Comparison of Life Cycle Environmental Impacts from Meal Kits and Grocery Store Meals
Meal kits contain ingredients for cooking a meal that are pre-portioned, packaged, and delivered to a consumer’s residence. Life cycle environmental impacts associated with climate change, acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use are compared for five dinner recipes sourced as meal kits and through grocery store retailing. Inventory data are obtained from direct measurement of ingredients and packaging, supplemented with literature data for supply chain and production parameters. Results indicate that, on average, grocery meal greenhouse gas emissions are 33% higher than meal kits (8.1 kg CO2e/meal compared with 6.1 kg CO2e/meal kit). Other impact categories follow similar trends. A Monte Carlo analysis finds higher median emissions for grocery meals than meal kits for four out of five meals, occurring in 100% of model runs for two of five meals. Results suggest that meal kits’ streamlined and direct-to-consumer supply chains (-1.05 kg CO2e/meal), reduced food waste (-0.86 kg CO2e/meal), and lower last-mile transportation emissions (-0.45 kg CO2e/meal), appear to be sufficient to offset observed increases in packaging (0.17 kg CO2e/meal). Additionally, meal kit refrigeration packs present an average emissions decrease compared with retail refrigeration (-0.37 kg CO2e/meal). Meals with the largest environmental impact either contain red meat or are associated with large amounts of wasted food. The one meal kit with higher emissions is due to food mass differences rather than supply chain logistics. Meal kits are an evolving mode for food supply, and the environmental effects of potential changes to meal kit provision and grocery retailing are discussed.