- My parents and I used to be a loyal Blue Apron customers but stopped using the service.
- The issues we found show deeper problems at the meal-kit company.
- Blue Apron just laid off hundreds of people following competition from Amazon and Kroger.
Blue Apron is in trouble.
The meal-kit company just fired hundreds of people as it faces competition from Amazon and Kroger, and a recent study showed that new customers — which the company spends heavily to acquire — don’t stick around very long.
I’m one of those. I used to be a loyal Blue Apron customer but ultimately decided to discontinue the service. I believe that the shortcomings I found, in addition to sweeping changes in the industry, will spell ultimate doom for Blue Apron.
When I first started using Blue Apron in May 2017, I was infatuated.
The box at my door contained everything I needed for three gourmet meals (some of my favourites were the spaghetti bolognese with butter lettuce salad, pork and cabbage tacos with pineapple, and roasted cauliflower and freekah salad).
Not only was I introduced to meals I wouldn’t normally make, but I could do so without spending time going to the store. Laying out perfect portions of meat, grains, vegetables, herbs, and spices next to the bright Blue Apron recipe card felt incredibly satisfying, and I started referring to making dinner as my “zen time.”
While Blue Apron is costly, at $US10 a meal, it was cheaper than I would typically spend on take-out.
I was quick to tell friends and family about what I had discovered. In the weeks after I signed up, I invited many friends over to cook with me, saving us the money of going out to dinner.
My enthusiasm for Blue Apron spurred my parents, who live in Ohio, to sign up too. Soon, our phone calls were dominated by what recipes we were cooking that week.
My infatuation quickly faded
Quality issues with my Blue Apron meals were the first red flag.
Often, the produce would arrive wilted, and I felt like I had to either use it immediately or throw it away. This was particularly an issue with ingredients like arugula and cilantro but also happened with squash, which generally keeps for much longer.
The meals also started piling up. The idea of spending an hour chopping and roasting broccoli after getting home from barre class at 8 p.m. seemed daunting.
I started turning down invitations to happy hours and dinners because “I have another Blue Apron to cook from this week.” Another coworker complained to me that his freezer was full of meals he hadn’t had the time to cook. Dread replaced excitement when I saw my Blue Apron box.
My parents became disenchanted at the same time.
“Sometimes it’s exhausting to think about prepping all those ingredients when we could make something simple,” my mum told me.
We both discontinued our Blue Apron subscriptions in August — for me that was barely 3 months after I signed up.
The future of Blue Apron
Back in June, when Blue Apron’s shares had just started trading on the New York Stock Exchange, my colleague Alex Morrell wrote about a marketing professor at Emory University who estimated that the company is losing money on roughly 70% of the customers it attracts because it spends heavily to get them to sign up, and then they stop their subscriptions way too soon.
The professor’s analysis estimated that almost two-thirds of customers were like me — and gone after just three months.
The company is facing more problems than quality and time complaints from customers. Competition is piling up with everyone from Kroger to Amazon getting into the meal kit business and the big competitors have some notable advantages — their kits are sold a la carte instead of the commitment of a 3-meal-a-week subscription. Amazon and Kroger also chop vegetables and include pre-made sauces, cutting prep time down substantially.
The company has responded by simplifying some recipes to be shorter. But it seemingly can’t compete with big retailers who likely have sweet deals with suppliers that allow them to sell the goods for cheaper.
Blue Apron’s gourmet meals are a nice indulgence from time to time.
But it’s nearly impossible to imagine the company getting enough loyal customers to sustain growth.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.
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