A company with one of last year's worst-performing IPOs (initial public offerings) was also a leading loser last week. Shares of Blue Apron Holdings (NYSE: APRN) declined 16.4%, after Weight Watchers International (NYSE: WTW) and Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) threw their hats into the suddenly more competitive meal-kit ring.
Blue Apron's been a disaster of an investment since going public at $10 just nine months ago. The stock plummeted 77% through the end of last week, and now the stock's down sharply again on Monday, after a filing revealing that Fidelity Investments parent FMR LLC has reduced its passive stake in the troubled company from 31.5% to 18.2%. Unfortunately for Blue Apron, it's not just FMR losing interest as revenue continues to go the wrong way.
In merrier times, a family assembles a Blue Apron meal kit. Image source: Blue Apron.
Too many cooks in the kitchen
Walmart and Weight Watchers entering the market with prepared meals shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Back in September, Weight Watchers filed a patent application for a delivery service featuring "smart portions" of fresh food. It makes sense for Weight Watchers, with its well-known brand, to hop on the hot trend as a platform for dieters. Weight Watchers is teaming up with FreshRealm for the kits, which will be available at grocery stores in the latter half of this year.
Walmart's entry had been in the works; it was already assembling fresh meals at the store level in 250 stores. The world's largest retailer merely confirmed that it will roll out these meal kits to more than 2,000 stores later this year. Walmart's preportioned cooking kits serve two, and come at price points between $8 and $15, undercutting Blue Apron's prices.
Blue Apron does have the advantage of home delivery, as the Weight Watchers and Walmart initiatives will primarily be in-store pickup options for now. However, the competition will ultimately translate into more pain for a company that was struggling as the novelty of its model began to wear thin.
Blue Apron's business melted hard last year. It had inspiring 42% revenue growth in the first quarter, just before the IPO. That was followed by growth decelerating to 18% in the second quarter and 3% in the third quarter. Then we saw the top line fall 13% for the fourth quarter.
It may seem too soon to write off Blue Apron, especially since it recently tapped a new CEO. However, it's becoming clear that the hurdle to clear for a turnaround gets harder as meal kits flood the marketplace. Blue Apron's active customer count has declined 15% over the past year, so it was having a hard time getting noticed -- and more importantly retaining the foodies it was attracting -- before everyone stormed the market. Bouncing back, outside of the thinning hopes of a buyout, is starting to seem less and less likely now.
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