We know how popular some of the “big name” meal kit delivery services are, so we wanted to try one out and give you a side-by-side comparison of how our service matches up to Blue Apron!
First up: Packaging/Delivery
It’s always fun to get a package, and the Blue Apron box was no different…however, I had a bit of a shock when I picked it up–it was HEAVY! So heavy that I couldn’t resist taking it to the scale–the box came in at 16 1/2 pounds, woah! Anyway, unpacking it revealed a cool foil bubble wrap lining (with super sticky adhesive) and the source of all that weight: two massive 4lb (each) ice packs.
Ithaca Essentials also delivers everything directly to me (into a cooler I put out with some reusable ice packs.) Or, I could save some money and pick up from a cooler at their downtown location. Either way, the packaging is simple: a paper bag with groceries and recipe cards inside.
Blue Apron packages their ingredients elsewhere, then ships them to you, so obviously there is more transit and more packaging involved. They have a nice page on how to recycle their packaging (the box and internal cardboard pieces are straightforward, the liner can be separated into a recyclable plastic and a biodegradable piece, and the ice pack’s plastic can be recycled after you “empty the water-based solution into the trash”) but it’s still a lot to manage and I’m definitely not sure about putting 8lbs of ‘water-based solution’ into my garbage… They also have a free return shipping option where you can save 2 orders’ worth of items, repack the box, print a shipping label, and schedule a pickup or take to a Post Office. That’s a nice alternate option but is still pretty fussy.
On the other hand, IE gives you what you’d normally get while shopping (recyclable plastic and paper bags.) And since our shopping, packaging and pickup/delivery is all done locally, making use of things that folks already have (like coolers and reusable ice packs) is sensible AND convenient!
Blue Apron box, foil liner & massive ice packs (LEFT) and Ithaca Essentials bag (RIGHT)
Onto the good stuff! The Blue Apron ingredients were well-packed and labeled, and the individual portioning is obvious (one large plastic bag contained two green onions, another had 3 radishes, etc.) One thing I did NOT expect, though, was that all the protein was solidly frozen. I would not have been able to prepare any of the meals that evening, unless I thawed the meat/fish under cool water or in the microwave. Because they have to ship everything, I understand why everything is frozen, but I was excited to make a meal and ended up having to wait until things gradually thawed in the refrigerator for 24+ hours.
The Ithaca Essentials ingredients looked just like I had shopped for them myself. This makes sense since they are a small business without warehoused ingredients and a commercial kitchen to portion things into individual bottles/containers/bags. The produce was hand-picked (local/organic when available) and branded items were recognizable/locally available. It was also fairly obvious that the IE kit simply delivered more food.
The food from both kits looked good and had similar packaging in general. The paper “knick-knack” bags from Blue Apron had multiple mini containers/bottles that could be thoroughly washed and recycled (or perhaps reused??) for their unbranded sauces and ingredients, while Ithaca Essentials ingredients were all in the original packaging from the grocer.
Blue Apron contents (TOP) and Ithaca Essentials contents (BOTTOM)
Recipes! Shiitake Mushroom Burgers vs Shrimp Po Boys
The first Blue Apron recipe we tried was Shiitake Mushroom Burgers with Miso Mayonnaise & Roasted Sweet Potato. My husband is an adventurous eater but just won’t do mushrooms, so I added those to half the meat only. The recipe card had lots of images and overall, the recipe was fairly easy to follow. Interestingly, the labeled mayonnaise had black flecks in it…I assumed it was pepper, but it was slightly disconcerting because the cup label just said “mayonnaise”. I could imagine for some, the “mystery” pre-portioned ingredients might be a slight turnoff. I did some more digging though and a basic list of container ingredients IS included on the nutrition sheet in the knick-knack bag, so I was able to verify that there was indeed pepper in the mayonnaise. As for the recipe itself, one step said to “thinly slice” the sweet potatoes and bake for 16-18 minutes. Unfortunately, I smelled burning after only 15 minutes and had to ditch ~1/4 of the slices that were too charred to eat (picture below.) A mise en place photo shows slices that are probably 1/2″ thick so clearly that’s what they intended, but it would’ve been nice if the recipe text was clearer. All things considered, the burger was juicy and delicious, but it took 38 minutes from start to finish. That’s within their 35-45 minute estimate but it seems like a long time for a burger and some plain (extra crispy) potato slices. And finally (probably the biggest downside for me): my husband wanted to know what else we were having for dinner after he finished his portion. Heh.
