06/08/2014 09:04 BST | Updated 05/10/2014 06:59 BST

Why Celebrity Chefs Failed and Why Technology May Finally Get Foodies Cooking


Celebrity chefs have been spinning yarn for a decade - 'cooking is easy'. The foodie generation has been sold a dream and we are consuming more food related media than ever before. Yet there is a disconnect - are we really cooking? Can the average Briton roll up his sleeves and cook any dish from around the world from their extensive repertoire and wow their friends. Frankly, no he can't.

The Jamie Oliver's of the world are blazing a trail, selling a dream and engaging people with a new found passion. And just as passion for music was built by mega stars and made accessible by the technology world - Apple and Spotify to name just two - I believe that passion for food can turn into application in the kitchen with a little help from technology.

So, first of all, why did the power of celebrity fail? Ultimately it comes down to the motivations of chefs to build their brand & secondarily the distant relationship between recipes and purchase patterns.

For now, let's deal with step one of 'cooking as we know it' - which I call the inspiration phase, where the chefs hang out. Aspirational foodies have a plethora of choice when it comes to inspiration - recipe content is infinite, recipe book sales indicate our shelves are full of (unused) recipes, and Instagram is overflowing with food porn.

Immediately Barry Schwartz' 'paradox of choice' kicks in, where an increase in choices increases consumer anxiety. This factor is further compounded by the fact a user isn't even in 'shopping mode' at this point - there is no intent.

Secondly, a typical recipe isn't accessible. Driven to be original and exciting, the chefs are pushed to draw up lengthy ingredients lists, capable of scaring even the keenest cooks away. In the mind of the would-be chef there is also just too much distance between the recipe content and the chopping board.

We then plunge into a world of lack of certainty - can I pick up the required ingredients? Does it really take 30mins? (I doubt it), and will I be able to deliver results? Will it be any good? When faced with an almost infinite number of recipes and this set of concerns, foodies casually browse and get accustomed to the fact that they won't be cooking a new meal tonight.

So how can technology or ecommerce and companies like my company, SimplyCook, begin to align people's interests with their behaviour when it comes to food?

1) We can meet people at the point of recipe inspiration, or even take them there by suggesting recipes through a platform, app or website.

2) We can then beneficially limit their choice, while catering for their preference (which offline retail can't), without asking them to sift through recipes.

3) We can iterate based on feedback and data - online businesses can collect data at an unprecedented rate. By tracking individual and aggregate website behaviour, monitoring purchasing patterns and interacting with people directly both on our site and through social media, we can make much more informed choices based on why people buy things.

4) We can personalise and curate an experience. In food where likes and dislikes are incredibly personal, preference data could be more powerful than in music -with music you can be interacting with a song instantaneously and vet it yourself so the personalisation is not as key. When it comes to food, predicting behaviour can give people more comfort around making the right decision before they experiment.

This means your inspiration phase can be completely tailored to you. Next, we can take your far closer to the chopping board in one fail swoop, as we can link that interest to a purchase with 1 click & fill your basket. Companies like ours help you with the selection and put a product in your hands through the post. At SimplyCook we figure you still have to shop, right? So we take you 80% of the way there by providing customised flavour kits and simple recipes - you just add a few items of fresh food. We tailored that on the feedback that long shopping lists stop people cooking, but also in the knowledge that people need help pre visiting the supermarket.

Let's not forget the celebrity chefs, and the ecosystem we have right now - the supermarkets still control our shopping spend and Jamie still has a huge say in driving our preferences - but some little technology enabled companies have the power to shake things up. With food being so preference orientated, and data bolstering the little technology enabled food company's games', let's watch this space to see if a 'Spotify of food' emerges to get us in the kitchen. I hope SimplyCook is part of that story.