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Blue Apron food-delivery service expands into Florida

Matt Salzberg thinks people shouldn't have to eat takeout Chinese or rotisserie chicken for dinner every week.

But he also knows it's tough to get to the grocery store and come up with interesting recipes night after night.

So he and his business partners, Ilia Papas and Matthew Wadiak, created Blue Apron, a food-delivery service that ships to your door all the ingredients needed to cook a meal.

"We wanted to cook at home more often, but we were so busy that we didn't have the time," Salzberg said. "To cook a recipe cost $60 and took us two days to find ingredients, and then we had a lot of waste at the end."

Blue Apron sends a box each week containing the necessary ingredients — in exact portions — to make three different meals. All the cook has to do is follow the recipes, spelled out on cards with step-by-step pictures.

Founded in New York, the year-old service is available in 30 states and plans to go nationwide by year's end. It starts delivering to Florida on Monday at blueapron.com, where customers can buy a week's worth of preset meals. Meals cost $10 each per portion — or $120 a week for a family of four.

Rolando Perez, 30, of Miami heard about the service through a friend in New York and decided to give it a try.

"I tend to eat the same stuff, and this is an opportunity to test things out," he said. "I like that the portions are supposed to exactly be what you need. I hate to look at a recipe and say, 'I don't have this.' "

Blue Apron joins the growing field of dinner kit services available in the area for people tired of eating out and ordering takeout but too harried to shop. Hello Fresh lets customers pick from several meat and vegetarian meals. Chefday! plans to expand to the Tampa Bay area this fall.

Even Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, has started grocery delivery in parts of the West Coast. The food doesn't come as ready-to-make meals, but the concept underscores the appetite for food shopping online.

Delivered dinner kits are a twist on the once-ubiquitous meal-assembly kitchens, where customers could make dishes at a retail location to take home and freeze. Places such as Let's Eat!, Super Suppers and Foodies popped up in local shopping centers but mostly folded during the recession after the novelty wore off and some people decided that the concept wasn't really cooking.

Dinner Done in Carrollwood, one of the only meal-assembly businesses left in the area, survived by relying less on cooking sessions and more on takeout and delivery, said co-owner Dan Nasser. Today, deliveries account for about 20 percent of his business, evidence of demand for services such as Blue Apron.

Blue Apron's recipes aim to appeal to fans of TV shows that portray food and cooking as fun and adventurous, Salzberg said. Recipes use not-so-ordinary ingredients such as yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit, or pink lemons.

"Everything is designed to be what you would want to cook at home on a regular basis but you probably haven't," he said.

Dinner kits have an advantage over meal-assembly kitchens because they don't have the overhead of a retail store and are accessible to a broader base.

Blue Apron believes the market for food-delivery service is huge. Prospective customers aren't just online shoppers but anyone who goes to a grocery store. And that's a very big pie.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Blue Apron food-delivery service expands into Florida 07/19/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 19, 2013 10:49pm]

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