Meal kit delivery services like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, and Foodora have been heavily hyped over the past few years, as the food and grocery business looks to make use of online ordering and delivery in capturing consumers and tapping into new markets. 

Most of the marketing spin for these kinds of services has been aimed at young professionals who are too busy to shop or cook for themselves. HelloFresh is dominating the market right now, but according to Brittain Ladd, an expert consultant in this area, these businesses don’t have much of a future. He’s utterly scathing in his assessment:

Of all the industries I've evaluated, meal-kit companies rank among the worst run and poorly managed businesses in existence. Out of more than 150 meal-kit companies operating today, I can only name a couple that I believe have a sustainable business. The majority of meal-kit companies will experience little to no growth, resulting in serving a small number of customers. 

As with so many other things retail these days, Ladd cuts to the chase and declares Amazon will be the eventual winner in the ready-meals category, delivered and otherwise: “Amazon is playing an infinite game where the goal is not to beat its competitors but to outlast them and keep the game going forever.” 

Ladd touches on the failure of many of these meal kit companies to think beyond Millennials as their target market, but another analyst, Matthew DiFrisco, goes a bit further in nailing the myopic marketing lens of these businesses when it comes to age and demographics. 

“We see a significant opportunity for meal-kit delivery services with affluent retirees who still enjoy cooking restaurant-quality meals, but do not have the energy or means to consistently go to the grocery store to get fresh ingredients,” DiFrisco says. 

It’s not only meal kit delivery service companies though that fail to grasp there is a market beyond 25-45 year olds, and that older people, by which I mean 60 and above, are a largely ignored but rapidly growing market segment. 

Baby boomers are getting older; advances in medical science mean they are living longer and generally healthier lives; many people in this age group have assets and money to spend. You’d think businesses and marketers would have cottoned on to this simple demographic fact by now.

But most businesses have yet to invest the resources necessary to fully grasp the unprecedented ways that our ageing population will change the rules of the game, especially in sectors like leisure and travel, health and wellbeing, and social connectivity and emotional health. Even more importantly, they’ve failed in shifting their mindset to allow them to see the potential.

In an invitational paper presented in 2017 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) International Workshop on Adaptation to Population Aging Issues, Mary Beth Arensberg, the Director of Health Policy at US healthcare company Abbott Nutrition, outlines the basic mindset problem too many businesses have when it comes to grasping the market potential of older consumers:

In short, older adults as consumers are often viewed as frail or dependent and thus judged by the faculties and functions they no longer have, instead of by the assets and capabilities they actually possess. But older adults are much more of an asset than a burden to society. Changing this ageist attitude can help commercial businesses’ brands better target opportunities in the thriving older adult population.

As Arensberg identifies, age can be one more blindspot that stops businesses from seeing market potential. As with sexism, it is mostly not a matter of conscious malice, it’s more an ignorance about examining the prejudices and presuppositions that underpin a company’s marketing approach.

I don’t think most businesses set out to exclude people; they tend to exclude because they haven’t put enough thought into how to include. It can be hard work trying to rethink what you’ve always done, the way you’ve always thought about things. But more so than ever, business mindsets have to be adaptable to change. That includes who we think our product is for and how we talk to these potential consumers.