Blue Apron — the New York City-based startup that’s a godsend for wannabe cooks that hate schlepping out to the grocery store — raised $50 million at a $US500 million valuation in April.
Here’s the basic idea: People who are strapped for time but want to make their own home-cooked food can sign up to receive three meals a week that will come in either two, four, or six-person portions.
Big boxes of pre-measured ingredients will arrive once a week, with simple recipe cards that will instruct customers how to cook three fresh, out-of-the-ordinary meals that supposedly only take around 35 minutes to prepare. Each week, the company lists six recipes to choose from that suit a wide range of different tastes, catering to vegetarians as well as meat lovers. The most basic plan costs $US60 a week, or roughly $US10 per person per meal.
Matt Salzberg, cofounder and CEO, told Business Insider that the goal is to get people cooking things they wouldn’t ordinarily. He describes a recent menu item that customers loved: A spare-rib burger on a pretzel roll with a cheddar and hops sauce.
“You likely wouldn’t even know where to get those ingredients on your own, or it would be way too expensive to buy for them for just one meal,” he said. “Executing a dish like that would be nearly impossible, but doing it with us is a 30-minute endeavour.”
Because Blue Apron is a subscription service, the team knows exactly how much food to order each week, which minimizes waste and lets it negotiate with suppliers to keep costs down. It currently ships about 600,000 meals a month, and although Salzberg declined to reveal any specific financials, he said that the company makes a “healthy margin” on each subscription because of the efficiencies in Blue Apron’s supply chain.
“People literally write us love letters on a daily basis that say we’ve changed their lives, that we’ve saved their marriages, that they’re so thankful that we exist because of the fun that they’re having,” he said. “They’re eating healthier and they’re learning to cook.”
As a twenty-something with very little cooking experience and a strong aversion to crowded New York City supermarkets, I decided to give the service a try.
I got home kind of late, but because Blue Apron packs its food in refrigerated bags, everything was still cold.
Warning: If you have roommates and a full fridge, you need to make sure you clear out some serious real estate. I had to work to jam everything in.
I'm not a vegetarian or pescatarian, so anything was fair game. I got three diverse meals: Whole wheat spaghetti and meatballs, chicken and black bean enchiladas, and shrimp quinoa 'fried rice.'
I decided to tackle the spaghetti first because that seemed like the simplest option. As you can see, every ingredient is pre-measured.
Unfortunately, it's not pre-cut. First up was the slicing, dicing, and mincing process. Honestly, this is the hardest part of the entire recipe. If you're not quick at cutting, Blue Apron could take you significantly longer than 35 minutes.
Once I finished chopping -- it took me about 25 minutes -- I started getting more excited about the recipe. Cooking the base of the sauce filled my kitchen with the delicious smell of garlic and onions.
Everything is meant to be done in tandem, so while my sauce was simmering, I was also boiling the pasta and working on my meatballs.
I had never made them before! Because I'm an amateur chopper, they were a little chunky, but I loved the experience.
Getting everything made is a whirlwind process, but, if you enjoy cooking, extremely satisfying and fun.
Ideally, though, making a Blue Apron meal seems like a two-person job. It took me nearly an hour and a half to prepare my meal.
But the result was delicious. Plus, the recipe ended up making way more than two servings. (Each of my meals did. When I did the maths for how much I actually paid per meal with leftovers, it was only about $US5 per delicious meal).
I never thought I'd ever cook with tomatillos! That's the best part about Blue Apron: Making ambitious dishes that you would never think to try otherwise.
Again though, chopping was a pain. You need a ton of counter space. I had also learned the last time that clean-up is a pain, since you end up using a lot of bowls.
The recipe required mincing the lime rind, which I had never done before. Generally, you will learn (or struggle through) new cooking techniques with Blue Apron if you're as much of a novice as I am.
I roasted my poblano pepper and tomatillos to make salsa verde and cooked the chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper.
More chopping. The recipe makes the steps really clear and straight-forward. It also gave a little background on the dish: I learned that 'enchilada' literally means 'to decorate with chile.'
Although Blue Apron sends you every pre-measured ingredient that you need, you still have to have a kitchen stocked with the proper tools. I wished for sharper knives and, clearly, I didn't have the right size baking dish.
Definitely my favourite dish, and I felt very proud when I could bring leftovers to work the next day and brag to my friend that I'd made it myself.
For once, the meal was actually (and easily) completed within the 35 minute window Blue Apron tells you to expect.
Ultimate conclusion? Cooking with Blue Apron is an amazing experience, but one that's best shared. Although I enjoyed making my first two solo dishes, it was much better when I double-teamed the prep work with a friend. If I had a live-in boyfriend or a roommate with a schedule that matched mine, I would shell out the money to use the service, because cooking with Blue Apron made me feel happier and healthier.
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