Sep 22, 2016
An Etsy-like App for Home Cooked Meals
When my wife and I were new parents, tired and broke, we once vacationed in Minneapolis by staying in her brother's house while he and his wife were away. It was a small and lovely house near the lakes in the city and it proved to be a relaxing getaway.
Our sister-in-law was and remains a person adept at wielding the resources around her. One of those resources was an avid cook in the neighborhood. She had arranged to have this cook provide her and my brother-in-law with a couple of vegetarian (really, what else would it be?) dinners every week. They thoughtfully failed to cancel this service while they were away and we had the delightful surprise of a couple of fresh dinners that week. My sister-in- law long ago stopped that arrangement but now has a caterer living in her attic. The results are rewarding.
I thought of that vacation when I read about this Etsy-like app for home cooked meals the other day on an Australian web site. There are similar services in other countries. With this service, a home cook could announce through the app that they'd be preparing, say 20 chicken enchiladas with mole along with black beans and rice on the side. A buyer could, through the app, say "I'll take two" and then pick the order up at the cook's home, theoretically on their way home from work.
Having once been in the business of selling food to go, my thoughts immediately turned to the amount of space that the packaging takes up and the soggy disappointment when prep time and pickup weren't well-synced.
Practical considerations aside, it's hard to put a finger on what existing behavior this service would take advantage of. Our CREST® foodservice market research reveals what a varied target the at home eater is around the world. The Japanese and the Americans are the most likely to take their prepared meals home to eat. That particular behavior is not popular at all in Southern Europe. It's somewhat more popular in other former British colonies.
In the U.S. the restaurant category with the highest share of at home traffic is the hamburger category, followed by pizza. Both are pretty tough to compete with from the home. In Australia, pizza and burger top the list while retail fits in just in front of chicken places and fish & chip shops. In Japan, prepared foods from retail dominates the at home feeding market. The Germans and the English lean toward ethnic foods while the French buy from sandwich places (that was unexpected...the French data constantly surprises me).
The thing about most of the popular concepts is that they provide foods that just aren't the same when they are made at home. Yes, you can make a sandwich at home but does that really compare to the sandwich you can get from your local bakery-themed fast casual joint? And, yes, that caramelized onion, blue cheese, and grape pizza you made on a corn meal crust was delicious but is that really a way to feed yourself at the end of the work day? So, these cooks would need to work around well-defined existing solutions.
But, while it's hard to compete with traditional take home foods, no single home cook needs a mass market. They just need a couple of dozen people who will pick-up a meal from them from time to time. Just as aggregator ordering and delivery services put independent restaurants on the same footing as chains, this sort of app let's anyone be a pop-up restaurant. And, as this is a social app, more like Etsy than Uber, reviews on the app would weed out the weak performers.
So, I thought this seemed pretty cool and it made me feel really up on things. My familial Millennial focus group put me in my place, raising practical issues like food safety and generally giving the idea a pass. Maybe it's just my romantic side, imagining a world of artisans serving their local communities. It certainly addresses a well proven need with an enabling device that has proved to be effective for independent restaurants.