The iPad, displaying the latest recipe creation on the kitchen counter, has replaced the traditional cookbook, provided one can avoid spilling spaghetti sauce or splattering it with oil. Even just weeks after its release in April 2010, the New York Times saw it “poised to be an indispensable tool” for the kitchen. And now, augmented reality apps like Blippar allow consumers to create interactive recipe books by scanning products while in the store aisle. From the first release of Betty Crocker’s Big Red in 1950, and thousands since, recipe-sharing has gone digital and mobile.
Always based on word-of-mouth, recipes on 2×4 index cards that were once traded between neighbors, at PTA meetings and from generation to generation are now shared, researched and reviewed online. For instance, Google sees over one billion recipe-specific searches per month and both Google and Yahoo have their own recipe search engines.
The popularity of competitive cooking-shows like Top Chef and the Food Network has captivated an audience well beyond the traditional homemaker, targeted for decades by advertisers. The folks tuning into these programs are the individuals who won’t try the new local restaurant without first checking reviews on Open Table and Yelp and those who tear out recipe ideas from waiting room magazines.
For food brands, this creates the opportunity to reach and engage a broad segment of enthusiasts, those consumers who are passionate about food and simply love to cook. Food and cooking, for them, is an experience to be enjoyed. They list “cooking” under their hobbies & interests on their social profiles and talk about all things culinary with their friends. These customers can be the most valuable, most vocal and, in turn, most influential for brands. Enthusiasts include moms, young singles and those “cooking for two” or “for picky eaters.” But their needs and motivations are anything but the same, even within their social networks. Therefore, tapping into the interest graph of these diverse enthusiasts holds more opportunity for food brands to create a richer, more compelling experience for customers.
Meat brands, for instance, want to engage those who love grilling with a passion, the kind of people willing to shovel a path through snow just to get to their grill. To help these grilling enthusiasts connect, persona-based filtering and sorting will go a long way. These grilling gurus should be able to easily find content from people like them, say, by checking “Grill Guru” to display hyper-relevant recipes and reviews. Taking it a step further, geographic information might be used to find people in similar climates, or a “My Fridge” app could be created to display only recipes that can be prepared with ingredients that users have on hand.
Enthusiasts also include those interested in or curious about the benefits of a particular diet, such as only drinking soy-milk or avoiding gluten all together. While the core consumers for these products are those with health restrictions like lactose intolerance or Celiac Disease, the growing popularity in the lactose or gluten-free diets is attracting much broader swaths of consumers. Not long ago, “gluten-free” was practically ignored by marketers. But just last year, the New York Times declared it “the golden age of gluten-free,” highlighting the demographic appeal outside of those with dietary restrictions. One can now find “gluten-free” labels on everything from cereal boxes to entire aisles in the grocery-store.
Focus on pre-meal planning
Shopper marketers know the growing emphasis on pre-meal planning means consumers want both ideas and inspiration, whether it’s how to get kids to eat more vegetables or a desert that will impress their friends. According to Google’s Zero Moment of Truth, many of today’s shoppers make their choice of what to cook or bake before they reach the store. How? A recent Bazaarvoice survey, conducted by Kelton Research, revealed that nearly three out of four consumers say it would be important to read user-generated content before making a decision about purchasing food. Recipe research, either for a family dinner on a Tuesday night or a special occasion, helps consumers build their basket for the in-store visit. For brands, this translates to incremental baseline sales.
Consumers are also buying online: 40% of online shoppers have purchased food items within the last six months, according to a 2011 study.
A growing number of brands and recipe sites are keeping up by asking their community to share their favorite recipes (and the stories behind them) with online social cookbooks. Enthusiasts can share new ideas for cooking chicken or using condiments, like ranch dressing or ketchup. Through the creativity of their advocates, brands get to demonstrate the diversity of their products.
Perhaps the iPad as the new cookbook is most apparent with Millennials—consumers in their mid-teens to early 30s who have graduated in the digital age of Facebook and smartphones. Our research reveals that more than half of this generation values the opinions of strangers on brand websites more than recommendations from family and friends. What does this mean for one’s favorite recipe passed from generation to generation? For food brands, it means creating a community where individuals with similar cooking interests and skill-levels can rate, review and share their opinions. Helpfulness voting, Facebook sharing and community reviews will determine whether or not your creation is, in fact, really a masterpiece. For the food enthusiast, the kitchen just got a whole lot bigger.