We tried Checkers’ new meal-in-a-box, and discovered we paid R18.83 for 12 minutes and a recipe

Business Insider SA

  • Checkers launched its Ready to Chef line this week, a meal and recipe in a box you can buy off the shelf.
  • We tried it, and found the recipe easy, the ingredients decent, and the portions big.
  • Then we went back and shopped for all the ingredients separately – and discovered we had paid a 12% premium for the convenience.

Retail giant Checkers this week launched meal-kit boxes in its stores: a box you can grab off the shelf, with all the major ingredients needed to make the meal, along with a simple, step-by-step recipe. 

The Ready to Chef range is a disruptor in a market just starting to come into its own – with the high-end UCook, which delivers organic and sometimes exotic ingredients to your door, aiming for R80 million in revenue this year. UCook and its closest competitor, Daily Dish, charge between R105 and R110 per person per meal. Checkers' most expensive box is R90 a head, and its offers start at R60 per person per meal.

See also: UCook, SA's largest meal kit provider, plans brick-and-mortar stores – and R80 million turnover soon

We tried the Checkers Ready to Chef Greek leg of lamb fillets box, and found it a familiar experience after UCook and Daily Dish – though with some key differences, and an easy way to see how much we paid for convenience.

The box is surprisingly convenient, in a way we didn't anticipate.

We were introduced to dinner-kit services by UCook and Daily Dish, which deliver their boxes to the door, stuffed with ice packs to keep the perishables inside cold. The Checkers boxes are on a refrigerated shelf, and have no ice packs – so it is tiny by comparison.

See also: We compared SA's dinner-kit services UCook and Daily Dish – and the winner was clear for one key and one minor reason

You can grab it with one hand and toss it into the passenger footwell of a car, and you don't have to return or dispose of what rapidly becomes a mountain of ice packs if you subscribe to one of the delivery services.

Checkers understands that we suffer severe imposter syndrome when it comes to cooking – and kitchen utensils.

The detailed list of things you are assumed to have around the house, like salt and pepper and oil, is reassuring, and the list of utensils even more so. Especially after one particularly harrowing UCook meal that assumed everyone has a blender*.

The ingredients in our box were good quality – and with minimal plastic packaging.

You couldn't buy a single onion or lemon in Checkers without having it forcefully put in a plastic bag (as we discovered again later). But despite that approach in its vegetable sections, Checkers avoided the Daily Dish approach of putting absolutely everything in separate plastic packaging, leaving you with a mountain of guilt-inducing trash at the end of your meal.

The recipe was a thing of beautiful simplicity – if you like that kind of thing.

The Checkers approach "seems Standard Grade compared to UCook's more exotic and interesting recipes", one of our testers remarked, and that is both a good and a bad thing. While Daily Dish and UCook taught us new and exciting things, Checkers helped us cook a meal without any fuss.

The video preparation guide is unnecessary, but soothing.

Each recipe comes with a QR code that, when scanned, takes you to a walk-through for the dish you bought. This is the one that came with our lamb dish.

Because the recipe was really simple, the video served no real purpose, but watching it as a kind of dry run before commencing with the cooking removed any lingering doubts.

Our complete dish bore little resemblance to the beautifully-presented version on our box, but it tasted good.

The meat in particular was a concern. Checkers sells decent enough stuff, most of the time, but UCook sources its meat from the finest organic suppliers, and Daily Dish includes little cards with the names and pictures of the box packer, which is really comforting when you get meat in a cardboard box.

The result, though, spoke for itself: not quite hand-reared lamb lovingly fed only the finest Karoo grass, perhaps, but good. And the portions were slightly too large, if anything.

Then we went back to Checkers, to see how good a deal the box is.

At our local Checkers in Johannesburg, the refrigerated section with the Ready to Chef meals is at the back, just about a one-minute round trip from entrance to tills.

We attempted to recreate the box by shopping for the individual ingredients, or their closest match. We ended up with slightly more, such as a 100g of feta rather than the 30g in the box, and a bigger tomato medley – for quite a bit less than the R180 price tag on our box.

Our comparative shop came in R18.83 more expensive, or just under 12% more than the same ingredients in the box. It would have been cheaper still had our local store not been out of house-brand butterbeans, forcing us to buy a more expensive branded can, and came with the added benefit of picking our own onion and lemon.

But the comparative shop also took 12 minutes longer than just grabbing a box off the shelf, and we had to settle for a spice mix with little resemblance to the Greek mix that came with the recipe.

* Correction: this article previously said that a Daily Dish meal had required a blender. It was, in fact, a UCook meal that required a blender.

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