A while back, if there was nothing in the house to eat and hungry customers were too tired to go out, they had two options: pizza or Chinese food. Over time, some variations emerged ... the pizza parlor started selling lasagna, or a Thai place opened up next to the the Chinese restaurant.
But all of these delivery businesses had two things in common — they were neighborhood-based, and they did the cooking.
Then, in 1967, Domino's Pizza started launching franchises. Before hardly anyone even noticed, pizza delivery became a national industry.
Nothing much changed for years...until recently.
Suddenly a slew of companies with deep pockets and national ambitions have emerged with an entirely different business model. They'll deliver the ingredients and the recipe, but customers have to do the cooking.
What's helped this emergence is what logistics folks call the seamless cold chain: The ability of delivery companies like FedEx and UPS to keep a box refrigerated from pick-up to home delivery.
Here's a look at three of the more interesting companies in the still-emerging dinner-kit delivery space.
Perhaps the best-known player in meal-kits is Blue Apron, which was launched in 2012 by a former venture capitalist. The service started in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, home base for the hipster and foodie cultures, and then grew by leaps and bounds.
Blue Apron now ships meals — for $9.99 per person, everything in the correct portions, with easy-to-follow directions — once a week to subscribers across most of the United States.
The company is expected to bring in some $70 million in revenue this year. And that has caught the attention of Wall Street. Blue Apron picked up $50 million in Series C round funding in April in a deal that valued the company at roughly $450 million.
In June, Blue Apron announced it had outgrown its Brooklyn facility and would relocate operations to Jersey City.
New York is still the home of Plated, another 2012 startup in the meal-kit space. Plated has also won the favor of investors, picking up $15 million in Series A funding in August.
The company offers a subscription-based service, shipping ingredients and recipes to customers for a $8 monthly membership fee and meals at $12 a plate.
Just two months after Blue Apron picked up its Series C funding, rival HelloFresh also landed a $50 million cash infusion.
The Berlin-based startup has a business model similar to Blue Apron — recipes and fresh ingredients shipped in a box to subscribers. Terms are about the same too. Subscribers can cancel at anytime, and they can skip a week of delivery whenever it suits them. Prices are about the same as Blue Apron's: Anywhere from $9.09 to $10.75 per person, per meal.
In fact, the only substantial difference between Hello Fresh and its two leading rivals is that it's a global company, with subscribers in Europe and the United States.