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Community-based Meal Kit Program

Community-based Meal Kit Program

Market Research

Market research is critical for understanding the needs and preferences, identifying potential barriers to participation, and designing a program that meets the needs of community members. During the developmental phase of the project, we conducted surveys in each of the communities to gather information on how to best serve the community from the community. Alternatively, focus groups would be an effective means of gathering this information.


Potential barriers to participation in a meal kit program, include lack of transportation, limited access to cooking equipment, or time constraints. Survey results indicated that in addition to these barriers, cost, knowledge/ability, grocery store access and storage for fresh food at home played a role in prohibiting food preparation at home. Strategies devised during the development phase of the project to address these included: 

  • Transportation

    Some participants may not have access to reliable transportation to pick up meal kits from the designated location. To accommodate participants with transportation difficulties we, allocated funds to delivery and delivered to the participants door, allowed participants to designate an alternate pick-up person and provided a flexible pick-up window.

  • Limited access to cooking equipment

    Access to basic cooking equipment such as a stove or oven, may be limited for some participants which can make it difficult for them to prepare the meals included in the meal kit. While this program did not have the funds to provide large kitchen equipment, participants were provided with small kitchen tools during enrollment such as a colander, grater, knife, oven mitt, measuring cups and spoons, cutting mats, and a pot set. These tools were selected based on what equipment was needed to prepare the recipes selected for the program.

  • Time constraints

    Busy schedules and other time constraints can make it difficult for individuals or families to participate in a meal kit program, particularly if the program requires a significant time commitment for meal preparation or evaluation. The recipes adapted for the program were limited to one hour, including preparation and cooking time, to minimize the time commitment required for the program. Additionally, pick up appointments were shortened by verifying meal kit contents prior to participant arrival, having a low staff to participants ratio, and providing the opportunity to complete evaluation tools at a more convenient time via phone or online.

  • Cost

    Though the intervention was free to participants, the team recognized the funding, community partnerships, ingredient choices, labor and distribution would play a sizeable role in reducing the cost of the program. Additionally, program developers should establish a budget for each recipe to ensure its affordability for participants who intend to reuse or supplement the recipes.

  • Knowledge/ability

    Similar to the pilot program, nutrition education cards were developed to cover a variety of topics including cooking terms, kitchen conversions, food safety, diet quality, and family mealtime activities. The goal of these educational resources was to supplement and improve participants' knowledge and ability to use the ingredients provided in the meal kits.

  • Grocery store access

    Though there is an overlap of households with low income and food deserts, those with access to transportation can travel outside of their community to find affordable nutritious options (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2011). The meal kit program catered to families of four, but enrollment was open to households of any size. Smaller families could use extra portions for future meals, while larger families could complement the kit's ingredients with store-bought items. Locally sourced ingredients in the kits potentially benefited those who needed to supplement their meals with additional items from nearby stores.

  • Storage

    Intervention participants did not express a concern with storage for fresh ingredients at home, however some partner programs had limited cold storage for the kit ingredients. Cold storage solutions such as portable coolers, commercial refrigerators, and commercial freezers were contributed to the programs help store these ingredients.

  • Other

    Unforeseen circumstances such as illness, relocation, change in employment, and change in contact methods can occur during the participation window. Flexibility from the program personnel, especially the culinary and data collection teams were crucial to maintaining these relationships during these circumstances. Where possible, the data collection team dropped off the kit on a front porch for an asymptomatic participant with COVID-19, proposed an alternate pick-up site or window and/or used an alternate contact method such as email.

Before implementation, program developers should evaluate community-specific barriers and work in conjunction with partners and the target audience to devise strategies for overcoming these barriers. Additionally, the effectiveness of the proposed strategies should be reevaluated regularly.


Individual preferences play an important role in consumer satisfaction, program success, and the long-term viability of the program. Satisfied participants are more likely to share their positive experiences with friends and family, leading to word-of-mouth referrals and potential new participants for the program. Here are some meal preferences to consider: 

  • Dietary Restrictions

    Some individuals may have dietary restrictions or allergies, such as gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, or vegan preferences. Offering meal options that cater to these dietary needs can expand the program's appeal. Each week, participants received a vegetarian, seafood, and meat or poultry recipe based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and internal nutrition guidelines. Program participation was limited to those without any special health-related dietary restrictions.

  • Cultural Diversity and Cuisine Variety

    People from different cultural backgrounds may have specific culinary preferences and ingredients they prefer. Incorporating a diverse range of recipes that reflect various cuisines can make the meal kit program more appealing to a broader audience. The program offered 18 unique recipes inspired by dishes from Southern, Traditional American, Mexican, Mediterranean, and Asian cuisines. These recipes featured a combination of familiar and new ingredients, encouraging participants to explore a variety of foods just beyond their comfort zone.

  • Cooking Skill Levels

    Some participants might prefer quick and easy recipes, while others enjoy more elaborate cooking experiences. To support skill development and engage children in the cooking process, the meal kit program focused on offering recipes suitable for beginner and intermediate levels. This not only made cooking enjoyable and accessible for all participants but also minimized the time required to prepare deliciously nutritious meals.

  • Health-Conscious Choices

    These recipes were carefully designed to meet nutrient guidelines from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, ensuring that they provide essential nutrients. Moreover, the meal kit recipes were crafted to meet approximately one-third of the daily caloric needs based on a 2000 calorie diet, promoting healthier portion sizes, and limiting added sugars, sodium, and fat. Nutrition labels were conveniently placed on the front of the recipe cards, empowering participants to make informed choices about their meals. Participants could personalize their meals and report those changes on the weekly survey.

  • Ethical and Sustainable Choices

    With the growing consumer interest in sustainable and ethically sourced ingredients, offering environmentally friendly and responsibly sourced meal options is essential. Nearly half of the program participants expressed that locally sourced ingredients were important when making food purchasing decisions, showcasing a strong preference for sustainable and community-focused sourcing practices. By prioritizing ethical and sustainable choices, the meal kit program aligns with consumer values and fosters a positive impact on the environment while supporting local communities.

Meal kit program can attract a larger customer base by considering these various meal preferences and provide a more personalized and enjoyable culinary experience for participants.



U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2011). Household Food Security in the United States in 2010 (Economic Research Report No. 125).