Dear AccessWorld Readers,
Each month, I have the blank slate that is the Editor's Page to use to communicate with you all. Over the past few months, I have been experimenting with different content for this column to make it as valuable to you as I can. I've previously spotlighted organizations and made software recommendations, so for this column, I thought I would take this space to bring you a casual review of a couple of useful services/products that I have been using over the past half-year.
You are probably familiar with services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, meal delivery services that ship you a box of pre portioned ingredients along with a recipe so that you can cook the meal your self. I have always thought these services were interesting, but not being much of a cook myself, always put off trying them. I recently discovered two similar services, Freshly and Factor. Instead of sending you a box of raw ingredients each week, both of these services will send you healthy, precooked meals each week that only require reheating in the microwave. For this casual review, I used the companies' websites using the NVDA screen reader and the VoiceOver screen reader on iOS.
When you get started with either of these services, you will need to sign up and choose your first weeks worth of meals using the companies' websites or mobile apps. Note that prices decrease as you request more meals per week; For Freshly, meal plans start at 4 meals and top out at 12 meals per week. When ordering 4 meals, each meal will cost $11.50. If you go for the full 12 meals, each meal will be $8.50 (excluding shipping). For factor, meal plans begin with 4 meals and top out at 18 meals. 4 meals cost $15 each while 18 meals cost $11 each. For factor, shipping is included in the price of the meals. During the sign up process you will choose your meal plan, delivery date when using Freshly (Factor has a specific shipping date for your region), and meals. After you begin the service, you will begin receiving a box of meals each week. Once you choose your first week's meals they will be copied to subsequent weeks and you will need to manually go and change them. Factor selects a random assortment of meals each week; again, you will need to change them manually. Factor also has what they call "Add-ons" which are various products that are always available and can be purchased in addition to your weekly meals. Add-ons include items such as healthy(ish) desserts, healthy shakes, and other, simpler, food items like steaks and chicken. With both platforms, you can skip a week or cancel with ease.
The companies' apps and websites function similarly; Factor's app seems like it mirrors the website closely with the inclusion of the traditional app tabs for different sections at the bottom of the screen. The freshly app is slightly different in regards to adding meals as there are two views, one that is a vertical list that contains the meals while the other, reached by activating a meal's name, will allow you to swipe or scroll through the meals in a horizontal view. I believe it isn't intended, but in this view, you can swipe left or right and be taken through the name of the dish and included side, Swiping right past the side dish name or left past the name of the dish will take you to the next or previous meal respectively. You can also use a 3 finger swipe with VoiceOver to scroll from one page to another. If you want to learn more about a specific meal, scroll down with a three finger vertical swipe to read the details of each meal. Factor's meal selection uses a vertical list for both app and website.
In regards to accessibility, Factor's app and website both seem to be completely accessible. The only access issue I encountered was that nutrition information for Factor is a graphic whereas Freshly has nutritional information as plain text. For now, I personally use the built-in Windows 10 OCR through NVDA to read nutrition information with factor which works well. If I am not mistaken, you can do this with JAWS as well. Freshly on the other hand has several minor access issues. There are several unlabeled or improperly labeled controls in both the app and website. In addition, both Factor and Freshly allow you to activate the name of a meal to open a dialog with full details. Factor has each meal labeled as a button while Freshly shows each meal's name as plain text. In addition, when adding meals, I found that activating the "Add meal" button on freshly's website didn't always work, I found that the most reliable way to add meals to my cart was to use NVDA's object navigation feature to locate the button and then enter the buttons container and activate it there.
When you receive your box of meals, you will find large (recyclable) ice packs along with padded insulation surrounding your meals. I have mainly tried 4 meals from each provider; for me, the ice packs were placed on the top and bottom of the stack of meals. Both companies package their meals similarly; each meal is packaged in a microwave safe plastic tray with a space for the main dish and a separated portion for the meal's side dish. Factor some times will include a sauce that must be removed before heating, in this case, the side section for the tray will be further separated into two smaller containers. This is also true when there are two sides with a Factor meal. In addition to the regular tray, Freshly will serve pasta in a large tray with a single space with no separators. Chili, soups, and certain other meals are served in rounded bowls. All meals from both companies are packaged in cardboard sleeves with the meal's information on the outside. Note that the name of a Factor meal will be printed on the side of the cardboard sleeve while you can generally find the name of the dish on the top or bottom of a Freshly sleeve. Instructions are printed on the bottom of the cardboard sleeve for each meal; though I personally found that heating all meals for around 3 minutes and 30 seconds did the trick. This depends on your microwave's power of course, I believe that the one I use is 1200 Watts. I use a scanning app like Voice Dream Scanner, Seeing AI, or Lookout to scan the package contents. This works quite well for Freshly meals but doesn't work nearly as well when scanning Factor packages. For me, the most important info is the "Use By" date for each meal. These meals use few to no preservatives so will go bad within around a week if not eaten. This can vary by meal so I always make sure to scan for this whenever I get a new box. As expected, this is much easier to find on Freshly packages than Factor meals.
Now that we've gone through the accessibility of these services, How is the food? Generally, Freshly produces healthier meals while Factor meals are higher calorie but with more decadent options; e.g., greater amounts of cheeses, sugars, and sauces. Freshly meals always contain some sort of meat and in some cases will meet some dietary requirements such as "No Dairy" or "Gluten Free". Compared to Factor, you generally have around 35-38 meal options per week, just in fewer categories. Factor produces food in more categories, e.g., Vegan, Paleo, Plant-Based, and Ketogenic, but has fewer meals overall. Factor always has two breakfast and seafood options. I particularly appreciate the breakfast options from Factor and the pasta options from Freshly. Thus far, I haven't seen any true pasta meals from Factor and Freshly meals generally fall into lunch or dinner options only. Previously Freshly didn't have any seafood options, but recently, I noticed a shrimp dish on the weekly menu. In addition, you can now purchase multi-serve meals from Freshly. These include items such as chicken breasts, steaks, meatballs (both beef and turkey), and macaroni and cheese.
So with all of that said, which do you choose?
Accessibility: Freshly has a few minor access issues, but is perfectly usable with work. Factor seems to be completely accessible.
Packaging: Freshly's packaging is easier to scan with an OCR app. In addition, their insulation seems to maintain cool temperatures better and the trays seem sturdier than those used by Factor.
Food quality: Both have excellent food quality (as the price for each would suggest). I find that Freshly often will try to replace less healthy ingredients with healthier ones. In addition their meals with sauces and cheeses have fewer of these ingredients compared to a similar Factor meal. It seems that Factor exclusively has breakfast meals while Freshly Exclusively has true pasta meals.
Overall, you can't go wrong with either of these services. I've been using both for the last 6 months and have been happy with both. With the skip option available from both companies, it is quite effortless to alternate services week to week if desired. Really, I would recommend checking out both sites and taking a look at the meals and go with the service with the items that appeal to you most.
As usual, I would love to hear your comments. Do you find this sort of content helpful as the Editor's Page? As this is a casual review, are there aspects that you wish I would have focused on more or areas that received too much attention? Do you have suggestions for future topics that I can cover? Reach out at email@example.com.
AccessWorld Editor and Chief