It seems that the concept of meal kits was a good one—but but the industry that once was the darling of venture capital dollars, raising more than $650 million, seems to be sputtering and may be on its last legs.
The latest trend has been for retailers to acquire these companies and rather than shipping the goods to customers' homes, offer them in-store for a lot less and without the overwhelming amount of packaging.
Now, another blow comes to the industry in a report from University of California-Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, which found that the workers filling boxes with preportioned ingredients and recipe cards are struggling with low wages, unaffordable benefits, unpredictable schedules, inconsistent wage increase policies, risk of injuries and recurrent problems with timely payment.
In the new report, “Job Quality in a Meal-Kit Fulfillment Center,” the UC Berkeley researchers conducted confidential interviews and focus groups with front-line workers who assemble and pack boxes in one refrigerated fulfillment center in California. The researchers gathered in-depth accounts of the quality of the jobs created by the tech food revolution.
Key findings include:
- Workers reported a starting wage of $13.50 an hour, well below the low-wage threshold in California.
- Some workers received merit-based wage increases through a formal review process. Some workers did not receive the full raise that they were promised.
- The company-offered health plan was described as unaffordable, with most workers instead covered through Medi-Cal.
- Despite being assigned a fixed 40-hour per week schedule, workers were frequently sent home after arriving for their shift depending on fluctuating demand for meal kits.
- Workers described inaccurate recording of hours worked, paid time off and paid holidays that lead to delays in getting paid.
- Workers consistently reported difficult working conditions, including a very cold work environment. In particular, workers were concerned about multiple safety issues such as sexual assault, ammonia leaks from the refrigeration system, repetitive strain injuries, and illnesses related to the cold temperatures maintained in the facility.
Most workers said they did not plan on working at the meal-kit fulfillment center in the long term because of low job quality and lack of advancement opportunities.