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Blue Apron, the buzzed-about, New York-based meal-kit delivery service, has been growing rapidly since its debut in 2012. Founded by Matt Salzberg, Matt Wadiak, and Ilia Papas, it specializes in bringing boxes of pre-measured ingredients to home cooks, delivering original and seasonal recipes weekly. Recipes are never repeated in the same year, and are roughly 500-800 calories per serving.
Delivery is free, and subscribers can pick a delivery day that best fits their schedule; ingredients arrive in a refrigerated box so food stays fresh if you’re not home during delivery. Blue Apron has built its brand around using ingredients that are fresh, natural—its meats are raised on antibiotic- and hormone-free diets—and “perfectly pre-measured” so that there’s no waste. The company sources from “artisanal purveyors and hundreds of family-run farms that support sustainable practices.”
Blue Apron is not cheap. A two-person plan provides three recipes per week for $59.94 ($9.99 per serving) and a family plan offers either two or four recipes per week for $69.92 or $139.84, respectively ($8.74 per serving). Factor in any other food costs for the week, and an individual’s or family’s grocery bill becomes even more expensive.
Blue Apron is not alone in the meal-kit delivery industry. It is quite the opposite. There are so many meal-kit delivery companies on the market that it is difficult to choose which one to try. In fact, there seems to be a company that specializes in almost every food trend or dietary preference out there.
One of Blue Apron’s biggest competitors is Plated. While the two companies are nearly identical, Plated has worked to differentiate itself from Blue Apron by offering more diverse meal choices and adding dessert. Subscription costs range from $48 per week (two dinners for two people; $6 shipping fee) to $168 per week (seven dinners for two people; free shipping). Its recipes feature fresh produce and specialty cuts of meat and seafood that vary based on market price.
Another big rival is HelloFresh. Just like Blue Apron and Plated, HelloFresh delivers a box of fresh, pre-measured ingredients and recipes straight to your doorstop every week. Its Classic Plan, which costs $69-$99 per week for two people; the Veggie Plan is specially designed for vegetarians, and costs $59 or $109 per week for two or four people; and the Family Plan, which costs $79.95-$105 per week. The company has partnered with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who is responsible for many of its recipes.
Purple Carrot specializes in vegan recipes, and costs between $68-$74 per week; former food columnist of The New York Times Mark Bittman co-founded the company. There’s Sun Basket, an organic meal delivery services that offers paleo diet and gluten free options, and Home Chef, which touts a personalized menu based on your inputted meal preferences. PeachDish is a meal-kit delivery service that distinguishes themselves by their Southern-inspired fare, and then there’s Marley Spoon, the Berlin-based company that recently partnered with Martha Stewart.
The advantages to meal-kit delivery services like Blue Apron are well-known—convenience, less waste, well-balanced meals. It’s a kitchen innovation that’s changing how some people cook and prepare food at home. Blue Apron and its many rivals have arrived at an almost perfect moment in our digital era. Our tastes and preferences have been polished by restaurants, famers’ markets, and food television networks; we want freshness and organically, naturally raised products, but above all, efficiency.
Blue Apron has built its brand around these three qualities, as well as introducing its customers to rare, exotic ingredients. Its kits are perfect for those wanting to learn how to cook, and cook with confidence, and to learn how to cook and appreciate these atypical recipe components.
It also offers an instant lifestyle upgrade. Enough food for three separate meals is delivered right to your doorstep, eliminating the need to trek to the grocery store once a week. With Blue Apron, customers don’t have to worry about finding all of the ingredients for a recipe. Everything you need, in the exact amount you need, is neatly packaged and ready to be turned into a basically homemade meal.
One of the biggest strengths of companies like Blue Apron is the decline in food waste. Because it sources from local farms, Blue Apron avoids much of the waste that comes with flying in produce or other products internationally to your grocery store, which requires a ton of packaging. Products typically come in crates instead of corrugated boxes when supplied locally.
Blue Apron, however, has its downfalls. Most apparent, and perhaps a big reason to hesitate, is the price, and Blue Apron is one of the cheaper options.
Most ready-to-cook meal deliveries fall between $10-$15 in the price-per-serving range. Whether or not you consider this outrageously expensive or a good deal—depending on your eating and shopping habits—it’s fair to assume that with services like Blue Apron, you pay a premium for the convenience of having a high-quality meal planned out for you and delivered right to your home. Popular food publication Eater asks an interesting question: “Are services like Blue Apron the future of home-cooked food, or are they a mindless extravagance for wealthy Americans?”
While encouraging people to cook at home, Blue Apron may also be taking the joy out of cooking. There’s no more trips to the grocery store or farmer’s market to seek out fresh produce and meat, a journey that connects you to the ingredients you are about to consume. Customers could potentially lose sight of where their food comes from.
While Blue Apron is known for working with local farmers to source their ingredients, something they should be commended for, its customers may only know that their food arrives in pre-packaged quantities in a refrigerated box on their doorstep. The company does include information about its local suppliers in its boxes, on its Facebook FB page, and throughout its website, but since their typical customer may be too busy to go grocery shopping, there’s a good chance they’ll be too busy to read the included brochures.
Blue Apron does a great job reducing food waste, but its environmental impact should also be considered. Each of its boxes include sometimes extraneous packaging choices—like small plastic bags for two or three carrots or little plastic containers of soy sauce—and since recipe ingredients are already portioned out, each ingredient arrives separately in plastic containers. Each plastic package, however, is recyclable, but Blue Apron could easily combine some ingredients and reduce the amount of plastic it uses.
Potential for an IPO?
Back in July, Bloomberg reported that Blue Apron held preliminary talks with banks about ways to raise capital, including the potential for an initial public offering. The company is currently valued at $2 billion, with $193 million in total equity funding. In an IPO, Blue Apron could see its valuation spike to $3 billion.
Blue Apron is now shipping about eight million meals to customers nationwide every month, according to The New York Times, up from five million meals per month in October of 2015.
And in 2015, Blue Apron brought on Brad Dickerson as chief financial officer, the former CFO and COO at Under Armour UA. “Brad brings deep experience in scaling fast-growing iconic brands, and we expect his leadership will be an invaluable asset to the company as we continue to grow at a rapid pace,” CEO Salzberg said in a statement. Mr. Dickerson would undoubtedly bring experience during an IPO process.
While Blue Apron’s IPO plans are not yet set in stone, the company is one to keep an eye on. The company’s business model, like that of all meal-kit delivery services, is thriving, partly because it does not have to maintain giant refrigerated warehouses, nor does it have too much retail operating costs.
Blue Apron is joining ranks with another digital food tool: popular online grocery delivery services like Instacart, Peapod, and Amazon.com Inc.’s AMZN Prime offering. Together, grocery delivery and meal-kits have upended the ways in which we thing about cooking, grocery shopping, and eating food, a trend that investors should consider seriously.
Grocery stalwarts, though, should not be discarded quite yet. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. WMT, who’s partnered with Uber and Lyft, offer its own versions of grocery delivery, while Whole Foods Market WFM has reportedly partnered and invested in Instacart. But Blue Apron is already transforming how people grocery shop and cook in their homes. If it goes public, the company has the potential to change the entire food industry.
Interested in IPOs? Check out the special edition of Zacks Friday Finish Line, where Editor Maddy Johnson and Content Writer Ryan McQueeney interview Kathleen Smith of Renaissance Capital about the IPO market in 2016.
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