Hello Fresh’s ’17 Free Meals’

January 13th, 2022

Consumers will never confuse a discount for something that is given away for free. Yet some marketers seem eager to advertise “free” food when what they’re really offering is a discount on purchases over a specific period of time for new customers only.

We saw it with Crowd Cow and its “$100 of free meat.” Now we see it with Hello Fresh and the meal kit delivery service’s “17 free meals,” as advertised in an insert sent in by TINA.org reader Nick G. Nick pointed to the fine print on a card that came with the insert (both pictured above):

Offer only valid for new customers with an auto-renewal subscription purchase. “17 free meals” is based on a total discount that shall apply over a six-week period of a minimum order of 3 meals for 4 people per week. Save 50% off your 1st box plus free shipping, 35% off your 2nd box, 20% off your 3rd box, 14% off your 4th and 5th boxes, and 5% off your 6th box. Discount varies by meal plan size. A shipping fee of $9.99 shall apply on all deliveries after the first week. …

That sounds like you have to spend a lot of money with Hello Fresh to get 17 “free” meals. How much, exactly? We did the math* and you have to shell out more than $500 to get the discount equivalent of 17 regularly priced meals. But the ad doesn’t say “Spend $500, Get 17 Free Meals.” If it did, it wouldn’t be as enticing.

*When you go to the website on the insert and card, hellofresh.com/getoffer, the regular box price for an order containing 3 meals for 4 people for a total of 12 meals is listed at $101.88. At $8.49 a meal ($101.88/12), that means you would need to save a total of $144.33 ($8.49×17) over six weeks to get the discount equivalent of 17 regularly priced meals. The first week the discount is $50.94, the second week it’s $35.65, the third week $20.37, the fourth and fifth weeks $14.26 each for a total of $28.52, and the sixth week the discount is $5. That adds up to $140.48. But Hello Fresh pays for shipping the first week, which takes the total discount over $144.33. Of course, in the end, you pay more than you save. Subtracting the discounts from the regular box price of $101.88, the first week you pay $50.94, the second week $66.23, the third week $81.51, the fourth and fifth weeks $87.62 each for a total of $175.24, and the sixth week $96.88. That adds up to $470.80. Tack on the cost of shipping for weeks 2-6 and the total becomes $520.75.

Find more of our coverage on the fine print here.

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