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Cooking by Internet

Cooking by Internet

    I remember reading about the history of a product called Hamburger Helper. The first iteration of the product did poorly, researchers discovered, because it was viewed as too easy to prepare. Women –  who did almost all of the cooking in those days – didn’t feel as though they were “cooking” if all they did was heat up something from a package. So, in one of the most brilliant marketing moves of all time, the makers of Hamburger Helper decided to render the product less convenient. Now you needed to buy your own hamburger meat, brown it, and combine it with the Hamburger Helper seasoning and noodles. That change made the product a huge success.

    Keep that in mind, now fast forward to today. Parents are busier than ever, but they still want to feel as though they are “cooking” something for the family. Beyond that intangible, people want to tweak their food for their own tastes – maybe add some spice, subtract some broccoli, whatever. You also have your special diet needs within a family, with maybe one vegetarian, one person with lactose intolerance, one athlete who needs lots of protein, and one person who can’t stand the smell of cilantro.

    This is where Internet Cooking comes in. Imagine with me…

    You’re still at work, with some downtime before a meeting. You have five minutes to cook dinner for the family, via the Internet, to be delivered whenever you specify. Imagine a website that allows you to prepare a meal on the screen, in an animated way, so you can see yourself adding a pinch of garlic to the animated pot, perhaps starting from an online menu and tweaking it. When you’re done cooking your animated meal, your exact cooking directions are transmitted to a local kitchen-business that follows your steps. They cook your meal and load it on a truck that delivers to your neighborhood.

    Best of all, your user profile on the system takes into account all of your family’s finicky eating preferences. You can pick from recipes that meet everyone’s needs, or build as many separate meals as you like. After you have tweaked a recipe once, and liked the outcome, you can just select it again next time from your history, or tweak it further to try something new.

    You might be experiencing some justifiable skepticism about whether this business model could work. I assume it all depends on volume. But I thought that about Webvan too, may it rest in peace, so don’t assume I’m good at this sort of predicting.

    The thing that gives this idea some hope is that the user interface would give the customer the sensation of cooking, sort of. And it would solve a host of dietary issues.  If you add those benefits to the obvious convenience, it might be enough to generate volume. Not sold yet? That’s okay because I’m not done selling.

    Now imagine you can do the cooking on your iPhone. When you want to add salt, you shake the phone and it makes the salt shaker sound. When you want to mix your ingredients, or use a blender, it makes those sounds too (optionally). Your cooking times would be fast-forwarded, so you get the fun of preparing the meal, complete with motion and sound, and it all takes minutes.

    Now do you buy it?

    Don’t lie. You’d pay extra for it.

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