients come to £1.98 by weight – a 70% saving. And buying everything in bulk comes in at £5.71 – still a 12% saving.

The company’s crispy lemon chicken with chilli rice costs £6.50 but the parts cost £2.07. And in bulk they are £6 (an 8% saving) and you will be left with enough rice, soy sauce and sesame seeds for many more dishes.

Mindful Chef

Mindful Chef, which is majority owned by Nestlé, sells kits for one, two or four people, for between two and five recipes. Delivery is £4.99.

A prawn korma is £8.87 but buying the same in Tesco – with 165g of prawns instead of the 180g in the kit box – comes in at £2.98. Full bottles and packets of all the ingredients come to £7.83, almost 12% less.

Its chicken karaage and fried rice also costs £8.87. If you could just buy what you needed at the supermarket, you would spend £4.11.

In our survey, this is the only dish where it does not make financial sense to buy the ingredients in full. The bill comes to £11.78, but that is down to pricey jars such as white miso, garlic paste and chilli paste, which can be stored in the fridge.

All of the companies offer savings for first orders, such as free delivery or discounts. The prices we examined were for the full cost of food, excluding delivery.

Apart from the savings, consumers also have the advantage of being able to see the quality of ingredients when buying it in person (or, indeed, buying them in an online shop).

Ingredients sent to the Observer included a damaged chilli from Gousto and a very withered pak choi from Hello Fresh. Some ginger puree, meant for the sticky honey rice bowl, did not arrive in the Hello Fresh box.

Hello Fresh and Green Chef say prices decrease with the number of meals ordered. Five recipes for four come in at £3.15 a portion with Hello Fresh. Four meals for four people with Green Chef work out at £5.50 a portion, it says, claiming price rises have been behind inflation.

“Our customers don’t only pay for the ingredients we ship. Our services provide a lot of added value besides just the physical product, and are, as such, not comparable with brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

“Our customers save time across the meal preparation process, from meal planning through to grocery shopping for all the right ingredients,” it says.

Mindful Chef says there is “sometimes” a price difference compared to the supermarket, and that it operates on a zero-waste model. “Customers come to Mindful Chef to help them make healthy eating easier, with recipes designed by our chefs to particular specifications, and the pre-portioned ingredients delivered straight to their door, saving time travelling to and from the supermarket,” it says.

While some “very savvy cooks” could maximise using all ingredients bought by the kilo or bottle, it says this is “unusual” for the average UK household. “How many times have you thrown away half used sauces, or leftover vegetables, because you didn’t use them before they went off, or were beyond their use-by date?”

Gousto also argues that measured, delivered, ingredients lead to greater convenience and less waste. “If customers were buying the whole ingredients for these recipes at the supermarkets, they would be spending lots of money to buy fresh herbs, full jars of spices, sauces etc that may not be used again for a long while, which leads to added waste,” it says.

Hello Fresh customers are given compensation when ingredients are not up to standard or absent. Gousto says it gives credit when ingredients are damaged.Concern has been raised in the past at the level of packaging.

Hello Fresh says it causes 25% fewer carbon emissions than similar products from supermarkets and that it has been introducing more paper. Mindful Chef says 80% of its packaging can be recycled. It claims a 54% smaller carbon footprint than going to the supermarket to buy the same meal. Gousto, meanwhile, claims a 23% lower carbon footprint and that 72% of its packaging is recyclable.