Sorry, Meal Kit Fans. Up to 30% of What You Pay is Used for ‘Free’ Shipping

Why do meal subscription boxes cost so much?

Pick one up and you’ll figure it out. It costs a lot to ship a box that can easily weigh 15 pounds once it’s packed with the ingredients, ice packs and protective cushioning.

The Washington Post recently reported the costs of shipping a meal kit account for 20-30% of what you pay for the service.

Take away all the first-timer coupons that cut the price of a meal box in half or the referral codes that make meal kit prices more palatable, and you’re usually paying between $50 and $60 per box. It could easily cost $10 or more of that price to get your meal from the warehouse to the bush next to your front door.

Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post explained that Blue Apron orders ship from one of three warehouses in New Jersey, Texas and California.

“The company continues to tweak both the exact packaging of its boxes, and the company that delivers them, on a Zip code by Zip code basis,” Dewey wrote. “In other words, even if you and a friend down the street both order from Blue Apron, two completely different trucks might deliver your (differently insulated) boxes.”

High Costs for Huge Convenience

We’ve never told you meal kits save you money on ingredients. Instead, they save you time. If grocery shopping frustrates you and meal planning makes your head hurt, well, the $60 a week to have someone plan it all for you may be worth it.

And no one is hiding the dark side of food boxes (because we’re nosy, we’d find out anyway). The safety of the perishable food in your insulated delivery boxes may not be ideal. We don’t yet completely know the environmental impact of shipping all that portion-packed food to everyone’s homes. And reviews about quality of life if you work in one of the warehouses that packs your sprigs of mint are mixed at best.

But making grocery shopping and meal planning easier is a big business, with a Blue Apron IPO imminent and Amazon poised to redesign the grocery industry altogether.

We Love Free Shipping, But for How Long?

We all get excited about free shipping — perhaps even more so for the promise of free returns — but it’s easy to forget the costs of that “free” service are often rolled into your order’s price.

UPS recently announced shipping surcharges for retailers mailing packages during peak holiday weeks. Amazon only makes back about half of what it costs to get your order to your door, even if you pay for Prime.

At some point, online shoppers will have to make a choice, whether you’re picking out a new pair of running shoes or a meal kit for the week: Would you rather pay a few extra bucks to cover shipping and see that amount on your invoice, or pay a higher price and still have the illusion the company’s hurling it your way for “free”?

We’ve been conditioned to expect the lowest prices possible, but we may have to start making some compromises soon.

Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.