The COVID-19 pandemic quickly changed the way we eat, and because it’s lasted so long, it has entirely transformed the greatest American feast: Thanksgiving dinner.
Step back, however, and there was something inevitable about the direction that American dining has taken, specifically the boom in food delivery. Everything from groceries to fully prepared meals have become front door delivery staples as people stay at home 24/7. The trend of having food regularly delivered to our doorsteps had started long before COVID, according to industry insiders, and is sure here to stay.
“The pandemic really accelerated something we already saw happening,” Mike Wystrach, CEO of Freshly, a subscription-based meal delivery service, told Observer in a recent interview. “The adoption of e-commerce, especially with food, had been growing quickly since well before the pandemic, and I don’t expect to see that trend reverse.”
Freshly delivers fully-cooked meals directly to people’s houses in weekly orders ranging from four meals to 12 meals a week. Like many of its competitors, Freshly saw orders skyrocket early in the pandemic.
“We saw demand spiking to insane levels in the two-week panic buying period, when people were really trying to get food anywhere they could,” Wystrach said.
During the nationwide lockdown, Freshly’s monthly delivery volume jumped 20 percent, from 3.5 million meals in February to 4.2 million in March, primarily driven by new customers aged 60 and above. Average order size also increased, as people feared running out of food, Wystrach said. “But as soon as people realized that food wasn’t going to run out at grocery stores and other places, we saw things very quickly get back to normal.”
This Thanksgiving, with tens of millions of Americans stuck at home instead of visiting relatives, has seen a huge spike in delivered meals, both from local restaurants struggling to stay afloat and big meal services like Freshly.
The last year has made it a routine choice, with so many new customers having stuck around after the initial pandemic panic. Compared with a year ago, Freshly now delivers almost twice as many weekly meals. Betting on a permanent shift to work-from-home, Freshly recently expanded programs targeting corporate clients to help businesses support remote employees.
The growth trajectory is even clearer over a longer time span. When the company took shape five years ago, it was shipping just 20,000 meals a week. Today, Freshly delivers more than 1 million meals per week across 48 states.
In October, Freshly struck a deal to be acquired by food and beverage giant Nestlé, who’s already an investor, in a merger worth $1.5 billion. “Freshly is an innovative, fast-growing food-tech startup, and adding them to the portfolio accelerates our ability to capitalize on the new realities in the U.S. food market,” Nestlé USA Chairman and CEO Steve Presley said in a statement.
“Our platform does for food what Netflix does for entertainment,” Wystrach said of Freshly’s business model. “We take user feedback not only to help recommend the right meals for our customers, but also to help create the next popular meal.”