Meal service Chef’d puts a fork in itself, rattling investors

In the dynamic market for ready-made meal kits, it would seem that cash is king, and the popular service Chef’d appears to have run out of it. The three-year-old meal delivery service abruptly shut its doors on Monday, August 6, shuttering its website and informing its more than 350 employees that their jobs were toast.

The company had its ups and downs in the past year, as it continued to face fierce competition from Blue Apron and other services. Last year, Campbell Soup and pork producer Smithfield Foods poured about $35 million into the company, and Chef’d had secured lucrative arrangements to sell its meal kits in traditional grocery stores including Costco, subsidiaries of Kroger, and other retail outlets.

However, there have been dramatic shifts in the meal kit delivery market in the past year. The game-changer has been Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, seamlessly enveloping the high-end grocery franchise into its Amazon Prime program. But other shifts contributed, including Albertson’s acquisition of rival service Plated, Blue Apron going public and throwing a ton of money into non-traditional advertising venues such as podcasts, and a new trend that found traditional grocery outlets like Walmart simply launching their own meal kits or snapping up smaller competitors, such as Kroger’s acquisition of Home Chef.

It’s believed that investors and entrepreneurs have simply overestimated the market for high-quality meal kits. These meals can run up to $100 per week for what is essentially expensive takeout. Add on to these cold facts the idea that Chef’d didn’t even require its customers to subscribe to a plan, and the generally low retention rate among meal delivery customers, and the situation seems pretty bleak for everybody in this beleaguered market.

Certainly, the market continues to grow — analysts saw the market grow by 40 percent last year and have projected a market value of more than $11 billion by 2022, but the market is currently valued at a little over $2 billion annually, and it’s marked by cutthroat competition among over 150 companies rubbing shoulders in the space. In its news item, The Motley Fool called it pretty clearly: “Investors in Blue Apron should be worried.”

The company informed its approximately 350 workers in Brooklyn, New York and California of the closure during a conference call late Monday, followed by an email announcement from founder and CEO Kyle Ransford.

“We have had some unexpected circumstances with the funding for the business,” Ransford said in the email, referencing a last-ditch effort to reorganize the $160 million business and sell out to True Food Innovation, a California-based food consultancy. “Due to setbacks with financing, unfortunately, we are ceasing operations for all employees, effective today. If we had been successful with these funding efforts, this difficult decision would have been avoided.”

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