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It’s that time again, when we look back at the agencies, the brands, the organizations, movements and trends that have shaped the past year. In 2020 – a year so many of us would like to forget – our industry of problem solvers proved time and again that they have what it takes to muck in, help out, ask questions, shape cultures and change the world. It is them that we celebrate in our New Year Honors.

 

In November, while Nestlé was announcing to the world that it had bought a majority stake in Mindful Chef, Gousto was busy achieving tech unicorn status and more than a few commentators were left eating their words.

Rather than the flash-in-the-pan they’d previously been considered, here were recipe box brands proving they could actually turn a profit, and that there really was demand enough to sustain and scale a HelloFresh as well as a Blue Apron, a Green Chef, a Purple Carrot and countless more. Turns out, all it took was a pandemic.

Well, not all it took, but it certainly helped. Ordering food online had been on-the-up pre-pandemic, but that has almost doubled since, according to Kantar, with 12.5% of grocery sales in the UK now happening online. And the step from buying groceries online to subscribing to food boxes really isn’t a big one.

But rather than continuing to pitch themselves to the time-poor, convenience became but one benefit as food box brands turned their attentions to an audience who found themselves with more time on their hands, who wanted to eat more healthily, to prepare meals from scratch and cut down on food waste – all while avoiding needless trips to the grocery store, which had just become an altogether scarier place (even supermarkets got in on the action by launching their own food box offerings, with Morrisons leading the way).

When The Drum caught up with Gousto just after the UK first entered lockdown, it had been forced to temporarily stop accepting new customers as demand outpaced supply, and it had froze its marketing spend until it could significantly boost production. It has since announced new distribution centres, hundreds of new jobs and, of course, that £25m of new equity.

Around the same time, Mindful Chef's co-founder Giles Humphries was telling The Drum how it had gone from 150 new customers a day to over 2,500. “It’s a very scary time for the world, but it has also propelled services like ours into the mainstream,” he admitted. And it has been much the same story for its contemporaries.

In 2019, the meal kit sector was on course to be worth $9bn by 2025. Updated predictions have that pegged at $20bn by 2027. And while January is traditionally a time for new resolutions, this year it is likely a time for new subscriptions too.

 

We’ll be celebrating all our favorite things about 2020 on thedrum.com between now and early January. Keep an eye on our New Year Honors hub to read more.