Box Schemes: Convenience, health and sustainability in a box?

Nina Heidenstrøm, Marie Hebrok, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

Box schemes, providing pre-portioned meals, conveniently ordered online and delivered at your doorstep with easy to prepare recipes, are gaining market shares in Europe. A great proportion of these services provide organic, local and seasonal food, vegetarian meals, and promise reductions in household food waste. This raises the question if box-scheme services may represent a potential vehicle for sustainable food consumption. Can box-schemes enable sustainable food practices?

Contrary to the promises made by the service providers, results from 16 in-depth interviews with Norwegian households revealed that the subscribers believed they wasted more food than usual. Furthermore, participants found that the box schemes did not offer the type and amount of food suitable for their families, and that they were inflexible regarding ad hoc changes in contents and delivery. However, some box-scheme services are already making changes to their product in order to enable consumers to personalise their subscriptions. By logging into the digital platforms of box scheme providers, users can adjust portions and delivery times, as well as pick and choose the dishes that tempt the most each week.

This paper explores the potential of box schemes, as a digital food platform, in enabling sustainable food practices. Our analysis is based on a mapping of box-schemes in Norway, Italy, Germany, Ireland and Sweden, as well as in-home interviews with box-scheme users in Norway. The mapping provides a richer understanding of the characteristics and prevalence of these services in Europe, and sheds light on the variety of box-scheme concepts and whether these might contribute to a transition towards sustainable food consumption.