Fresh Prep: Product Merchandising

Evolving a Meal Kit Business into a “Fridge Share” Business.

Overview

Fresh Prep is “Canada’s top rated meal kit”, preparing over 20,000 meal kits a week in British Columbia and Alberta. In September 2021, the company reported 540% growth from the previous 3 years. This growth was fuelled by the pandemic: people stuck at home who were forced to cook more frequently and the inability to access restaurant quality food.

Problem Statement

FreshPrep’s expertly designed recipes, reusable containers, support of local producers and B-Corp status attracted a loyal customer base. Research revealed that they were not particularly price sensitive. Meal Kits had become part of their weekly meal routine. 

But larger players like Hello Fresh, Chef’s Plate, and a host of smaller meal kit subscription services, created a race to the bottom (in terms of cost) to lock in new customers. While Fresh Prep remained profitable, it was clear that customers wanted more than just meal kits. We could see revenue trends over the year and identified periods where customers paused their accounts.

In addition, the growth phase for the company saw geographic expansion plans that would further stretch the internal mechanisms.

The business driven “Fridge Share” goal was straightforward. How can our Fresh Prep customers spend more money with us? Selling more meal kits to those already subscribed would yield a small increase. However, providing a larger product portfolio (Add-Ons) would encourage customers to spend more of their food budget with us.

Users & Audience

Customers fell into 3 archetypes: Singles, Couples or Family. Customers that were in last two categories, typically had the largest basket sizes by dollar amount. More likely than singles, they planned their meals for the week ahead.

Customer research surprisingly revealed that 45% of our subscribers did not use any other online grocery service. Furthermore, over 80% of our subscribers had NEVER purchased anything from the Add-Ons products.

Our exiting UI had inadvertently trained customers not venture beyond the Recipes.

Not covered in detail this case study, was the consideration of the “Back office” tools. Changes that we were making for the customer facing website, would also require changes in workflows for our internal teams. 

Roles and Responsibilities

As the Senior UX/UI, I created a frame work from which we would conduct the analysis, research and ideation. The project team included our Product Owner, the Head of Engineering, my UX second in command, and the marketing group.

Conversations with the financial and operational team revealed that profitability did not hinge on maintaining a 2 meal kit minimum (per order). This was a tectonic shift in how we approached the customer journey. We were no longer just in the meal kit business, we were in the grocery (delivery) business. 

It was hoped that by removing the (per order) meal kit requirement, it would encourage customers to not skip delivery weeks. I proposed relegating “meal kits” to a product type, allowing us to merchandise with more flexibility. Customers could fulfill their weekly grocery subscription, regardless of the makeup of that basket.

Once the Product owner shared this vision, we went about speaking to the architectural team to see what limitations would impede our aspirations.

Scope and Contraints

Fresh Prep started with a humble stable of meal kits and the back end system was built to accommodate recipe information: Ingredients; Cooking Steps; Allergies; and Nutrition information. This information was created by the Recipe developers.

When the product offering was expanded (the “Add-Ons section), those products had to include new information such as: Vendor Name; Servings; Weight; Price. This information was created by third parties.    

The back end inexplicably had separate interfaces to ingest product information (meal Kits verses Add-ons) rather than a single entry point for a SKU with merchandising options.

The “Add-Ons” section was launched with a new Tab in the Order editor. Many customers remained unaware of the new offerings, and those that did stumble across it, found the intentional “Netflix style” infinite scrolling experience frustrating.

Seasonal marketing campaigns did result in short term increases in sales, but it didn’t go far enough to change people’s behavior. We didn’t provide ways of making it habit forming.

The UX team had high hopes of creating an entirely new search and filtering scheme, but  technical and workflow constraints dictated a more conservative approach.

Process and My Contribution

COMPETITIVE RESEARCH
The UX team (of 2) needed to show to our stakeholders how product search (and the add to cart experience) was typically handled in E-Commerce sites, not just in the meal kit space. We had inadvertently introduced them to a weekly customer journey that was highly inefficient. 

TOO MANY STEPS

The first weekly touch point is the “Home page” where a customer can see the state of their account, the next “future order”, and the state of “Returnables”. Step 2, The “Schedule page”, repeated this information, but now included the selected orders for a total of 4 future weeks. Editing an order (and being exposed to any Add-Ons) was done via a third page by clicking on “Edit Order” for any given week.

