Meal-kit companies face an ultimatum: adapt or die.
The business is still in its infancy, with the biggest players — Blue Apron and HelloFresh — less than a decade old. But they are facing serious challenges from restaurant and grocery-delivery services, smaller niche players and even home chefs.
The struggle intensified Monday, when Blue Apron announced that it could be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because its closing share price has been lower than $1 since early May. The company’s share price closed down 8% Monday to 68 cents.
New York-based Blue Apron said it will try to raise its stock price with a reverse stock split, which will be subject to a vote of its shareholders at the company’s annual meeting on June 13.
Subscription-based meal-kit companies face numerous problems. For one, they appeal to a small population. NPD Group, a consulting firm, estimates that just 4% of U.S. consumers have tried them.
It also costs a lot for companies to prepare, package and ship fresh ingredients, so meal prices are high. And once kits arrive, subscribers still have to put the ingredients together.
“Meal kits are a more expensive but less convenient option for busy people who do not have time to cook,” said Cara Brosius, a market-research analyst with Packaged Facts.
Brosius said meal-kit customers have also complained about limited menu selection, poor quality of ingredients and too much packaging.
Blue Apron hasn’t made a profit since its 2017 IPO. It has been losing customers, who quickly tire of its relatively high prices — $9.99 per serving for a two-person plan — as well as its subscription plan, which forces them to be less spontaneous. Blue Apron’s customer base fell 25% to 557,000 between 2017 and 2018.
Others have struggled. Meal-kit company Chef’d closed its doors last July. And some have been swallowed up. Albertsons grocery chain, for instance, acquired the Plated brand in 2017 while Kroger acquired Home Chef last year.
Darren Seifer, a food-industry analyst with the consulting firm NPD Group, said the meal-kit market feels like the dot-com boom of the late 1990s.
“It’s a very crowded space, with a lot of companies not paying too much attention to the bottom line,” he said. He expects consolidation, which is already happening. HelloFresh bought organic meal-kit provider Green Chef last year, for example.
Packages Facts said the U.S. meal-kit market grew 22% to $3.1 billion in 2018, but it expects that growth to decelerate over the next five years because of competition. UberEats, for example, will deliver a restaurant meal for $3.99 plus a service fee. Chefs for Seniors promises a visit from an in-home chef, 12 meal servings and cleanup for $99 plus groceries.
Seifer said there is a place for subscription-based meal plans. They have a lot of appeal for people with specific dietary needs, he said.
But he thinks the most successful companies will also branch out into grocery stores or delivery, offering on-demand meal kits.