Four Smart Kitchen Stories That Grabbed Our Attention In 2019
We've been writing about (and working in) the smart kitchen space for several years now, and it kind of feels like 2019 was the year the smart kitchen matured. Don't get me wrong, there's still a long way to go. Adoption is still relatively low compared to the rest of the smart home, and smart kitchen appliance manufacturers are still working out which features are truly important to home cooks. Still, what once was the domain of innovative start-ups went mainstream in 2019, with established appliance manufacturers jumping into the space. In a busy year for the smart kitchen, here are four smart kitchen stories that caught our eye in 2019.
Drop dominated the smart kitchen
What a year 2019 has been for Drop. What started a few years ago as a connected kitchen scales and app has ballooned into an integrated smart kitchen solution. This year, not only did Drop expand their recipe database, but they also partnered with several appliance manufacturing giants to create new connected appliances or control existing appliances. Just last week, Drop announced a partnership with Instant Brands which sees them providing recipe inspiration for users of a variety of products including the ever-popular Instant Pot. This followed the launch of the Electrolux and Drop-powered Master 9 Multi Blender in November. Earlier in 2019, Drop announced a partnership with Thermomix, integrating with the TM6 to enable Thermomix fans to preheat their oven, order groceries and access recipe content right from the connected device's screen. Add in an ongoing collaboration with Kenwood to create connected countertop devices, the introduction of voice control via Siri, a redesigned recipe app experience and it's clear that the Drop team deserves a break over Christmas!
The countertop got more crowded
Kenwood and Drop weren't alone in launching countertop devices in 2019. As smart appliances manufacturers look to increase interest and sales, the countertop has become a more accessible and cost-effective way to introduce smart kitchen technology to people. The countertop oven space was already pretty crowded with the likes of June, Brava and Tovala competing for space, but 2019 saw the release of Whirlpool's app and voice-controlled smart countertop oven that can identify the type of food placed inside it and optimise the cooking temperature and time. Following last year's release of a budget smart microwave, Amazon continued their journey into the countertop space with the release of their Amazon Smart Oven, a 4-in-1 microwave, convection cooker, air fryer and food warmer. Anova, the sous vide company that was acquired by Electrolux back in 2017, placed their own bet on the popularity of connected countertop ovens with the release of a connected steam oven. The likes of Tovala and June aren't sitting back and allowing the more established companies to take over though, and both companies added Beyond Meat products to their scan-to-cook features this year. In a year where plant-based took centre stage, this is undoubtedly a smart move.
A rollercoaster year for sous vide
Although professional chefs have used sous vide for many years to ensure accurate results, it was always too much of a faff for most home cooks to adopt the cooking method. Companies like ChefSteps, Nomiku (which sadly just shut down) and Anova changed that with their connected immersion circulators. Suddenly sous vide was accessible and more affordable. Sous vide users tend to be evangelical about the cooking method, but mainstream adoption has still alluded sous vide manufacturers. 2019 has been a rollercoaster of a year for ChefSteps. Although their Joule sous vide device continued to win fans, they laid off a significant percentage of their staff back in April, discontinued their Joule Ready sauces and announced that they would no longer be adding new content to ChefSteps Premium. Things were looking bleak until Breville announced in July that they had acquired the sous vide startup and in October, ChefSteps announced ChefSteps studio, a content subscription that would give users access to "behind-the-scenes videos, exclusive new cooking guides, scientific insights, and online Q&A sessions." This may all prove to be a mere bump in the road for ChefSteps and we're excited to see where they go from here.
The Spoon vs Wired: Is the smart kitchen smart or dumb?
Back in September, Wired's Joe Ray argued that the smart kitchen is, in fact, stupid. "It's time to wipe down the counter, tighten our apron strings, and start from scratch," he wrote. Amongst other things, he took issue with adding tech for the sake of it and the extra time tech sometimes adds to the cooking process. In response, The Spoon's Chris Albrecht argued that many of the smart kitchen features benefit those who don't want to or can't cook. (45% of Americans say they hate cooking.) Whether the smart kitchen is serving the needs of both confident cooks and novice cooks is something we've written about in the past, and it was great to see it being discussed not just by Joe and Chris, but by many at this year's Smart Kitchen Summit. The overwhelming sense we got from many of the speakers at 2019's event is that the smart kitchen space should focus on selling experiences, not products. Whether you agree with Joe or Chris (or both), it's clear that creating an efficient, seamless experience that enhances the cooking process will be key in increasing smart kitchen sales into 2020. (Ironically, Chris Albrecht's smart cooking plans for Thanksgiving broke down, but he managed to smoke a delicious turkey the old, 'stupid' way. Seems like both ways have their benefits!)