Exploration of meal-kit subscription boxes using novel technologies: implications for food safety and information provision
Project supervisory team:
Dr Ellen Evans – Research Fellow, ZERO2FIVE Food and Drink Research Unit (Director of Studies). Dr Elizabeth Redmond – Senior Research Fellow, ZERO2FIVE Food and Drink Research Unit (Academic Supervisor). Dr Joseph Baldwin – Research Fellow, Cardiff School of Art and Design (Academic Supervisor). The project is a multidisciplinary collaboration between the ZERO2FIVE Food and Drink Research Unit and the Cardiff School of Art and Design. This three year research studentship post, based within the ZERO2FIVE Food and Drink Research Unit, provides an exciting opportunity for a scholar to achieve a PhD in the field of consumer food safety research.
The image of the 'ready meal' sector in the UK has been compromised following the horse meat scandal in the UK, which led to consumer demand for premium food and the desire to cook from scratch. Meal kit subscription boxes provide a middle ground option between the cooking from scratch trend and reliance on prepared meals. Meal kit subscription boxes enable consumers to receive regular delivery of pre-measured ingredients to prepare a variety of convenient meals, using fresh quality ingredients with step-by-step chef designed recipes (BBC, 2016; Rear, 2020). Consumers perceive meal kits to offer food quality, menu variability and convenience at a reasonable price for the multi-person household (Cho, Bonn, Moon, & Chang, 2020), schemes reduce consumer food wastage, decrease frequency and duration of grocery shopping trips and condenses food preparation time (Foodservice Consultants Society International, 2016).
UK lockdown restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 saw the closure of out-of-home food service establishments. During the COVID-19 pandemic half (51%) of the UK population are believed to have cooked more meals at home (Premier Foods, 2021). Meal kit subscription boxes experienced huge growth in sales during the pandemic as consumers sought to recreate restaurant recipes in their home kitchens (The Guild of Fine Food, 2020). The popularity of the consumer meal kit market in the US is described as the largest shift in consumer food sourcing (Technomic, 2016), likewise in the UK, it is believed that the subscription box market will continue to grow (Wright, 2021). Meal kit box subscriptions increased by 114% in 2020 compared to 2019 (Oliver, 2021).
It is suggested that meal kit subscription boxes are improving the culinary skills and repertoire of consumers, particularly with those who are not accustomed with preparing meals from scratch. Market research suggests that the inclusion of recipe method cards in meal kit subscription boxes appeal to less confident cooks and function as a learning tool to help home cooks build confidence. The majority (61%) of people that use meal kit subscription boxes believe them to be a method of learning how to cook meals from scratch (Mintel Group Ltd., 2016).
Given the association of the domestic kitchen with sporadic incidence of foodborne illness (Scott, 2003), this current consumer trend presents unique food safety challenges. However, it also offers distinctive opportunities to inform and enable consumer to implement recommended food safety practices to reduce the risk of foodborne illness associated with food prepared in the home. Currently, there is minimal literature specifically investigating the food safety behaviours consumers when preparing meal kit subscription boxes (Mickanuck, Young, & Meldrum, 2020), this is particularly the case in the UK.
Data suggest that the inclusion of food safety information in recipes improves consumer food safety practices (Maughan, Godwin, Chambers, & Chambers, 2016), consequently there is a need to review and evaluate recipe cards provided in meal kit subscription boxes to determine the inclusion of food safety information. Furthermore there is a need to establish if the inclusion of food safety information in meal kit subscription box recipe cards has an impact upon food safety behaviours. The research will consider existing approaches and make recommendations for future inclusion of food safety information to have a positive impact upon food safety behaviour in the domestic kitchen when preparing meal kit subscription boxes.
Although determination of knowledge, attitudes and self-reported practices generate insightful consumer food safety data, none are as valuable as actual behavioural data. The project will include the observation of consumer food safety behaviour when preparing meal kit subscription boxes in the model domestic kitchen at the ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre and utilise novel technologies to assess engagement with food safety prompts (Baldwin & Evans, 2020). This simulated task environment, which represents a typical domestic kitchen with the addition of ceiling mounted digital cameras, is a valuable and innovative facility which allows for the unobtrusive observation of behaviour which has been utilised in a number of previous research studies to determine consumer food safety behaviour (Evans & Redmond, 2018; Redmond, Griffith, Slader, & Humphrey, 2004; Redmond & Griffith, 2006).
To utilise novel technologies to assess the food safety cognition and behaviour of consumers when preparing meal kit subscription boxes in the domestic kitchen. Data obtain from this study will assess the impact, effectiveness and acceptability of modified recipe cards to inform and enable consumers to ensure food safety when preparing meal kit subscription boxes in the home.
Key project objectives:
• Undertake an in-depth review of academic literature and market intelligence data regarding consumer food preparation and consumption trends relating to meal kit subscription boxes with consideration for domestic food safety.
• Ascertain the inclusion of food safety information in existing meal kit subscription box recipe cards.
• Determine consumer food safety knowledge, attitudes and self-reported practices relating to the preparation of meal kit subscription boxes in the domestic environment by utilising quantitative and qualitative survey-based techniques.
• Establish consumer food safety behaviours and engagement with recipe cards when preparing meal kit subscription boxes in the domestic kitchen, by employing novel technologies including; the model domestic kitchen, eye tracker glasses, smart glasses, time-temperature profiling data loggers and citizen science techniques.
• Conduct modification and evaluation of meal kit subscription box recipes to incorporate food safety guidance.
• Assess consumer engagement with modified meal kit subscriptio
Responsibilities of the appointed student:
• Completing research towards a doctoral degree.
• Undertaking reviews of academic research and grey literature.
• Planning and adhering to research project timelines.
