Amazon Meal Kit review: Wilting expectations

Amazon is now selling meal kits at Whole Foods but they fail to live up to the quality you expect from the gourmet food source

The Good

  • Convenient full recipe in a box
  • 8 different recipes every month
  • High-quality meats and fresh fish
  • Competitively priced

The Bad

  • Uninspired recipes
  • Limp and aging produce
  • Lacks gourmet appeal of the Whole Foods brand

An Amazon meal hiding in plain sight

When Amazon bought Whole Foods, there seemed to be potential for the massive retailer to bring Whole Foods quality to a wider audience. When Amazon began selling meal kits at select Whole Foods stores, I was excited to see how the Internet/Grocery combo-giant would disrupt the delivery kits I've been using for years. Would we finally get meals that were as easy and diverse as the best meal kits, now made with Whole Foods ingredients? Would we see some of the more esoteric vegetable options or perhaps teach home cooks how to use the interesting grains sold in bulk? In short, no, because these are decidedly Amazon meal kits, not Whole Foods.

... decidedly Amazon meal kits, not Whole Foods

Not every Whole Foods store sells these kits, which are labeled with Amazon branding only. In the greater Boston area, I found the boxes at a store in Medford, a neighboring city, but not in the large downtown stores in Boston or Cambridge. Store reps I talked to weren't sure which other Whole Foods might be selling the boxes.

The refrigerated case with the meal kit boxes sits upfront on the produce side of the store. The sign shows eight different meal possibilities every month, but the store never had all eight in stock whether I went on a Monday morning, Thursday evening, or Sunday afternoon. For this review, I tried five different recipes, at least one from each category of meat, poultry, fish and vegetables. I've been cooking with meal kits continually for almost 5 years, so I'll tell you how the Amazon Meal Kit stacks up to the competition, and whether they are a better option for your next grocery shopping trip.

What I Like

While meal kits have been around for years, local supermarkets haven't done much to jump on the bandwagon. That's too bad because meal kits make it easy to stop by a grocery and buy an entire recipe's worth of ingredients all at once, especially if you showed up to the store without a specific recipe in hand.

Having the kits readily available at Whole Foods is nice because meal kit delivery services are inflexible. Meals show up on the same day of the week every week, and if you want more or want to change something you need to plan far in advance. Amazon through Whole Foods essentially offers the benefit of a meal kit without the hassle of pre-order commitments. The prices are also very competitive, and even the most expensive Amazon Meal Kit meal is less expensive than the priciest meal kit delivery. That's surprising for a kit you buy at Whole Foods… until you see what's inside.

While many ingredients need to improve, the meat is from Pat LaFrieda, a New Jersey distributor known for supplying some of the most discriminating high-end restaurants in New York City. The ground chicken, pork loin and salmon were all exceedingly fresh and high-quality cuts. I also was tickled to find a pair of gloves to wear while mixing the ground chicken, which is a sticky and slimy ingredient.

What Needs to Improve

The recipes are not good. They're boring and they lack key flavors. The portions are satisfying but don't seem to represent a balanced meal. While a Blue Apron or Hello Fresh kit will usually include a green side vegetable or salad, the Amazon Meal Kits often resemble fast food.

The chicken burgers were all white meat, which is very healthy, but the sides were oven-roasted French fries and a dripping carrot and celery slaw. A Hawaiian pork dish came with macaroni salad and coleslaw, per tradition for Hawaiian take-out fast food. A roasted pork loin was served atop a bed of flavorless sautéed cabbage and pre-cut corn with no other vegetables.

I'm sure the kids would gobble these down, but I wouldn't feel like a great parent serving these dishes regularly. Those white meat chicken burgers clock in over 1000 calories if you prepare the recipe as written with the bleu cheese sauce on the side. That Hawaiian pork dish contains 21g of sugar if you add the included sugar packet to the macaroni salad.

If you keep a vegan diet or have some other tight dietary restrictions, there is little to find on the Amazon Meal Kit menu. Of the two vegetable kits, only one was properly vegan, the boring mushroom bowl. The boring roasted cauliflower I cooked needed its yogurt sauce to achieve any real flavor complexity.

Wait, didn't I buy this at Whole Foods?

Besides the high-quality meat, the produce and accouterments left much to be desired. Herbs like basil were browned and limp. Much of the produce came pre-cut, especially the onions, which is convenient if you get them fresh but older bags had started to sweat. The ends of my green beans were all turned to mush and needed to be trimmed before being blanched for the niçoise salad.

Wait, didn't I buy this at Whole Foods? Where are the unblemished and super-fresh ingredients? Where are the exotic forms of radishes and hyper-seasonal obscurities like fiddlehead ferns and ramps? Where is the standard of excellence emblazoned in Whole Foods' mission statement? If I had purchased these meal kits for the same price from a bargain delivery service, I would still be disappointed. That I walked out of a Whole Foods with this detritus seems a cynical ploy on Amazon's part to coopt the Whole Foods brand with an inferior product.

Should You Buy It?

An Amazon Meal Kit tastes better than whatever is being steamed up on the Hot Bar, or whatever you could reheat in the microwave, however, if you wanted Blue Apron but with Whole Foods produce, you'll be sorely disappointed. These kits could be sold at any grocery store without adaptation. They don't stand up to the reputation of the roof under which they live.

If you like the look of Amazon Meal Kit recipes, they certainly deliver the limited flavors they promise. The buffalo-inspired chicken burger was meaty and satisfying, with a crunchy slaw on the side and a decadent bleu cheese sauce to dip the fries. If that sounds tasty, and it was, then, by all means, plunk down the cash for the box. You won't be able to assemble all of the same ingredients easily without spending more or buying too much of this and that.

See at Amazon

Philip Berne