Some recipes take time to get just right, and after three grueling years we may finally be at the point where Blue Apron Holdings (NYSE:APRN) is ready to get cooking. The provider of gourmet meal kits reports financial results this week, and it's likely to do something that it hasn't done since early 2018.
Blue Apron's guidance in late April -- which it reiterated a few weeks later -- calls for revenue of roughly $130 million for the quarter ending in June. It would be a modest 9% increase from the $119.2 million it served up a year earlier, but it's a beefy milestone. Blue Apron has posted double-digit declines in revenue growth for 10 consecutive quarters. Valid sandbagging points aside, a return to top-line growth for the first time in two and a half years is a pretty big deal for one of the more disappointing debutantes of the 2017 IPO class.
Out of the red
Blue Apron is one of this year's hottest stocks. It has nearly doubled -- up 98% -- in 2020. It's a refreshing change of pace for investors in a stock that has shed more than half of its value in each of its three previous years as a public company.
It's been 37 months since Blue Apron went public at $10, but cracking into the low teens doesn't make the stock a winner. Blue Apron executed a painful 1-for-15 reverse split last year when its shares buckled below the $1 mark, and it was in danger of losing its exchange-listing compliance. Blue Apron has actually plummeted 91% from its split-adjusted IPO price of $150.
Blue Apron hit the market as a growth stock in 2017, but by early 2018 those days were over. It started to retreat, only partly by choice. The meal kit model itself came into question, and Blue Apron didn't have an answer.
Scalability is a concern given the high variable costs. Profitability has been a problem for Blue Apron given the high input, customer acquisition, and fulfillment costs. The competitive nature of this niche keeps markups low. There didn't seem to be much of an escape for Blue Apron, and by mid-March it was trading for less than half of where it was when the year began -- for the fourth time in a row. Then the pandemic happened, and Blue Apron's model and business unboxed validation.
Into the blue
COVID-19 has been brutal to most businesses, but some opportunistic trends have emerged in the process. Initially, we learned to bake. We learned to cut our own hair. We also embraced the art of cooking at home, and that's where Blue Apron has been able to regain its racing stripes.
Blue Apron lost its COO in late May, but it offset the negative development by pointing out that it was experiencing heightened demand for its meal kits in light of the coronavirus pandemic. It started to scale up its operations, beef up its menu variety, and get back to spending on customer acquisition and retention strategies. With the average order count per customer already on the rise in the first quarter, Wednesday morning's report should be solid.
The red ink will continue, but the return to growth should excite investors this week. The resumption of top-line gains may even stir up some of the buyout chatter that makes a lot more sense when its business is moving in the right direction for the first time since early 2018, but at the very least there's hope that the brand is finally starting to grow its hungry audience.
Investing in broken IPOs is usually a bad bet, but it's a good time to believe in Blue Apron again. The growth recipe it lost shortly after its 2017 market debut has been found, and it's ready for another shot at Wall Street's finicky taste test.