Martha Stewart Wants You to Cook Her Thanksgiving Dinner
This is the moment of the aspiring chef.
Want to have your groceries delivered to your door? Easy. Make the same dinners as world-famous restaurateurs? No problem. Do both, together? There's a meal kit for you, whatever your diet—omnivore, vegan, gluten-free, organic, kid-friendly, or some combination.
Yet, despite all the options, the buzz, and an estimated market value of $1.5 billion, only 3% of U.S. adults have tried a meal kit, according to a recent survey from NPD Group.
Martha Stewart is determined to change that.
In August, Stewart announced that she was teaming up with Marley Spoon, a Berlin meal kit company that offers its subscription and delivery service in Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K. On October 3, the rebranded U.S. arm, Martha & Marley Spoon, based in New York City, announced a particularly American opportunity to give it a go: Thanksgiving.
For $179, customers could order the recipes and all the ingredients they need to make a Martha Stewart-approved Thanksgiving dinner for eight to 10 of the loved ones they deem Martha-worthy. That includes a 12- to 14-pound free-range, antibiotic-free turkey, along with the gravy, sides of stuffing, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes (a Stewart family recipe), and apple pie. (A box with just the sides is available for $119.) As with any Martha & Marley Spoon box, customers will still have to put in the cooking, setup, and cleaning time themselves. For those who missed their chance on Thanksgiving—ordering ended November 16—the box was successful enough that the Martha & Marley Spoon team plans to run more specialized holiday boxes.
Like many of its competitors, Martha & Marley Spoon makes a selling point of high-quality, carefully selected ingredients. In this case, the turkeys are the main attraction. The team looked at a number of options, narrowed them down to three front-runners, held multiple taste tests over the summer, and ultimately decided on Goffle Road Free Range Poultry Farms, in Martha's home state of New Jersey.
Run by Joseph Goffle, the third generation in his family's 68-year-old business, the farm easily met the Martha & Marley Spoon animal husbandry standards, and further impressed the company with its environmentally friendly approach, including solar panels that provide 25% of the farm's electricity. Most important, the birds themselves "were exactly what we wanted — the right size, the right flavor, super juicy, great texture to the meat," Culinary Director Jennifer Aaronson said.
The farm raises only about 25,000 turkeys each season, and Martha & Marley Spoon had dibs on just 10,000 of them. But Fabian Siegel, founder and chief executive of Marley Spoon, hopes to find new customers beyond the holiday. "Why not make weeknight cooking just as easy?" he said.
For Stewart, getting into the meal kit business was partly about reducing food waste.
"I get very depressed going to supermarkets," she told reporters at a press event at her New York City test kitchen in September. To get customers to buy just one head of lettuce, it needs to be surrounded by lots of other unblemished heads, many of which will end up in the landfill. In the U.S., 43 billion pounds of food were wasted in 2010, just at the retail level. Another 90 billion pounds got thrown away at home. That's a lot of wasted money, too. "Buy a nice pair of shoes for yourself," she said.
In a crowded field, where all the competitors promise great recipes and ingredients and the convenience of home delivery, the new business is betting that Martha Stewart's wide repertoire of time-tested recipes and carefully cultivated brand will help lure new customers to Marley Spoon.
Stewart's dozens of books cover the gamut on cooking, decorating, and hosting. Her magazine, in print for more than 25 years, reaches millions of people, as do her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. She has collections at Macy's, Kmart, and even Staples. She's a television star, with her own season of The Apprentice and several cooking shows under her belt, and a current one on VH1, co-hosted with Snoop Dogg.
Siegel said that his business was growing by 20 to 25 percent month-over-month before entering into a strategic licensing partnership with Stewart's and that now they have only raised those numbers. He said he isn't allowed to disclose commercial details but that the agreement includes both cash payments and an equity component. In addition to bringing new recipes and helping to reach more customers, Siegel said, Stewart's "smart cooking techniques" that ensure dinner in 40 minutes or less are also part of the package now.
Of all the meal kit companies out there, Stewart said, Marley Spoon had the best ingredients, recipes, and final results, as well as the most "sensible and economical" packaging, a frequent complaint about the growing meal kit industry. (The team tested multiple shipping methods for the Thanksgiving meal kits, down to the liners and ice packs.) It didn't hurt that Aaronson, the culinary director, was the editorial director of food and entertaining for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for 13 years.
Even with Stewart and her very special turkeys, Martha & Marley Spoon faces the same challenges as its competitors. The biggest reason customers steer clear of kits is the cost, the NPD report said. Making a meal at home costs only about $4 a person, the report found, while meal kits average about $10 a person. Martha & Marley Spoon meals cost $8.70 to $12 a person, depending on how much is ordered.
On Thanksgiving, the price difference is even starker. Last year, the average 10-person turkey meal rang up at $50.11, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. That's less than a third of what Martha & Marley Spoon was charging.
The trade-off is convenience. A 2015 Yahoo! survey found that 47% of those hosting Thanksgiving start planning at least a month in advance. This meal kit required only ordering before November 16 (or before the turkeys ran out) and following the instructions that come with it. Still, if convenience is the ultimate goal, catering—FreshDirect is offering a 10-12 person meal for $219—might be the better option. Serve it on your own dishes, rustle up a few things in the kitchen, and who has to know it wasn't made at home?
Then there's retention. Only about half of customers who try meal kits come back or plan to come back, according to NPD.
And you know what? On Thanksgiving, and even on a plain old weeknight, some people like the inconveniences of home cooking: the search for the right recipe, the visit to the farmers market, butcher shop, or fishmonger, and the leftovers that can be incorporated into more meals down the line. Home cooks may prefer to use their own family recipes rather than somebody else's—even Martha's.
Stewart does give Marley Spoon an edge. "It will get attention because Martha Stewart’s attached to it," Kim McLynn of NPD said. But she isn't the only celebrity in the meal kit game, McLynn noted. Mark Bittman, a longtime New York Times food writer and cookbook author, is the face of vegan Purple Carrot, and Ayesha Curry, a new cookbook author and wife of basketball star Steph Curry, announced Gather in June.
"My take is that there would be fans of Martha Stewart's [who try it], but it would be a very, very targeted consumer," McLynn said.
Not even Siegel pretends this is a product for everyone. Cooking with Pat LaFrieda meat or Murray's Cheese will always be more expensive, and the people who try his kits who aren't already in the habit of cooking are unlikely to try them again, he said. He's after the ones who are already used to making their own meals.
"It would be wrong to claim you can't cook cheaper," but "you can't cook this menu cheaper," Siegel said. "At this point in time, we are not serving Sloppy Joe or taco night."