Meal kit delivery is relatively new, but the concept has spawned fierce competition in the last six years. With a raft of similar companies vying for the same customers, the pressure is on for branding teams to make sure their company stands out from the crowd.

That process starts with the company name. And for those of us outside of the meal kit industry, looking at an entire category like this provides great naming lessons for how to differentiate our brands.

Before we tuck in to lessons learned, here is a list of meal-kit delivery competitors (i.e., those that deliver ingredients and recipes, not prepared meals):

Name Launched
Gobble 2010
HelloFresh 2011
Blue Apron 2012
Plated 2012
Chef'd 2013
PeachDish 2013
Home Chef 2014
Sun Basket 2014
Martha & Marley Spoon  2014
Purple Carrot 2014
Green Chef 2014
Daily Harvest 2015
One Potato 2015
Terra's Kitchen 2015
Takeout Kit 2015
Dinnerly 2016
Amazon Meal Kits 2016

As you can see, meal kit positioning has evolved. The very first entrants—Gobble and HelloFresh—chose names that telegraph fresh, tasty food.

Then, the wave of companies that really pushed the category into public view cultivated a gourmet, upscale vibe with names that suggest fine dining or home catering with premium ingredients: Plated, Blue Apron, Chef'd, Home Chef, and Martha & Marley Spoon (capitalizing on the Martha Stewart brand).

The next group courted health-conscious customers who care about sustainability, choosing names that convey plant-based superfoods and kinship with the earth—Sun Basket, Purple Carrot, Green Chef, Daily Harvest, and Terra's Kitchen.

Most recently, market entrants have underscored affordability, with simple, straightforward names—Takeout Kit, Dinnerly (spun off from Marley Spoon), and Amazon Meal Kits.

Of course, in its branding and marketing, each company conveys messages beyond what's obvious from the name. Most of those are common to the category: farm-to-table freshness, great taste, healthful eating, sustainability, ease, convenience. But focusing on the names themselves yields plenty of choice branding morsels.

Here are five takeaways from the naming of meal kit brands.

1. Suggestive, evocative names are a powerful way to occupy mindshare and engage customers in a new category, and they have greater likelihood of ownability for trademark and domain.

The companies that launched the category pushed meal-kit delivery into the public eye. The names (Gobble, Blue Apron, Plated) were suggestive enough to bring customers into the dining headspace while evocative enough to be memorable, distinctive, and engaging.

You might think that a descriptive name (such as Amazon Meal Kit) is most useful if you're among the first to enter a category because it will help your customers faster understand the new concept. There is logic to that, but descriptive names are not as distinct or memorable. They can strongly imply affordability, which would be off-brand if your positioning is premium. Plus, descriptive names afford less trademark protection.

2. Names that use company differentiators to tell a unique story will help you stand out from the herd.

Look at how One Potato expresses the company's focus on kid-friendly recipes by referencing the children's game. PeachDish evokes fresh-baked pie on a Georgia table, perfect for a company (founded by a Georgian) that highlights new Southern cooking and hospitality. Those names successfully express the category attributes while also keying on differentiators.

Now look at the names Takeout Kit, Green Chef, Home Chef, and Daily Harvest compared with Purple Carrot, HelloFresh, SunBasket, and Martha & Marley Spoon. The former tell a fairly conventional and uninteresting story. The latter include at least one element to set them apart, such as an unexpected image (carrots are supposed to be orange, and what's a sun basket?), the personification of an attribute ("say 'hello' to my little friend, Fresh"), or an unusual personal name (Martha Stewart married Marley Spoon?!).

Also note that names can convey more than one message within a unique combination. For example, because purple carrots are generally found only in modern gourmet recipes, that company name suggests upscale as well as contemporary, plant-based, seasonal food.

3. Concise, euphonic names are easier (and more pleasurable) for customers to say, type, and remember.

Keep it short and sweet. In their brevity, Gobble, Plated, Chef'd, and Dinnerly stand out from their longer competition, and their very construction conveys simplicity and speed.

That said, all the names in this category are easy to say, type, and remember. Some, such as Gobble, are even fun to say.

4. Personal names can help your brand stand out—if used right. Using a personal name in your company name can do wonders for your brand's friendliness quotient. Oscar, the health insurance company, is a good example because it debuted in an industry that desperately needed a fresh, friendly face.

In the meal kit category, Terra's Kitchen sounds like we are visiting "Tara's Kitchen." Terra means earth, which suggests natural, fresh, and sustainable. Martha Stewart smartly used her name's existing cachet when she partnered with Marley Spoon. Plus, the alliteration increases the name's memorability without becoming too singsong.

However, using a personal name for a company can be a bad decision for several reasons: too many already in the space, lack of fit with brand personality or tone, or the name could just be too long.

If you do opt for a first-name company, try for a name with multiple benefits or meanings, and think about whether it will restrict you in the long term. Is friendliness and familiarity right for your brand? What celebrity with that name will your customers immediately think of? Is that celebrity currently or likely to be incarcerated? (Here we invoke the Martha Stewart Exception. The orange jumpsuit gave her brand street cred. Who knew?)

5. Don't be afraid to consider punctuation, which can help you catch customer eyes.

Some people don't consider including punctuation in a company name because of possible confusion when customers type in a URL... but who types in a URL directly these days? Kidding! Although URL intuitiveness can be a concern for some types of ventures (especially e-commerce), punctuation can be an effective way to separate your name graphically from your competitors. Look at how Chef'd and Martha & Marley Spoon immediately stand out in the list.

Some punctuation, such as periods and colons, must be used with care (if at all), but apostrophes can be effective, as in Chef'd. The name expresses a point of differentiation—meals designed by celebrity chefs—and suggests a fine dining experience ('d recalls maître d'), while the truncated word implies ease and speed, almost like the meal is already done.

* * *

They say the first bite is always the most flavorful. A company's name is like that first bite: It leaves an impression that will either encourage you to chow down... or order something else.

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image of Mark Skoultchi

Mark Skoultchi is a partner at Catchword, a full-service naming company founded in 1998, with offices in the San Francisco Bay area and New York City. Contact Mark at 212-472-8936.

LinkedIn: Mark Skoultchi