Cooking in the connected kitchen with smart technology

What – and how – will consumers cook in the kitchen of the future?

It’s a question we asked Sue Hoff, Amway R&D senior principal engineer, who is fresh from the 2016 Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle. This industry-leading event explores the intersection of technology, food, design and commerce in the connected kitchen. Following are highlights from our conversation.

Q: What trends were most intriguing at this year’s Smart Kitchen Summit?

Sue Hoff working in lab

Sue Hoff

A: Two come to mind. First and foremost is the expansion of smart technology into more and more kitchen products. We already see it in refrigerators – ovens, crock pots and other cooking appliances soon will follow. I even saw homebrew and mixology applications to create consistently perfect drinks. Eventually, smart technology will enable the connected kitchen environment to take full advantage technology to bring families together.

Guided cooking, devices or tools that provide guidance for every step of the process, is another trend. While the frequency of cooking at home is declining, research indicates that families are looking for ways to connect more in their own kitchens while sharing a meal. By making cooking easier and more successful, guided cooking provides recipes and methods that help consumers recreate good food. Many kitchen appliances are intended for experienced cooks and complex recipes – predicting doneness can be difficult. With guided cooking, the cook retains the creative, sensory experience of preparing food while delegating the details to the smart appliance. Think of it like training wheels that launch successful cooks of all ages!

Q: What insights can you share from the summit?

A: In the kitchen, companies can’t introduce technology for technology’s sake. A smart product is more than a digital application. It also encompasses ergonomics, accessibility and intended use. Smart products must be easy to use, not intimidating or frustrating, or consumers will abandon them. Ultimately, the digital aspect must be both useful and enhance the user experience. For example, consumers have yet to realize the value of refrigerators that take inventory of contents. Smart kitchen products must make people’s lives easier and foster creativity, not take away the pleasure of cooking.

What’s more, smart products must address pain points. Connected products are highly experiential. The consumer journey has to be simple, demonstrable and able to be duplicated. Smart products are not impulse purchases but rather an investment, so addressing consumer needs during product development will be critical. Likewise, manufacturers must keep a global view of consumers – smart is not one-size-fits-all. Successful products will have rich features that match diverse experience levels and cultural norms.

Finally, storytelling continues to be on trend. Exceptional merchandising tells a consistent story – what is the product’s innovation and why do consumers need it? The world is getting smaller yet it has become more difficult to reach buyers. Product stories must resonate with consumer needs.

Q: What novel discoveries excited you most?

A: Robotic cooking was introduced at the summit – technology in friendly clothing, if you will. Tech companies and venture capitalists alike believe that robotics in the home will promote social contact and interaction, ultimately reducing isolation. In the kitchen, they’re considering applications that could assist disabled people with simple cooking tasks, thereby increasing their independence and improving their overall safety.

The mindset of cooking as part of the family dynamic is exciting, too. Around the world, families come together to address a daily common problem: What’s for dinner? Sellers in the smart kitchen category must make cooking easier for them. What gaps will the next generation of kitchen products fill for these families? How can these products give them their family time back? The possibilities are limitless.

Q: What’s your biggest takeaway from the summit for Amway?

A: We need to be in the happiness business by developing smart kitchen products that make consumers happier. They have to be delighted by Amway products and by the good food those products can help them create. It must be a pleasurable experience all around.

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