• Utilising innovative research methods and novel technologies including covert-observation, eye tracker glasses, smart glasses, time-temperature profiling data loggers, citizen science techniques, qualitative and quantitative research methods and notational analysis to assess consumer food safety cognition, behaviour and engagement.
• Developing methods to improve food safety cognition and behaviour of consumers that use meal kit subscription box.
• Organising, attending and contributing to regular supervisory meetings.
• Producing termly progress reports and sharing research findings with ZERO2FIVE Food and Drink Research Unit peers.
• Submit annual report to an appointed independent progression advisor and attend a progression review meeting.
• Publishing and presenting research study findings in peer-reviewed journals and at learned society conferences. Candidate requirements:
• The PhD studentship is open only to UK applicants.
• Applicants must have an undergraduate first-class or second-class honours degree in food science/technology, microbiology, environmental health or closely related area.
• A master’s qualification in in a relevant area is advantageous but not critical.
• Awareness of food safety and concepts related to human cognition and behaviour is desirable but not essential.
• Given the focus of the study, the candidates must be familiar with consumer food safety recommendations.
• As the project may involve visiting consumers in the community to facilitate recruitment of participants and/or to conduct data collection, it is important that the candidate has a current driving licence.
• Knowledge and experience of qualitative and quantitative research approaches is desirable; experience of data collection and basic data analysis.
• Ability to conduct desk-based reviews of grey literature and academic research.
• Capability to manage research project workload.
• Ability to effectively communicate complex information. • Proficient at IT skills, including the use of Microsoft Office software, experience of statistical analysis software is encouraged. • Ability to use personal initiative and solve problems encountered in the research context.
• It is essential that the candidate displays a good level of interpersonal skills.
• The candidate must demonstrate a good level of verbal and written communication skills, which is adapted to the target audience.
• Candidates will be required to be motivated and work independently as well as collaborate, interact and work with stakeholders, participating consumers, fellow research students and supervisors.
• Ability to travel nationally and internationally when required to disseminate research findings.
• The appointed scholar is expected to attend the postgraduate research induction organised by Research and Innovation Services at Cardiff Metropolitan University upon enrolment.
• The appointed scholar is expected to adhere to the postgraduate research milestones and complete satisfactory ‘Progress Reviews’ as outlined in the Academic Handbook.
• For more information or to apply, download the application form here.
• Please submit the completed application form along with a CV to Dr Ellen Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org
• The application deadline is 17.00 GMT 26th November 2021.
• Interviews for this post will take place via Microsoft Teams during the week commencing 6th December 2021.
• The successful candidate will be notified during the week commencing 13th December 2021.
• The date for enrolment and proposed commencement of the project is 10th January 2022.
This PhD project is supported by the ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre Studentship Scheme; eligible participants (students) are offered:
• ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre PhD Scholarship (fees not paid by the student).
• A monthly stipend in line with RCUK rates: 3 years of funding @ £15,609.00 per year.
• Annual £2000 research support bursary for commercially funded projects associated with the ZERO2FIVE Food Industry Centre HELIX project.
• An additional budget to support the student for travel, conferences, minor equipment, consumables and training.
• An opportunity to access the Cardiff Met Doctoral Academy for skills training.
• It is required that students complete and submit the PhD thesis within 3.5 years of enrolment.
Baldwin, J. E. B., & Evans, E. W. (2020). Exploring Novel Technologies to Enhance Food Safety Training and Research Opportunities. Food Prot. Trends, 40(6), 456 - 463.
BBC. Something to chew on - the rising popularity of meal kits. (2016).
Cho, M., Bonn, M. A., Moon, S., & Chang, H. (2020). Home chef meal kits: Product attributes, perceived value and repurchasing intentions the moderating effects of household configuration. J. Hosp. Tour. Manag., 45, 192-202.
Evans, E. W., & Redmond, E. C. (2018). Behavioral observation and microbiological analysis of older adult consumers' cross-contamination practices in a model domestic kitchen. J. Food Prot., 81(4), 569-581.
Foodservice Consultants Society International. All kitted out: the growing meal kit market. (2016).
Maughan, C., Godwin, S., Chambers, D., & Chambers, E. (2016). Recipe Modification Improves Food Safety Practices during Cooking of Poultry. J. Food Prot., 79(8), 1436-1439.
Mickanuck, K., Young, I., & Meldrum, R. Investigating Food Safety Implications of Meal-kit Delivery Subscription Services in Toronto. [BSc thesis] Ryerson University , Canada. (2020).
Mintel Group Ltd. Prepared Meals Review - UK - May 2016. (2016).
Oliver, R. How Popular Are Meal Kits? Industry Statistics In 2021 And Beyond. (2021).
Premier Foods. The Kitchen Cooking Index: A report on the nation’s cooking habits and mealtime trends. February 2021. (2021).
Rear, J. How Britain became a nation of subscribers, from meal kits to gin clubs. The Telegraph. (2020).
Redmond, E. C., Griffith, C. J., Slader, J., & Humphrey, T. (2004). Microbiological and observational analysis of cross contamination risks during domestic food preparation. Brit. Food J., 106(8), 581-597.
Redmond, E. C., & Griffith, C. J. (2006). A pilot study to evaluate the effectiveness of a social marketing-based consumer food safety initiative using observation. Brit. Food J., 108(9), 753-770. Scott, E. (2003). Food safety and foodborne disease in the 21st century. Can. J. Infect. Dis., 14(5), 277-280.
Technomic. Technomic study reveals global opportunities within meal kit market. (2016).
The Guild of Fine Food. Meal kits & grocery boxes surge in popularity amid lockdown. (2020).
Wright, G. The rise and rise of subscription boxes in UK retail. Retail Gazette. (2021).