Recipe box schemes have exploded onto the UK scratch cooking scene with the emergence of HelloFresh, Gousto, and Simply Cook, among others. But these subscription services have targeted the adult or family market, overlooking the opportunity to satisfy young children and their time-starved parents via easy-to-cook meals that are as appealing as they are nutritious. PBUK takes a look at the potential for newcomer Little Cook Box to make a difference and even raise produce consumption among kids.
Some 7 percent of all British grocery shoppers claim to have bought food/groceries from a fresh food or grocery box scheme in the last month, according to the IGD ShopperVista for June 2018. Within that group, young families account for 19 per cent of shoppers, 13 per cent are 18-24 year-olds and 14 per cent are based in London.
Having recognised a gap in the scratch cooking market, in February  Philippa and Simon Guest launched Little Cook Box — a recipe box service to make cooking healthy meals for young children easy, convenient and fun.
Their kits include all the weighed-out, fresh ingredients to cook nutritionally balanced evening meals. Importantly, they also include simple instructions designed to encourage children to engage in the cooking process, as well as fun games on the packs.
With fresh produce featuring in every recipe, the co-founders believe their kits have the potential to raise consumption among young children.
“We’re the first to market, according to our desk research,” Simon Guest tells PBUK. “There is nothing comparable — not for primary school children.
“There is also no other recipe box company that provides all the fresh ingredients in one tray that you can pop into the fridge until you’re ready, with pretty much everything to cook a nutritionally balanced meal within 20-30 minutes.”
The founders even had to design a unique tray to carry both raw and dry ingredients. To pack those trays safely, they established a bespoke manufacturing facility with high-care and low-care environments.
“No other recipe box company can do that,” Guest says. “We felt we had to because, if we’re going to get kids eating salads and veg, we need to put all the ingredients in the tray with the protein, sauces, spices, bread, etc.”
Jenny Tschiesche, a leading UK nutritionist and the founder of lunchboxdoctor.com, agrees she has seen no other offer like Little Cook Box, although she believes it’s an area of the market that would benefit from additional players.
“For me, the competitor would be children’s cookery classes,” comments Tschiesche, who is also a recipe book author and a regular contributor to TV and radio shows.
“What I like about the concept is that it encourages children to eat real food made from scratch and to identify what goes together in order to create flavour combinations.”
Similarly, Tschiesche approves the opportunity children have to prepare a diversity of meals and to take ownership of creating those meals.
“The instructional steps are really easy to understand. It gives parents the chance to realise what their kids are capable of doing too,” she notes.
Balancing nutrition with appeal
Although HelloFresh and Gousto do provide recipes for families, Guest claims they tend to be more grown-up and aren’t designed specifically for a primary school-aged audience.
Little Cook Box, meanwhile, offers 5- to 11-year-olds a choice of 15 meal kits created according to a strict criteria by a development chef in collaboration with a nutritionist.
From the Chicken Korma to the Empanada, the recipes follow the dietary standards for young children established by the government’s Eatwell Guide, such as the recommended number of calories and levels of sugar and salt.
Equally, the recipes are designed to be tasty and appealing to children.
“We have a ridiculously comprehensive approach to recipe development,” reveals Little Cook Box production director Chris Fry.
“We need a four-day shelf life, the ingredients have to fit into the tray, the flavour must appeal to kids, etc.
“We want to get kids eating veg, and trying foods they wouldn’t usually eat. That has to be done in combination with the meals being attractive, well-presented and balanced.”
Fry, who originally trained as a chef, devises the recipes before a nutritionist, with a background in children’s food, makes suggestions and nutritionally tests the meals. She also offers recipe ideas.
“We try to take inspiration from different cuisines, like Asian, European or South American,” Fry states. “It’s not a world menu by any means, but we try to push the boundaries.”
Raising produce consumption
The boxes appeal to two consumer groups; those seeking a convenient and healthy mid-week meal solution, and those looking to get kids involved in cooking and learning about food.
Above all, the idea of Little Cook Box is to encourage children to extend their palate by trying new flavours and new textures, without being too adventurous.
“We do that by making the product as engaging as possible,” Guest comments.
“There’s lots of research that proves if you get children involved in cooking and allow them to have a sense of ownership over their meal, they are much more likely to try different food. That’s the gist of the feedback from our customers too.”
