We're entering our third month as regular Blue Apron customers.
If you have no idea what Blue Apron is, here's a nice introduction which takes a business perspective but covers the overall service quite well: Inside Blue Apron’s Meal Kit Machine
Each month, Blue Apron delivers about 8 million meal kits to Americans who like to cook but would rather not waste time shopping or searching for recipes. Blue Apron boxes include cooking instructions for meals and suggested wine parings—shiitake mushroom burgers with a Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Grenache, for example. The raw ingredients, which include such exotica as romanesco cauliflower and fairy tale eggplants, are sourced from family farms and artisans. Then they're sorted, chopped and packaged in giant fulfillment centers and delivered to homes around the country.
It's still early days for us as Blue Apron consumers, but here are some of my impressions:
- The ingredients are high-quality, and fresh.
This was our primary concern, since we're both rather picky shoppers. But in every meal to date, the meat has been very high quality, the produce has been equally good (and quite fresh), and we've not once been disappointed in the ingredients.
- The service is reliable and accurate.
The weekly carton arrives on time, with the meals as promised, precisely. Everything is clearly marked; everything is present. The little individual packages of ingredients are right-sized, even if the amount of packaging does bum me out a bit.
- The proportions and quanties are right.
We take the "meal for two" service. We never have too much overall, and we never have too little overall. And the individual ingredient amounts are appropriate, too. We don't find ourselves saying "there weren't enough carrots," or whatever.
- The recipes are clear, accurate, easy to follow, and acceptably quick.
If the meal says: "prep time 10 minutes, overall time 35 minutes," it turns out to be quite close to that. We haven't yet found ourselves confused, halfway through a recipe, by a missing step. The recipes are printed on stiff paper which stands up nicely in front of you while you're chopping and mixing. The recipes have nice pictures which illustrate the important steps.
And, as an pleasant touch, they almost always end with a little bit of elegance, showing you how to "plate your dish" for visual appeal, and encouraging you to "enjoy!"
- The recipes have just enough variety to be entertaining.
We've been introduced to some ingredients we don't typically use (freekeh, farro, za'atar, labneh, etc.), and some techniques we had never even considered. For a "chicken under a brick" recipe, Blue Apron walked us through how to cook a half-chicken with a large pot of water balanced on TOP of the chicken, pressing down on it as it cooked. It worked startlingly well.
- The recipes are fun to follow.
At the end of a long day, you can be tired, and cranky, and not in the mood for failure. These recipes are straightforward, yet they often contain just enough new-ness, whether that be a different ingredient that you haven't used before, or a different technique, or whatever, to make the whole experience fun. Put on a nice album on the stereo, crack open the Blue Apron recipe, unwind, and make dinner together. That's pretty great.
My one complaint, so far, is that the recipes are a bit too liberal with "season with salt and pepper to taste." It's become a bit of a running joke in our house as we prepare a meal, noting that nearly every step in the instructions contains that phrase. Oh, what a nit-picker I am.
And, overall, they aren't the super-fanciest of recipes. You end up making chicken and carrots and potatoes a lot, although dressed up nicely so there's pleasant variety. But you don't end up making something you'd find at a two-star Michelin restaurant. How could you, in just 30 minutes, after all? I guess what I'm saying is that I doubt that people who deliberately set out to entertain would think to themselves to choose one of these recipes. But that's not what they're for.
My wife loves to cook, and typically prefers to cook meals from scratch, so at first she was rather uncertain how she'd feel about this service. But I'd say, overall, she's as happy with it as I am.
I guess I'm not certain if it will actually survive, however; I have this feeling that it is doing well in these relatively prosperous times, with unemployment low and people feeling relatively optimistic and willing to spend on the convenience factor.
The real trick will be, if the economy should take a downturn, whether Blue Apron can endure.
But for now, we're quite pleased.