Food delivery startup Thistle was never in the business of making meal kits, those boxes of pre-measured ingredients and recipes to help customers cook at home. The startup’s married cofounders, Ashwin Cheriyan and Shiri Avnery, thought that prepared meals, ready-to-heat or raw and ready-to-eat, were a better fit for their busy customers. Meal kits, they said, felt like time consuming and frustrating cooking lessons when they tried them personally.
But the startup has made an exception and is launching Thistle Baby meal kits for busy parents who want to make nutritious foods for their babies and toddlers at home. Avnery said, “When I became a mom, I would buy things at the grocery and feel like they were not up to my quality standards all the time. Even a lot of the healthier options are over-processed, pureed, with a watery consistency. They also don’t taste like real fruits or veggies. And you’re left wondering how long this has been on the shelf and in what kind of conditions.”
Thistle Baby was designed to give parents the health and taste benefits of homemade, organic and gluten-free baby food, as well as the feeling of pride that comes from making meals for their little ones. Cheriyan said, “We think this takes 80% of the hassle out of making the food at home. And because you steam, puree and add spices on your own, you start to really learn your baby’s preferences, while instilling healthy eating habits as early as possible.” Thistle specializes in plant-based ingredients. Its service has always been vegan and vegetarian-friendly, though they offer omnivore meals, too.
The Thistle Baby meal kit consists of vacuum-sealed bags of apportioned, organic ingredients, flash-frozen to preserve flavor. A parent would open up the pouch, and steam and puree it however they like, then add spices also provided in the meal kit at levels they or their kids like best. The company says its prices work out to $2 per toddler or infant meal. Before now, the startup was trialing its Thistle Baby service with an invitation-only group of subscribers. As of next week, Thistle Baby will become available to any customers who sign up for it.
The startup sees its main competition as baby foods sold in boxes, pouches, and jars by groceries. However, a few other e-commerce food businesses deliver kid-friendly meals or meal kits to families’ doors, too. For example, Lily & Bella in Dallas delivers organic ingredients and recipes to make baby food at home; Los Angeles-based Caer offers low-sugar organic, prepared baby foods for delivery; and NurtureLife in Chicago offers ready-to-eat meals tailored to kids’ developmental stage and food preferences.
According to a recent Nielsen survey, globally 14% of consumers are already buying groceries and household goods online and via mobile. A full 30% of customers said they would be willing to do so. It remains to be seen what portion of the massive baby foods and formula market may shift to e-commerce models like Thistle’s. Nielsen estimates that market generates over $30 billion in annual sales today.