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Blue Apron allows you to cook a dinner to be envied by not only your friends, but quite possibly professional chefs, without having to wave a magic wand.
The recipe does not look complicated. Today, we’re having burgers with creamy caramelised onions. From the box, you take the minced meat, buns, lettuce, onions, cream spread, mustard, apple cider vinegar, pickled Peruvian peppers, apples, and bread crumbs.
You peel, grate, chop, grill, flip, follow the helpful illustrations, and as long as you didn’t get up on the wrong side of the bed, you end up with a burger worthy of the fanciest New York restaurants.
Over a million Americans are now preparing their dinner like that. They follow a recipe delivered in a box by Blue Apron, an ingredient-and-recipe meal kit service.
Each month, Blue Apron staff delivers eight million boxes of ingredients to the homes of their customers, who then use them to cook a meal.
Six years ago, Matt Salzberg, Ilia Papas, and Matt Wadiak were testing the first recipes in their New York apartment. Even before that, they thought about how people who work in offices or take care of children, often run out of time to create a menu.
It’s why they thought it would be sensible to make matters easier and deliver boxes with high-quality food products and special ingredients, to the doorsteps of their homes or to their offices, along with a piece of paper explaining how to create meals out of the ingredients quickly and in just a few steps. The first 30 »royal« testers loved it, and both Matt and Ilia were inspired to share this revolution in eating habits with the public.
Soon, the co-founders of Blue Apron could not keep up with the orders. Eventually, they employed 5000 people, who delivered carefully-selected and measured ingredients, sourced from 300 local farmers, to more and more Americans. The latest data shows that subscribers get eight million meal kits delivered to their doorsteps each month.
Ordering is simple. You can choose to receive multiple boxes a week, for yourself or for the entire family, and let yourself be surprised, as is the case in many other examples of the subscription economy. When the month is up, the cost is between 47.95 and 119.84 dollars, depending on the selected boxes. Since 2015, you can add wine to your order, which can be chosen by you or suggested with your recipe, created by the selected chef. Winemakers produce their masterpieces especially for the company, which cuts out the middle man with the help of direct agreements.
Following its founding, Blue Apron grew rapidly, and in 2016, its value was estimated at two billion dollars. But just when it seemed that everything was going according to plan, and that subscribers embraced their service, the first crisis hit the company. A secret report uncovered a stressful work environment. Then a second crisis happened: they aimed high with their initial public offering with 10 dollars per stock, which then fell to merely two. Soon after, Wadiak resigned as the company CEO, hundreds of workers were facing redundancies, and at the end of 2017, Salzberg resigned as the Executive Chairman. At the same time, they were having to deal with the competition: Walmart, Amazon, HelloFresh, and Albersons.
A while ago, the company decided to start offering their products on the shelves of »physical« stores.
The company is working hard to find a way to get back on track. There is no universal recipe to follow, but they’re working on it while cooking up a solution. For example, Blue Apron connected with Airbnb, the online accommodation provider, by delivering food and recipes inspired by hosts from six cities across the world, to the homes of new subscribers for six weeks, all to try to get them accustomed to living per month.
They also made a deal with Costco and began selling four food boxes at a discounted price in 80 of Costco's stores. Blue Apron is convinced that they need to not only look for customers outside the digital world, directly in stores, but also enable anyone feeling rumbles in their bellies to be able to get food immediately. According to analysts, that might just be the winning step.
At the end of May 2018, Blue Apron prepared pop-up projects, first in New York, and later in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. They spent a month presenting new products and running culinary workshops at temporary locations across the cities. They are also trying to connect with their subscribers face-to-face, so customers can get the opportunity to realise how simple the recipes really are. Since September, they’ve been trying to convince them of this fact by presenting recipes that take under 25 minutes to prepare.
Blue Apron, like all businesses, is looking for ways to reach users and is doing so by more or less successfully avoiding or jumping over hurdles. Positive figures in annual reports are a good motivation for the owners and employees, negative figures obviously not so much.
But it doesn't seem that their subscribers care much about the numbers: for now, they care less about the balance sheets and more about on-time delivery, simple ordering, diverse products, organic food, great taste and appearance of a dish, worthy to be posted on social media.