MADISON, CONN. June 22, 2022 While millions of Americans struggle with rising food prices and empty store shelves, meal kit retailer HelloFresh advertises “delicious meals delivered to your door,” enticing consumers with its “free” meal offers. By all accounts, the marketing campaign is working – the German-based company continues to report record revenues even after a pandemic surge in 2020, making it the largest meal kit provider in the U.S. A recent investigation by ad watchdog truthinadvertising.org (TINA.org), however, found that HelloFresh is engaged in a number of deceptive and illegal business practices, including violations of the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA).
Meal kit companies grew by nearly 70% during the pandemic, filling the void left by restaurant closures and buoyed by a large population with the time and means to cook at home. Promising fresh ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes, HelloFresh raced ahead of the pack in 2018 to become the world’s largest meal kit company and now operates in 17 countries across four continents, though the U.S. remains its largest market.
TINA.org’s investigation revealed that HelloFresh deceptively advertises “free” meals via promotional mailers, national TV commercials and online promotions to lure consumers into its subscription autorenewal program. And despite the repeated use of the word “free,” there are no free meals. The fine print reveals that consumers who follow the terms and conditions of the “free meal” offers must spend hundreds of dollars to realize their savings, which essentially amounts to an ever-decreasing discount on the first few weekly orders. Using dark patterns to distract and pressure, the company then enrolls unwitting consumers into plans where they are repeatedly charged without providing their express informed consent. To make matters worse, the company also employs dissuasion and diversion tactics so that consumers encounter unnecessary difficulty when trying to cancel their HelloFresh subscriptions.
“At a time when millions of Americans are living with food insecurity, and food inflation is rising rapidly, HelloFresh’s decision to exploit these factors by deceiving consumers for its own financial gain is not only disgraceful, it’s illegal and must be stopped,” said Bonnie Patten, TINA.org’s Executive Director.
TINA.org has alerted the FTC and consumer protection officials in Connecticut (one of the states where the deceptive mailers have been sent) to the company’s deceptive marketing and ROSCA violations and is urging each of these agencies to take appropriate action.
This is the fourth complaint that TINA.org has filed against players in the subscription economy. Previous investigations include kids clothing and shoe marketer FabKids, lingerie e-tailer Adore Me, as well as Rihanna’s company, Savage X Fenty.
To read more about TINA.org’s investigation of HelloFresh, see: https://truthinadvertising.org/brands/hellofresh/