Both Guest and Tschiesche lament that home economics no longer features on the school curriculum, meaning many children not only lack the basic cooking skills to prepare a diversity of meals, but the knowledge of where food comes from.
Nutritionist Tschiesche, who tried out Little Cook Boxes with her own children, concurs that adults and children alike have a much greater vested interest in the outcome if they cook their own meal.
“Each of my kids has their own different tastes; they loved that they could choose which meal they wanted, and they loved the ownership of creating that meal,” she says.
“Also, we start digesting as soon as we start preparing food, so if you’re presented with something that you’ve had nothing to do with, you’re not going to digest it as well.”
Added to that, Tschiesche believes Little Cook Box has the potential to be a “really good transitionary step” towards encouraging children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It’s fun, engaging and it may well trigger something in the child to encourage them to become more interested in eating a wider variety of food, and to want to create meals,” she explains.
“If you don’t have exposure to different foods, you’ll never select those foods. But the biggest factor is eating with your family. That has to be the end goal, as far as I’m concerned.”
Featuring fruit and veg
Across the 15 meals, fresh fruits and vegetables are a core component, including broccoli, green beans, peas and tomatoes.
“We think about the fruit and veg element as much as we do anything else; without it we couldn’t claim to be providing nutritious meals,” Guest remarks.
Even more produce may be offered down the line, considering the growing vegan, vegetarian and plant-based eating trends.
“Right now, we’re taking a mixed menu approach but I can definitely see a time when we’ll look to do a vegan or plant-based range,” anticipates Guest.
“We are getting more enquiries but from a commercial point of view demand is not big enough yet. Because no one’s seen a recipe box kit for kids, we’ve got a way to go.”
As for its food supply, Little Cook Box aims to be as sustainable as possible, sourcing locally to its factory in Nottingham, the East Midlands.
“Our meat is sourced locally and we buy British produce, where possible,” Guest says.
“We generally work with local wholesalers, as opposed to going direct to the farm. But if a supplier has a really good product and we can buy it in sufficient quantities, we are open to sourcing from wherever in the UK.”
Price and availability
Little Cook Boxes are available to purchase online. Although supermarkets are unlikely to stock the line, Guest says certain online grocery delivery companies have the potential to become suppliers.
“Shelf life and shelf space is an issue when it comes to supermarkets,” he explains. “Our range is quite large and the kits have a four-day use-by date because we don’t use any preservatives.
“A company like Ocado is a possibility, however. They don’t have any stores and they offer chilled deliveries.”
Subscribers can buy either four, six, eight or nine meal kits, with prices starting at £4.95 per meal (per child) for four kits and reducing incrementally to £4.70 per meal for the nine-kit option.
In time, the company plans to launch a double-portion kit, providing an evening meal for two children.
“We want to make it as affordable as we can – I think it’s really good value for money bearing in mind that delivery is free of charge,” Guest comments.
“Once we get bigger and volume increases, we can look to decrease the price, particularly on the double-portion kit because there’s less packaging and a lower delivery cost.”
While Tschiesche likes the concept, she acknowledges there is a cost element. “I don't think it’s something that families can afford to do every day,” she points out.
“It’s a cheaper way of doing children’s cookery classes because they’re learning by doing. It would make a great activity for the holidays.”
The next phase
In just over four months, Little Cook Box has sold 5,000 meal kits and acquired 22,000 followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
As the UK recipe box market gains in popularity, the company is well-poised for growth. But, as Guest admits, the firm is only “scratching the surface” in terms of awareness and penetration.
“With the proliferation of meal-kit offers, new entrants in the market and the expansion into physical stores, we foresee the market will continue to grow,” confirms Simon Mayhew, Online Retail Insights Manager at food and grocery research group IGD.
“We are already seeing diversification in the market – a good example in the UK is Mindful Chef, offering meal boxes for vegans and an equivalent business in the US called Purple Carrot.
“We’re also seeing meal kits for families, couples, single-person households and to meet specific dietary and lifestyle needs,” Mayhew tells PBUK.
With the leadership race on, Little Cook Box has set up a crowd fund to support a significant broadening of its marketing reach beyond social media.
“We’re also looking at the healthy snack market and what we can do around lunch and breakfast,” adds Guest. “If we’re successful, we’ll look to expand overseas too.”