Meal Kits Are the New Daily Deals

May 5, 2016, 9:05 PM UTC
Courtesy of Munchery

Remember 2011, when Hearst, Meredith, The New York Times and dozens of major newspapers all launched their own Groupon-style daily deals services?

“Should Groupon be worried?” Ad Age asked.

The services didn’t last long. TimesSelect, the Times’ option, is no longer available. I could only find one survivor: the San Diego Union Tribune. (Singles Hawaiian Luau Party anyone?)

Now it’s happening again, but with meal kits. Startups selling ingredients in a box have surged in popularity in recent years. Blue Apron now ships eight million meals a month through its subscription service. (At $10 each, that’s $960 million in annual revenue.) The company is valued at $2 billion, which is higher than Groupon’s (GRPN) current market value.

The category is crowded, with Plated, Chef’d, Home Chef, Munchery, HelloFresh, and many others all offering comparable services. Meal kits are so hot that the Times even lost its famous food columnist, Mark Bittman, to a meal kit startup called Purple Carrot.

Today the New York Times (NYT) announced it has partnered with startup Chef’d to sell meal kits to readers based on recipes from its NYT Cooking section. Alice Ting, vice president of brand development, licensing and syndication told Bloomberg the Times expects the meal kit service to be at least as big as the Times’ travel unit, where the paper’s foreign correspondents act as tour guides in places like Iran and Cuba.

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The Times’ foray into meal kits follows Men’s Health, which partnered with Chef’d for a similar deal last year, and Real Simple and Cooking Light, which partnered with Plated in 2014. The Plated deal has already ended. (Real Simple and Cooking Light are owned by Fortune parent company Time Inc.)

You can’t knock the print media companies for experimenting. The most valuable thing they have going for them is their brands. Revenue from digital subscriptions and ads has yet to offset declining print revenue, so it only makes sense that media companies want to turn their brands into new sources of income. In addition to tourism, meal kits, and daily deals, the Times has launched conferences, a wine club and an online shop.

Meanwhile, glossy magazines have tried for years to integrate e-commerce into their content online. They’re already telling readers what to buy and where – why not just sell it directly? But it’s never that simple, and most forays into e-commerce have failed. The most notable one is the merger of Lucky magazine with Beachmint, a subscription apparel startup. The merger failed spectacularly and the company shut down.

Related: Here’s the Problem With Trendy E-Commerce Businesses

Meal kit mania may fade in a few years, and when it does, the newspapers and magazines will quietly tiptoe away from the business, just like they did with daily deals. The question will be whether the well-funded meal kit startups can figure out a way to keep thriving.

Update: This article has been updated to include the latest number of meals Blue Apron sells per month.

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