BA burned potato slices 🙁
The similar Ithaca Essentials recipe for that week was the Shrimp Po Boy with potato chips. I’ll be very straightforward here: the IE recipe cards are not as fancy. There are fewer photos, and it’s not printed on super-thick glossy paper. But it does have all the typical recipe info you’d expect and everything you really need to make the meal. 🙂 Realistically, I’m guessing most people recycle the recipe cards anyway (how handy is it to keep a recipe that references multiple pre-portioned unknown ingredients?) But anyway, the recipe was uncomplicated and resulted in a tasty, giant sandwich (which my husband was very happy about.) It certainly wasn’t exotic but it was tasty, messy in a good way, and made enough to satisfy both me and my husband AND there was enough for him to have another sandwich for lunch the next day. Oh, and I made it in 19 minutes (half the time of the burger!)
Blue Apron Shiitake Burger (TOP) Ithaca Essentials Shrimp Po Boy (BOTTOM)
Recipe 2: Seared Chicken & French Lentils vs Pork Chops w Lemon Pepper Squash & Rice
The second Blue Apron recipe I cooked was Seared Chicken & French Lentils with Arugula & Feta Salad. Again, the recipe was fairly easy to follow and things were generally successful. The chicken needed more time than indicated to cook the thick ends of the breast through but at 43 minutes total, the timing still fell within their estimated 40-50 minute window. The lentils had decent flavor (but were still a little bit hard) and the salad was okay, but the standout was definitely the chicken with it’s wonderfully crispy skin. This meal was more filling than the burger too, which my husband appreciated.
The comparison Ithaca Essentials recipe was Pork Chops with Lemon Pepper Squash & Rice. The recipe was easy to follow and I finished in just under the estimated 30 minutes. Again, this IE meal was simply more substantial and my husband appreciated the lemon pepper flavor and rice more than the seasoning and lentils in the BA dish. All in all though, these two meals had the closest comparison in terms of overall taste and heartiness.
Blue Apron Seared Chicken & Lentils (TOP) Ithaca Essentials Pork Chops w Lemon Pepper Squash & Rice (BOTTOM)
Recipe 3: Southern Italian Cod Stew vs White Chicken Chili
I am a huge fan of capers, so I was excited to try Blue Apron’s Southern Italian Cod Stew w Pizza Bianca. The dough was a little fussy to handle, but the biggest problem was that I had another ‘charred’ experience in the oven… I bake a lot and don’t have issues with other recipes, so a second oven-related failure was very frustrating. I baked the dough on an oiled pan at 475o as instructed, and I checked it right at 12 minutes (the card said to bake for 12-14 min.) Unfortunately, the bottom was already starting to burn, but I ate most of the pieces anyway. Aside from the too-dark pizza bianca, this stew was filling and probably my favorite meal of the three BA options.
The burned bottoms and too-dark tops of the BA pizza bianca 🙁
The Ithaca Essentials White Chicken Chili had a similar preparation time (40 minutes) and was easy to put together. This recipe technically makes 4+ servings, so my husband and I had large servings for dinner and we had plenty of leftovers for the fridge too (it reheats really well.) The chili may be more traditional than the fish & caper stew, but it’s delicious, and making extra servings (there was easily 6 times as much chili than stew) is an added bonus!
Blue Apron Southern Italian Cod Stew (TOP) Ithaca Essentials White Chicken Chili (BOTTOM)
Both kits made successful meals (for the most part–obviously the oven timing was off for me.) The Blue Apron meals tended to be a little more fussy/complicated, took longer, and made less food. But they had some unique flavors that were fun to try, especially if you’re an adventurous eater. The Ithaca Essential meals tended to be straightforward, required less time to make, and they made more food (in some cases, substantially more!) The food was typically something the average person will have eaten or heard of before.
Conclusion – Blue Apron vs Ithaca Essentials
I think both services have merits. If I lived somewhere else, I could see occasionally ordering Blue Apron for $60/week to save me some time on meal planning, shopping, etc. I enjoy cooking so I can manage the long prep times, and I am an adventurous eater, so the unique flavors work too. However…I live in Ithaca! So, for me, the benefits of using Ithaca Essentials outweigh the Blue Apron service. For $65 I can pick up my meal kit in downtown Ithaca (or can choose delivery for $75) and I end up with substantially more food requiring less prep time. I also avoid the extra packaging and larger ‘footprint’ required for the national shipping service. And finally, I appreciate that I can support our local grocers/suppliers and give my business to a small, family-run local operation instead. Either way though, having fresh groceries and recipes show up at my door is a great convenience–so, happy eating to all!