Meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron is serving up a public offering of its shares

The New York-based company, which was founded in 2012, has filed for an IPO of $100 million with the New York Stock Exchange. It is valued at $2 billion in private markets. Much like other recent tech offerings, Blue Apron’s founders plan to retain control of their company even after the IPO by retaining a majority of the voting shares. (See also: Blue Apron: Is It Worth It?)  

The vast majority of Blue Apron’s revenue comes from delivering meal-kits consisting of recipes and apportioned ingredients that customers use to cook meals at home. In recent times, it has also launched an online market and wine store to sell cooking tools and utensils and wine pairings for its meals. (See also: Martha Stewart Against Blue Apron). 

Blue Apron’s revenues shot up by 922% to $795.4 million in 2016 from 2014 figures. But the increase has come at a steep cost.  In the five years of its existence, the company has swung to profitability just once. In 2016, it reported income of $3 million before reverting back to losses of $52.2 million this year. Increased marketing spend (which ballooned from $13 million to $144 million between 2014 to 2016) and product expenses are mainly responsible for the company’s losses. 

In this respect, Blue Apron is not much different from other startups in the space. A number of them have shut down operations due to the debilitating economics of meal delivery, which requires significant investment in kitchen labor to prepare meals and delivery logistics. In its prospectus filing, Blue Apron has warned that it could be affected by labor-related problems, such as unionization of its workers and minimum wage increases. The company is banking on growth in the online grocery business as well as becoming an online restaurant that delivers custom meals. However, it could face competition from the likes of established retail giants, such as Inc. (AMZN) and Wal-mart Stores Inc. (WMT), which have begun ramping up their presence in this field. (See also: Amazon Launches Online Grocery Pickup Service). 

If Blue Apron can figure out a profitable model for its operations, then it will have hit gold. In a June report last year, research firm Morgan Stanley estimated that the market for restaurant spend was worth $210 billion. However, online delivery (which includes delivery from established restaurants) was responsible for only $10 billion of that spend. Healthy meal delivery services, of which Blue Apron is a part, were responsible for $1.5 billion of revenue last year.