Blue Apron's Partnership With Airbnb Is a Smart Move

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Meal-kit maker Blue Apron (NYSE: APRN) recently unveiled a new partnership with Airbnb called "The Best Home Cooking from Around the World," a collaboration that brings together Blue Apron's culinary team with local Airbnb Experiences hosts in Paris, Florence, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Shanghai.

Airbnb will let users book meals and activities with the selected hosts in those cities. Meanwhile, Blue Apron will offer their meals -- which include steak frites, roast pork and salsa, beef empanadas, chicken tostadas, rice bowls, and Kung Pao chicken -- in meal kits to its two-person and family plan customers.

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The event will take place for six weeks, starting on April 16, with each recipe being offered for a single week. This is clearly a win-win partnership for Blue Apron and Airbnb. Blue Apron gains new recipes and marketing exposure via Airbnb, while Airbnb promotes Experiences, which lets users book meals and activities instead of lodging.

If Blue Apron can secure other similar partnerships, it can potentially reach more customers without boosting its marketing budget.

Why Blue Apron needs to control its spending

Blue Apron made its public debut last year at $10 per share, but the stock, which now trades at about $2, was crushed by several main factors.

First, big competitors like Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Walmart (NYSE: WMT) have entered the meal-kit market. Both have the scale and logistics to wipe out a smaller player like Blue Apron.

Blue Apron started shedding customers over the past two quarters, and it couldn't offset those losses with slight improvements in its average revenue per customer. This caused its revenue growth to stall and turn negative last quarter.

Metric

Q2 2017

Q3 2017

Q4 2017

Number of customers

23%

(6%)

(15%)

Average revenue per customer

(5%)

8%

1%

Total revenue

18%

3%

(13%)

Its bottom line also remained deep in the red, with a net loss of $39.1 million last quarter. Blue Apron's response to the crisis wasn't encouraging. It laid off hundreds of employees, switched CEOs, and desperately tried to cut costs. It finished last quarter with $228.5 million in cash and equivalents, but its cash flow is negative and it's weighed down by $124.7 million in long-term debt.

Could brand partnerships save Blue Apron?

The bear thesis for Blue Apron is simple. Amazon, Walmart, and other meal-kit makers will gain market share, while Blue Apron's ongoing reductions to its marketing expenses (down 32% year over year last quarter) will cripple its ability to retaliate with big advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, its customers will keep leaving, the losses will widen, and the stock could drop to zero.

However, Blue Apron's partnership with Airbnb tells me that the company is thinking outside the box. Airbnb is one of the most popular peer-to-peer rental platforms in the world, and it likely reaches many more customers than Blue Apron.

Alexa ranks Airbnb as the 93rd most popular website in the United States, while Blue Apron is ranked 1,978th. App Annie ranks Airbnb as the fourth most popular travel app on iOS in the U.S., while Blue Apron is ranked 66th in the food and drink category.

If Blue Apron collaborates with other more popular platforms, it could gain more exposure against Amazon and Walmart without blowing up its marketing budget. It could partner with restaurants to create custom meal kits based on signature dishes or with smaller supermarkets that lack their own meal-kit offerings or delivery services.

Is this just wishful thinking?

Perhaps I'm reading too much into Blue Apron's collaboration with Airbnb. Nonetheless, I think it's a smart move, and lets it ride the coattails of a more popular platform to gain exposure to more customers.

It's unclear if this partnership will move the needle for Blue Apron, but it could pave the way to other similar collaborations with other companies, which could then lower its marketing expenses and narrow its losses.

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