There seems to be a meal kit for every diet and lifestyle these days. From healthy smoothies to microwave- and oven-prepared meals to classic boxes filled with pre-measured ingredients, the meal kit market is flooded with options—but that wasn’t always the case. Last month, Blue Apron, one of the pioneers in the meal kit space, celebrated its 10th anniversary. That’s a huge feat considering how often food trends come and go, and the number of meal kit companies that have launched since Blue Apron launched in August 2012.
To date, Blue Apron has served more than 483 million meals, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. The company’s head chef and VP of culinary John Adler has been with Blue Apron since 2016, overseeing the entire culinary team. His day-to-day responsibilities include ingredient strategy, menu development, recipe testing, food cost strategy, partnerships, new product development, recipe editing, and more.
I had the opportunity to connect with Adler to chat about all things Blue Apron, from formulation and growth to how the company has changed over the past decade. I’ll let him take it from here.
Abigail Abesamis Demarest: What has changed and what stayed the same since you started working at Blue Apron? What can customers expect from Blue Apron?
John Adler: The biggest and probably the most dramatic change is the breadth and flexibility of our offerings. In 2016, we had a strict menu configuration, which resulted in limited choices and potential frustration for our customers. Over the past 5-6 years, we’ve spent a lot of time continuously meeting people and expanding our product offering. We now have over 60 options, and we’re removing as many barriers to purchase as possible.
Additionally, we’re very focused on diversifying the type of culinary experience we offer without sacrificing the delicious and innovative flavors we’ve built our brand on. The range of products we offer now appeals to those who have less than five minutes to prepare a meal, as well as those who may be looking for a more intensive cooking experience. Going forward, we will continue to focus on designing products that meet the changing and diverse needs of our customers, with an increasing focus on flexibility and personalization.
Demarest: How is Blue Apron different from many meal kit services on the market?
Adler: While I can’t speak to the inner workings of other meal kit companies, I can say that we apply the same level of rigor and care to everything we do in our test kitchens as fine dining restaurant kitchens. Every day we ask ourselves, “How can we do better than yesterday?” Whether this applies to menu design, ingredient selection or recipe editing, a mindset of continuous improvement and careful, customer-centric decision-making is at the forefront of our work .
Demarest: Can you talk about how the recipe was developed and perfected? How long does the process usually take?
Adler: It takes at least 12 weeks to go from idea to recipe, because the perfect recipe doesn’t just depend on what we create in our test kitchen. This schedule allows our creative team to photograph recipes, our supply and operations team to simulate how a week’s menu will be done, our procurement team to have time to verify ingredient availability, and our marketing team to formulate any specific messages and Promotional materials want to create. As far as formula testing is concerned, the formula will go through one to four tests, depending on the product.
Demarest: What’s your favorite recipe? What do customers like the most?
Adler: I love our sausage meatballs with rice and gochujang, our three cheese and caramelized onion pizza, Calabrian chile glazed meatloaf, smoked gouda and egg sandwich, and Korean spicy pork rice cake, though Really too much!
Our client’s favorites do vary from client to client, but some very appealing and well-loved recipes are our Craft Truffle and Fontina Burgers, Calabrian Shrimp and Orzo with Zucchini, Chorizo Enchiladas, Hot Honey Chicken and Pasta with Baked Potatoes and Green Beans with Pork Sausage and Broccoli.
There is no one type of dish that customers like the most, but one feature that all customer favorites share in a very obvious way is that they are all familiar formats and flavors, slightly different, creating a moment of culinary discovery and people’s freshness. It might be the fried sage garnish on pork sausage spaghetti, or the discovery of Calabrian peppers and their incredible flavor, but they’re both equivalent to what we call a “blue apron” plus a “. Blue Apron “Plus One” is what we call a quest to make every recipe special and unique, from special flavor combinations to new cooking techniques.