Google analytics informed us that 56% of customers never even got to the order editor page. We proposed consolidating the first two steps, but were told it was not possible at that time. The fear being that it was too much change.

PUT IT ON MY TAB

We made a subtle improvement to the navigation to highlight the 2 types of products. Recipes and Add-Ons now followed the same design language as the dietary filters (pills).

INCONSISTENT INTERACTIONS

I put together wireframes for the existing experience, highlighting where we had inconsistent UI elements and behaviors that were hampering our customers.

One main customer pain point was that clicking on a product image resulted in different behaviour depending on where a user was in the shopping experience. Variations included linking to a unique URL, a product modal, and adding direct to cart. 

BABY STEPS

Beyond the Product instance overhaul, we also proposed a new section directly underneath the Recipes/Meal Kits listing. This would essentially reveal more products to the consumer without them explicitly having to browse over to the Add-Ons tab. It was a short term measure as we looked to re-architect how a product was represented in our internal facing team.

In doing so, we also realized how we had not previously entered Dietary information (Vegetarian, Vegan, Dairy Aware, Gluten Free) for Add-Ons. Such dietary filters had to be respected and this required some additional work to input that data.

PRODUCT MODAL

The product modal now contained more detailed information about the selection and was more consistent regardless of product type. This involved liaising to the purchasing team to ensure that product information was ingested properly (by the back end) and ultimately displayed correctly for customers. 

We also made it possible to add to cart directly from the modal (without having to resort to the product card). A future iteration also accommodated the possibility of adding that item in subsequent orders.

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

Much to UX chargrin, we also made a subtle change so that customers who were in the Order Editor were forced to view the Add-Ons section via a “Next” button, as opposed to a “Save order” button.

Orders have always been auto saved, so this interaction was purely a blunt device to force people to “Exit through the Gift Shop”.

PRODUCT CARD CONSOLIDATION

With the flattening of meal-kit and Add-On products to SKUs, we created 2 distinct presentation states: Product Card and Product Modal.

The product card was reorganized to have a more intuitive flow: 

  • Meal kit: Hero Image; Title; Short Description; Dietary Info; Cooking Complexity; (and the new) “Customize this recipe”; Add
  • Add-On: Hero Image; Vendor; Title; Short Description (including volume/weight); Price; Add

We made an important change to the UI so that “ADD (to cart)” was at the bottom of the product card. This reduced the possibility of errors when a customer was merely attempting to get more product info. A new “customize this recipe” feature was introduced and we used a new surface element to accommodate that. The product card also now had a border which helped maintain a visual grid when viewing on desktop environment.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

OUTCOMES

The changes went live July 2022. Meal kit orders maintained their regular volumes, and we saw an increase in Add-Ons both in units purchased and revenue. A Thanksgiving Bundle sold out beyond forecasts as a direct result of a more comprehensive approach to merchandising it. 

Sales of seasonal products are consistently beating previous years estimates. Add-Ons adoption has seen a steady increase as well. The Featured Add-Ons is now a permanent fixture to the order editor. 

We encouraged the MarCom team to more effectively leverage the hero banner on the home page to tie back into their campaigns. While we couldn’t accommodate deep linking, at least there would be visual continuity between weekly campaigns, and what a customer would see each week they logged in to check their order.

The changes made, while seemingly subtle, make the experience more akin to an online grocery store. For those that are content with their preselected meal kit, their orders will be processed as usual. For those opting to skip a week, they are now exposed to an array of products that may appeal to them and Fresh Prep won’t miss out on that revenue.

LESSONS LEARNT

Businesses grow and the processes that drive that business often don’t keep up. It’s a catch 22 that many start-ups encounter. How to grow and scale elegantly?

There were many stakeholders wanting to see immediate results. Customer acquisition (via the number of subscribers) was one metric that could easily be clouded by moving into a new delivery zone to get those new subscribers.

Customer retention on the other hand takes more planning and duty of care. With the move to “Fridge share”, we knew we had to create a more Grocery Store like interface that allowed more flexibility and encouraged greater product discovery. 

We had ideated for an entire overhaul of the shopping and cart experience. This included Add-On recommendations (for desserts and the like to augment a recipe); Cross selling opportunities for ALL products (ie “customers also bought”); reimagining the Architecture to better reflect that Meal Kits was just a class of product.

While the above ambitions made sense, we had to deliver in the parameters provided, and based on increased sales, we achieved that.