Sunday, October 9, 2016

Why are Venture Capitalists Feeding Us for Free?

Has anyone regaled you with the details, plus pictures, of their latest Blue Apron meal recently?  No? Wait until tomorrow. It’s just a matter of time.

Startup services like Blue Apron that deliver all the ingredients of a meal, plus recipes, are hot, hot, hot!  Venture capital investors are throwing big money at them. (More on that later.)  And since their main marketing tool is offering free trial meals, the VCs are essentially giving away food to anyone who might later consider spending about $10 a person for the groceries to make a meal.

There are tons of these services beyond Blue Apron and by signing up for the free trials of all of them, you could eat some fancy, full-scale dinners for a pittance. Could be the biggest benefit -- besides Uber -- that you personally ever get from techie VCs.

(Find a list of meal kit services below.)

The meal kit phenomenon reminds me of paint-by-the-numbers projects, or buying a shelving unit from IKEA. They give you the instructions and materials and you put the product together yourself.

Seems like the people who really love meal kits after the trial period are busy non-cooks tired of restaurants, who like the thrill of feeling like a Maker.
I know couples in Santa Barbara and the Sonoma wine country who work a lot and are hooked on the convenience and quality. Also, a pair of retired Northern California friends thoroughly enjoy opening their weekly box of  pretty recipes and groceries, like a big Christmas present.  Their only complaint : “No more catfish!”

However, a well-heeled single Silicon Valley friend, who’s both practical and clever, canceled after a week or so because she says the service was too pricey and cookie-cutter for her. 

In my trial with Blue Apron, I fit into the group that happily opens the big box full of surprises, lining up all the cute containers on the counter. But the novelty soon wore off for me. For the amount of time, packaging and dirty dishes, I ended up with just 2 meals at a time.  Plus, the $10-$12 per person would actually take me take me pretty far at the market (Each box has the makings for three meals. Each meal serves 2. Total cost per box: about $60.) And finally, I LIKE to go to my favorite veggie, fruit, meat and bakery vendors and stock up.

Oh yeah, about that VC money. Last year the top  meal-kit companies attracted $477.6 million, more than triple their 2014 haul.

Some meal kit services that want you.
Blue Apron
Sun Basket
Hello Fresh
Home Chef
Purple Carrot

Lastly, today's Tasty Tidbit:  Drinkable chilled soup is now a thing.  It’s sold under the brand Zupa Noma only on the West Coast so far. It comes from Sonoma Brands, founded by Jon Sebastiani, yes, he's related to the Sebastiani wine family.


Andrew Hidas said...

Ogling and choosing from the delectables at, say, Oliver's deli counter sounds more like my cup of tea. Why deal with the prep time and the cleanup if you're not actually making the dish? And those IKEA shelves & such don't always snap together as easily as they're supposed to, either! :-)

Joan Voight said...

Yes, that's exactly why I mentioned IKEA, Andrew. Anyway, for solitary writer types, going to the market is great if you've got good markets nearby, and I don't mean Safeway.