A rival may have just saved Blue Apron's stock from the doldrums

Key Points
  • Albertsons said it would acquire meal-kit company Plated and offer Plated meal kits at its store locations.
  • Over the past month, at least one report in The Information has speculated that, like Albertsons, other big grocery chains are eyeing targets such as Blue Apron.
  • Blue Apron's CEO has thrown cold water on comparisons with grocery stores in the past.
We're gonna kill Amazon Fresh, Blue Apron with this partnership: Plated co-founder on Albertsons deal

Blue Apron shares were higher on Thursday after a tie-up between rival Plated and grocer Albertsons was announced on Wednesday evening.

Blue Apron's shares rose as high as $5.68 on Thursday, and were still up more than 1 percent by 2 p.m. ET. The uptick comes after Albertsons said it would acquire meal-kit company Plated, and offer Plated meal kits at its store locations. Prior to the announcement of that deal, Blue Apron's shares had fallen to their fourth-lowest closing price ever, at $5.22 a share — close to their intraday low of $5 a share.

There's been handwringing among investors in grocers and food delivery start-ups as Amazon has integrated Whole Foods into its business, providing a combination of technology and upscale food that could make it difficult for smaller businesses to compete.

But Plated's acquisition has sparked fresh speculation around Blue Apron, with Barron's quipping, "Investors don't love Blue Apron but a supermarket might."

"If I were Blue Apron, I would feel naked," Plated investor Kevin O'Leary told CNBC's "Fast Money" on Wednesday. "I would feel that I need a partner with stores and I need it now because this is all about getting customers into the cycle of subscriptions."

James Beriker, the CEO of cooked-meal delivery company Munchery, said there's likely to be more consolidation in the space.

"While the terms of this deal were not disclosed, strategically, we view this positively for market leader Blue Apron, given the company's larger revenue size, superior brand and broader footprint," SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analysts wrote in a research note.

"The deal could trigger more interest from other grocery chains in the meal-kit delivery space these players look for growth opportunities," the SunTrust analysts added. "As such, we believe that BlueApron and HelloFresh (a Rocket Internet company) both of whom are leading online players in the meal-kit delivery could see increased interest from the grocery chains."

O'Leary said that having a brick-and-mortar location is the new model of subscription food companies, and said the game's changed for Blue Apron's chance of acquisition.

"I think you have to marry up," O'Leary said. "If I were Blue Apron I'd .... buy the rest of the competitors' fulfillment centers and make themselves look very pretty for a Kroger or somebody else."

Blue Apron declined comment on the stock move, but Blue Apron's CEO has thrown cold water on comparisons with grocery stores in the past.

Blue Apron has struggled to get a foothold since its $300 million IPO in June. But Blue Apron CEO Matthew Salzberg has told CNBC that unlike a grocery store, which distributes food, he sees Blue Apron's meal kits as proprietary products, sourced from Blue Apron farms and wineries. As more companies, including Amazon, promote online food shopping, Blue Apron could benefit, Salzberg said.

— With reporting by CNBC's Lauren Hirsch and Aditi Roy.

Disclaimer: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank." Shark Tank's Kevin O'Leary is an investor in Plated.

Blue Apron CEO Matt Salzberg: We've grown our business 10-times in past two years