Piloting a Social Enterprise Business Model for Healthy Shelf-Stable Meal Kits
Healthy Food, Healthy Lives
March 10, 2023
One in five older New Yorkers lives below the poverty level, and one in ten is food insecure.
Prior to the pandemic, many older adults relied on congregate meals at the City’s network of senior centers. When those sites closed, the City ramped up efforts to provide direct meal delivery. Congregate meal sites are now back up and running, but City officials report increased demand for delivery to older adults and other high-need groups. Many organizations have launched efforts to deliver fresh meals and pre-assembled meal kits. Food providers view pre-assembled, shelf-stable meal kits as conveniences reserved for the rarest of times, but as supply chain disruptions and emergency response operations persist, organizations are interested in securing nutritious meals that are easy to store and ship. There are very few vendors to meet this demand. Sourcing all components of a meal kit, as well as packaging and delivering them, presents logistical and financial barriers that many organizations cannot handle. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Citymeals on Wheels a grant to pilot a self-sustaining social enterprise business model to supply healthy meal kits to organizations that serve New Yorkers in urgent, short-term need of food.
Under this grant, Citymeals will leverage its expertise to meet increased demand for meal kits, fill gaps in supply, and maximize the capacity of its currently underused warehouse. It will build upon its network of organizational customers that do not have the capacity to manage their own meal production and distribution programs. In turn, these organizations will provide meals kits to older adults and other high-need clients who are in immediate need of food. Citymeals will source, pack, sell, and distribute up to 120,000 meal kits to organizations during the pilot phase. It will also complete a comprehensive assessment of market demand, identifying ongoing meal kit customer organizations. As the pilot rolls out, it will develop and refine finance and sales processes; finalize a pricing model; create marketing materials; and conduct outreach to new client organizations. Citymeals will further evaluate its success by using key metrics and soliciting feedback from partner organizations about recipients’ outcomes and satisfaction. Results will inform how Citymeals integrates the social enterprise into its future operations. Over the long term, the model aims to provide a reliable source of additional revenue for Citymeals’ core meal-delivery programs, expanding hot meal services to older adults facing food insecurity.