A couple of years ago I wrote about my ‘mental pricing bias’. I referenced Blue Apron in that post as being emblematic of an interesting service that I did not personally want to make the effort to sustain.
Recently Blue Apron hired Linda Kozlowski at CEO. No not the one from Crocodile Dundee movie fame. She’s someone I’ve met and have worked with (while she was at Alibaba.com) in the past. From my experience she’s sharp and mission-focused. I feel she will need all her abilities and then some to have any chance of ‘fixing’ Blue Apron.
Every good direct response marketer knows that the right target, a compelling offer, and engaging creative all need to combine in order for there to be success. But also of critical importance is that the premise itself has to be intriguing.
Blue Apron delivers well on the intrigue front – delivering fresh food meals to your home with all the ingredients you need right in the package – is interesting and intriguing. Customers receive a certain number of meals per week by subscription with clear directions on how to prepare that fresh and tasty meal right in the kitchen. Cool.
But wait, there’s more. YOU HAVE TO COOK THE MEALS YOURSELF! OK, you knew that before you gave it a try but… you still have to cook the meals. And it’s not as if most of the meals can be prepared in 15 minutes or less. And once you are subscribed the meals come every, single, week. It makes me wonder how many of the Blue Apron meals never get made and are simply thrown away – before cooking.
Which leads me to, who are the targets? If health-conscious urbanites – young and old, are the target (the meals are not cheap nor are they expensive). Three 2-person meals for a week is $59.94 with an intro first week special at 33% off ($39.94). The offer of 6 fresh and health meals for $40 is reasonable even if you are cooking it yourself. $10 per meal cooking it yourself (or yourselves), becomes more of a value-proposition type decision. A one-week trial discount of $20 is not exactly the most compelling offer ever. Yes you can cancel anytime (as I did). But moving up to $20/meal after the first week is definitely pricier. Yes, it is cheaper than takeout (especially in big cities) but you are doing all the work except for the shopping.
Maybe the idea is that a couple will come home from work, not have to stop at the market, they’ll open a bottle of wine and cook together and then sit down to a nice dinner. Norman Rockwell paintings come to mind. Of course the urbanites would have to actually need to have a kitchen! I know a good many city folk that have kitchenettes at best, and never use them anyway.
The target can’t be the proverbial soccer mom can it? The busy working mom and dad – maybe. Basically I cannot really figure out who the real target is. It’s almost like it’s a solution looking for a problem to solve.
I know I am picking on Blue Apron and there are other sites like Plated that are in the same boat. What’s behind it all in my mind is that meal delivery services – at least in the United States, aim to change consumer behavior. Yes people intuitively would like to eat healthier meals at home. However when the default behavior is to go out to dinner, bring in takeout, or do something simple and low-effort when cooking at home, changing that behavior to being motivated to spend 35 minutes on average to make it happen seems unsustainable to me. It’ll take a week, maybe a month, but eventually people will tire of it and find it be limiting instead of enabling.
Why aren’t grocery stores quick to jump in on the meal delivery services horse? Meshing meal delivery services with grocery deliveries would acknowledge existing behavior and certainly save on delivery costs. I suspect Ms. Kozlowski and others are thinking of all sorts of ways to increase trials and retention. It was even put out there this week that packaging for meal delivery services are ‘greener than thought’, which I personally like, but don’t believe that to be a highly compelling a value proposition.
I acknowledge that meal delivery services have had some success in some places like San Francisco. But it’s hard for me to accept that there’s great opportunity to scale these business nationally and beyond. The problem for Blue Apron remains that as fast as the funnel can be filled at the top, customers are leaking out of the bottom of the bucket at too high a rate.
Changing consumer behavior is one of the most difficult tasks a marketer can undertake. I’d be happy to try to help and wish Blue Apron, Plated.com (which was bought by Albertsons in 2017) and all the others luck. In order to sustain the weekly meal delivery model, they’re going to need it.