I tried Blue Apron and saw why the company will be a smash success
I tried my first meal kit through Blue Apron in August 2014, and it was life-changing.
Meal kits — or deliveries that contain groceries and accompanying recipes — can get a bad rap. One of the biggest complaints from first-time users that I often hear is that they require too much work. (This is partially due to the widespread misunderstanding that the service targets "lazy" consumers).
Some critics also complain about the excessive packaging, since many of the ingredients are individually wrapped.
About 100 companies are now offering meal kits, but analysts are still unsure as to whether they are a passing fad.
Blue Apron is the biggest meal-kit service in the US, but it has been losing money. While the company's revenue more than doubled to $795.4 million last year, it posted a net loss of $54.9 million.
The company has shipped 159 million meals since its inception in 2012. The company said Monday it expects its upcoming initial public offering to be priced at $15 to $17 per share, giving it a valuation as high as $3.18 billion.
After three years and hundreds of meals of cooking with Blue Apron, I wholeheartedly disagree with all the critics. I think meal kits are permanently changing how we eat and buy food, and I don't think they are ever going to go away. (Before I explain why, let me clarify that I was not paid to write this review. I have never received free food from Blue Apron and I have no affiliation with the company whatsoever.)
Before Blue Apron, I thought I knew how to cook. This was because I mainly stuck to simple recipes like casserole dishes and I often used a crock pot, which requires no cooking skills.
I wanted to learn more about making food, but I didn't want to pay for — or make time for — expensive cooking classes and no matter how many cooking shows I watched I just couldn't find the motivation to try and replicate a celebrity chef's meal in my own kitchen.
Then I tried Blue Apron and everything changed.
The beginning — as any novice chef who has tried Blue Apron knows — was rough. The food prep alone, which consisted mostly of washing, chopping, slicing, and dicing ingredients, took me 45 minutes per meal at first, and I got three meals a week. The process was exhausting and confusing at times, and for the first couple weeks, I questioned whether it was more work than it was worth to eat some home-cooked yuzu kosho-glazed chicken drumsticks or pistachio-crusted catfish with date vinaigrette.
But I stuck with it, and now I'm addicted.
Over the course of a couple months, and with the help of Blue Apron's "how-to" videos on knife skills, I cut my prep time down to about 10 minutes or less per meal. The big, illustrated recipe cards that come with the meals helped me learn about the ingredients I was using and figure out how the food should look at each step along the way.
Three years later, I'm now completely confident in the kitchen and find that 95% of the meals I cook are better than something I might order in a restaurant. (For what it's worth, my husband and most trusted taste tester agrees.)
I have also started venturing away from Blue Apron recipes and coming up with my own concoctions in the kitchen because I've learned over time which ingredients pair well together, and I have memorized various cooking processes for the hundreds of different ingredients that have landed on my doorstep each week.
The biggest surprise for me with Blue Apron — and the reason why I have stuck with it so long — is that it has changed my diet for the better.
I cook with dozens of different ingredients every week, including tons of leafy greens and vegetables, healthy grains like farro, freekeh, and quinoa, and many healthy ingredients I never even knew existed (I'm looking at you, celeriac, tatsoi, black rice, Tinkerbell peppers, and Thai basil).
The ingredients arrive in perfectly measured proportions, so I don't waste any food or overeat with a second serving.
My proteins are more balanced because each week I typically receive one seafood dish (such as catfish, cod, or salmon), one pork or steak dish, and one chicken or turkey dish. I get a healthy serving of vegetables with every protein.
Best of all, I don't have to spend hours planning dinners and grocery lists every week, thanks to the box that Blue Apron drops on my doorstep every Monday.
Outside of teaching me how to cook and saving me time and trips to the grocery store, the service saves me a lot of money.
The dinners cost $20 each for two people, and if I tried to recreate the meals on my own at the grocery store (which I have done several times) they always cost me more. The deliveries have also corresponded with a sharp drop in the amount I'm spending at restaurants every month.
On top of all the benefits, Blue Apron's customer service has been top notch. You can cancel your membership at any time, without any penalties. You can also cancel deliveries if you'll be out of town or just don't like any of the recipes being offered that week. If there is every anything wrong with your delivery, Blue Apron is likely to reimburse you for the entire cost of the package.
So I'm admittedly obsessed with meal kits. It's one of the easiest, cheapest, and least time-consuming ways to eat gourmet, healthy home-cooked meals.
That's why I don't think this is a passing fad.
The meal kit market is currently estimated to be about $1.5 billion, according to NPD Group, and could grow by as much as $5 billion over the next decade.
Blue Apron isn't the only company doing this. There's also Plated, Hello Fresh, Sun Basket, Purple Carrot, and tons of others.
As consumer tastes continue shifting toward healthier eating, the opportunity for these companies will only get bigger.