When hunger strikes, why not reach for a care package stuffed with good-for-you nibbles?
You can if you sign up for any of the growing number of subscription snack boxes. Following the success of diet delivery services, the health industry is catching on to the popularity of subscription-box businesses that has lead to the success of brands like Birchbox, which surprises registrants with a revolving combination of cosmetics every month, and Shoedazzle, which ships a monthly smattering of personalized shoe and handbag styles direct to your door. Healthy subscription boxes provide customers with a monthly taste of the trendiest options in luxe health snacks and workout gear.
A handful of new box brands including Healthy Surprise and Sprig launched this year and deliver niche health products like vegan, gluten free and organic snacks to customers’ doorsteps. Think freeze-dried raspberries, date-flavored protein bars and honey-and-rosemary-spiced almonds. “We are trying to give people the experience of finding something new,” says Sprig co-founder Brent Jenkins. “We wanted to become better eaters and know where our food was coming from. We are trying to make a small shift in how people eat and we’ve created a following of people trying to engage in this food revolution.”
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Other brands, like KLUTCHclub, cater to fitness fanatics and ship off a monthly themed fitness and wellness package of workout DVDs and apparel, while JackedPack is for men and women who want to “get huge” using a variety of protein powders and energy gels. There are even curated boxes for specific diets like VeganCuts, which is geared toward eaters who are looking for snacks that meet their diet restrictions.
The subscription boxes are a cross between those care packages of favorite goodies from home and a personal snacking shopper. “The sports-nutrition-supplement market is saturated and overwhelming for consumers. There are thousands of product choices, not to mention sometimes spurious or confusing claims made by the manufacturers in a largely unregulated market,” says Alex Lewis, co-founder and “chief hugeness officer” of JackedPack. “Most consumers don’t have the expertise or the time to sort through the nonsense and figure out what’s legitimate and what’s worthless. I wanted to use my experience as a competitive athlete and supplement fanatic to help others make more informed choices.” Lewis was a captain of the Harvard University track team in 2008.
Some boxes include well-known health market brands, but most focus on finding products not readily available in convenience stores. For example, Jenkins says, Sprig peruses farmers markets for artisanal snacks, as well as small vendors for lesser-known treats.
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While the services are an effective monthly reminder to eat healthy in the new year, nutrition experts are quick to warn against using the boxes as a crutch for revamping an unhealthy diet. If the products serve as motivation for making healthy lifestyle changes, then signing up may be worth it, but they don’t promote better habits if you eat all the soy energy bars and kale chips in one sitting.
“They can be gimmicky, and it’s not a solution for real change,” says Janet Brill, a registered dietitian and fitness and nutrition expert. “It would be nice if you could get a healthy subscription box which included fruits and vegetables of the month, plus a pedometer, a new pair of sneakers and maybe some weights and a journal that would help you to track your eating and exercise behaviors. Those are things that might really work.”
One of critics’ main arguments against wellness delivery programs in general, including those that ship premade meals for weight loss, is that the convenience of the delivery can mask the deeper principles behind healthy eating. By taking the effort out of preparing food, it’s harder to make lasting changes to improve your diet or workouts on your own. (Packages that come with additional nutritional and educational information can offset some of this shortcutting.)
“If a wellness plan fails to help the person analyze their own behaviors and come up with feasible solutions to the problems, then the plan will surely fail,” says Brill. “However, that’s not to say that these home-delivery wellness strategies will not aid people in their wellness endeavors. The deliveries can simply be thought of as sports drinks for marathon runners — they can help their performance, but the runner still has to run the race.”
JackedPack includes articles that explain some of the confusing ingredients found in many supplements. “We are often surprised at the lack of clear and well-written information,” says Lewis. “You’ll typically see either highly scientific literature or untrustworthy reviews. Our approach is to take a look at all of the legitimate, university double-blind controlled studies and put it into a readable form in our voice so that our users will actually read it and learn about these ingredients. By educating consumers on what they are putting into their body, that they’ll be more likely to learn and make more informed choices afterwards.”
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All those perks, and that convenience, do come with a price. Boxes are costly, with subscription dues ranging from $10 to $100 a month depending on the length of the subscription and box size. If you’re still intrigued, do a little research before making a purchase. “If it’s related to a fad diet, nix it,” says Brill. “A bag of Caveman Cookies are also not going to be the key to a long and healthy life. If there is something in there like a pedometer that spurs you to exercise more, that’s wonderful. But remember it’s not a magic bullet.” Then again, not much about living a healthy lifestyle ever is.