But it is starting to change in exciting ways. Like the automobile, which architecturally remained the same for decades, competing on horsepower, safety, and fuel efficiency. Then came Tesla, with a new competitive dimension: autonomy. Consumers realize intelligent machines aren’t just a thing in science-fiction movies, but something accessible in their lifetime, and soon.
The Forces shaping how we eat
The cause for habitual changes is often shaped by the environment that governs our lives:
- The population is getting older. In a few years, there will be more people over 65 than there are under 14.
- More than 60% of women are working.
- Almost everyone will live in the city.
- Households are getting smaller and smaller. The average household today has just two people, where 30% is one person.
- A large portion of meals are consumed outside the home.
- Income hasn’t changed much, but everything costs more.
- Almost half of the population is obese.
- Information is easily accessible, and connected computers are everywhere.
- Consumers are more conscious, especially about health.
It’s clear people live differently than 50 years ago driven by an ever-increasing need to do more with less. Less time, space, and money. At the same time, the ability to collect, store, transport, and compute information is getting cheaper. First interfacing with humans, then interfacing with devices.
For more details on these stats, see the forces shaping our environment.
The Creation of a Meal in the Kitchen
Every meal created is an orchestration of ingredients and technique. From a Boiled egg to a Shakshuka, one must perform these steps:
- Deciding what to make
- Gathering the ingredients
- Preparing the ingredients
- Heating the ingredients
- Eating the meal
- Cleaning the dishes
We can think of this experience in terms of emotional rewards.
A typical meal might look like this:
The need to do-more-with-less has transformed each step of the meal creation process. The lowest enjoyability-to-time ratio tasks were the first to be outsourced (to other people or machines). With the introduction of hot meal delivery services, some people have outsourced meal creation altogether.
It will take time for everyone to make the switch. But as long as the forces are applied, people will eventually adopt.
1970 Deciding: Recipe books
For less ambitious cooks, the decision is made later at the grocery store while browsing through the aisles.
1970 Gathering: Grocery shopping
Supermarkets offered a one-stop-shop at wholesale prices. People made large orders that lasted their families for weeks.
1970 Preparing: Manual prep
Ingredients were prepared from scratch using basic tools, usually by a housewife.
1970 Heating: Manual cooking
People got good at cooking and took pride in it. Bigger households also meant larger appliances were used to cook large quantities of food at a time.
1970 Eating: Communal
Bigger households meant families ate at the dinner table around the same time every day. Peopled spent this time enjoying the meal and each other’s company.
1970 Cleaning: Manual
Fragmented Value Chain
Since there was no internet, every part of the value chain solved the user journey independently.
It’s up to the consumer to figure out how to put all the pieces together.
2015 Deciding: Recipe websites
With the digitization of pretty much every piece of content, it was inevitable for recipe books to go online. Users can search by flavors, ingredients, allergies, etc.
2015 Gathering: Grocery delivery
As mobile connectivity became cheaper and ubiquitous, and orchestration of the logistical resources became a math problem suitable for the gig economy. There was also enough people with disposable income who were willing to pay for someone to bring them their groceries.
2015 Preparing: Aided prep
As household size got smaller and free time got scarce, meal-kit companies started to deliver only ingredients for a recipe, although the subscription boxes distribution model is unprofitable. Today, most meal-kit companies are investing in more economical distribution models.
2015 Heating: Guided cooking
Eating is often with doing some other entertaining activity due to the lack of free time.
2015 Cleaning: Automated
The mundane task of dishwashing is one of the first to be automated.
Disjointed Value Chain
As more appliances connect to the internet, the Kitchen can understand its users. At the same time, the infrastructure for B2C food delivery is rolled out.
However, it’s still up to the consumer to figure out how to bridge the gap between appliances and food.
2020 Deciding: Personalized meal-plan
As recipes apps learn more about food, they will also learn more about users. Consumers are all very different when it comes to their food needs, so the next stage of the decision evolution is to bucket recipes into plans.
2020 Gathering: Shop-able recipes
As the ingredient e-commerce and delivery infrastructure get rolled out, recipe sites will close the loop by integrating with grocery delivery.
2020 Preparing: Pre-prepared meal-kits
Consumer demand for recipes will become predictable, companies are preparing the recipes as a packaged product, ready to be put into an oven.
- Tovala prepares all the ingredients for recipes
2020 Heating: Autonomous cooking
As curated recipe ingredients become more accessible, machines are designed to know how to cook them. These machines can identify what is being cooked, and how all the ingredients will get to their optimal state, autonomously.
- Tovala oven with pre-programmed packaging ID through QR
- June oven with AI imagine recognition
- Level oven by Markov with zoned heating
2020 Eating: Flexible
People once eating at home with family members will consume meals in more flexible ways with friends and coworkers.
2020 Cleaning: No dishwashing
As eating becomes more flexible and on-demand, the dependency on large fridges and dishwashers will be unnecessary. Clever packaging will act as both the vehicle of transport and also the eating vessel.
Integrated Value Chain
As more food take on the form factor of prepared ingredients, appliances will start to become interoperable with the food.
As the ingredient fulfillment services deepen their reach, a new service architecture for the Kitchen will be realized.
The Smart Kitchen Architecture
New Business Models
When the value chain connects, interesting business models emerge.
Digital — Recipe apps turn into personal dieticians
A large amount of meal-plan data coupled with user preferences collected from connected appliances can be used to train machine learning algorithms, becoming virtual personal dieticians. The linkage to shop-able recipes creates a loyal affiliate channel to grocery retailers. Subscription meals can be introduced where planned meals just show up.
Logistics — Grocery stores turn into distributed walk/drive-throughs
Once the consumer’s meal decision moves online through digital user interfaces, the need for physical wholesale retail will diminish. The coverage and service speed will become a competitive advantage.
- Amazon Prime members can pick up groceries at Whole Foods within 30 minutes
- Walmart to expand grocery delivery from 6 markets to over 100 by year-end
Hardware — Appliance businesses turn into printer businesses
People buy appliances every few years, but buy food every day. Since appliances act as the starting point of the shop-able recipe experience, they can dictate the e-commerce experience and monetize in an entirely new way.
- Amazon Echo Show — Shop-able recipes skills
- Samsung Smart Fridge — The new hub for your home
- Tovala Oven — With meal subscription
We’re moving in the right direction
Our lives have indeed changed drastically in the last 50 years. As the population gets older, and more people move into cities to work and live, the need to do more with less will be the theme for businesses and individuals.
Although technology won’t ever replace the joy of hand making a meal from scratch, it can certainly be a tool to help us reach the quality of life we desire under such constraints on space, time, and money.
As economies of scale drive down the cost of smart devices and logistics, everyone will have access to these tools. The once cumbersome, fragmented and wasteful kitchen will transform into one that is convenient, accessible, and efficient.
The efficiency gains will create new businesses that understand users in this trillion dollar industry. Most importantly, it will ensure our children grow up eating meals that aren’t just quick, but also great.