Consumers need help deciding what to have for dinner. Are recipe chatbots the solution?
The enthusiasm with which people embraced home cooking as the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the world has faded somewhat. As much of the world experiences second waves of the virus though, home cooking is still on the agenda for many 3 times a day, 7 days a week. In a recent poll, 44% of people chose 'increased cooking fatigue' as their biggest home cooking challenge while 37% chose 'sourcing fresh inspiration'. For several years now, connected kitchen apps, appliance manufacturers and grocery retailers have attempted to disrupt the meal planning journey. Faced with an increasingly engaged cohort of home cooks and an increased desire to get dinner on the table with zero fuss, some brands are jumping on board with recipe chatbots. These recipe bots aim to solve a familiar issue for home cooks: what can I make with the ingredients I have on hand? Early in the pandemic, 60% of people said they wanted to cook with ingredients they had in their pantries and refrigerators and with Covid-19 on the rise again, it's a timely issue. 52% of Americans say they're stockpiling again. The question is, will recipe chatbots make the meal planning journey more efficient for consumers?
How does a recipe chatbot work?
In May 2020, Whisk expanded its connected cooking ecosystem by launching a text-based recipe bot. The result of a collaborative growth hack project, the Cook Magic recipe bot was created in response to customer feedback about their needs and has achieved a rating of 4.5/5 on Product Hunt. Users text a list of their ingredients to a number and Cook Magic replies with links to recipes that use those ingredients. Text message-based recipe help is not a new concept. Great Jones, for example, offers recipe help through their Potline service and even the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line has expanded to include social media, live chat and text messaging. Where text-based bots like Cook Magic differ is that they are AI-driven and don't require human intervention. They're less personal but more efficient.
Whisk's Cook Magic
Just like Cook Magic, It was necessity that inspired Kroger's just-announced Chefbot, a Twitter-based recipe bot that identifies ingredients from photographs and suggests appropriate recipes.
Innovation often happens during times of seismic change. By leveraging visual AI in a bold new way, Kroger is bringing their promise of Fresh for Everyone to life while addressing pain points and helping shoppers maximize their purchases.
Menno Kluin, Chief Creative Officer of 360i
Users tweet a picture of three ingredients to @KrogerChefbot and the recipe bot identifies the ingredients. If the ingredients are correctly identified, Chefbot links to appropriate recipes. If not, an extra step is required where users tweet the correct ingredients to Chefbot to receive suggestions.
Kroger's Chefbot on Twitter
Kroger's Chefbot got off to a shaky start, mistaking spaghetti for beef and bread for pork tenderloin, resulting in users taking the additional step of tweeting the ingredients. The recipe results were mixed too, with some users receiving recommendations that didn't use any of their ingredients and others experiencing very accurate results.
How can recipe chatbots improve the meal planning journey for consumers?
They provide quick and easy access to recipe inspiration
Most of us keep our phones nearby at all times, so firing off a quick text message or tweeting a picture of ingredients is a quick and easy way to begin the search for recipe inspiration. Rather than searching and potentially trawling through thousands of irrelevant results, recipe chatbots can offer personalised recipe suggestions that are specific to the user's needs with little effort. Recipe chatbots also put recipes in the hands of consumers when they're in the supermarket, opening up marketing opportunities in the grocery aisles where people are likely to need dinner inspiration. This benefits those who decide what to eat for dinner when they're already in the grocery store and have access to their phones but not their cookbooks.
They help home cooks use up pantry items
Pre-pandemic, many of us were last-minute planners where dinner was concerned. Now, people are making fewer trips to the supermarket but basket values have increased. For those who are not used to meal planning, this could mean more food waste. Recipe chatbots enable home cooks to make the most of what they have in their refrigerators and pantries, reducing food waste and giving consumers confidence in their abilities to use up leftovers. Since stockpiling is on the increase again, using up pantry items will become more of an issue for home cooks over the next few months.
What are the potential pitfalls of recipe chatbots?
Efficiency relies on reliability
First impressions matter. If a recipe chatbot doesn't deliver what the user is looking for quickly and efficiently, they're unlikely to give it a second try. It goes without saying that the recipe bot should be tested thoroughly both internally and externally before launch, but even then reliability and accuracy might be an issue. Continuous learning should be a core function of a recipe chatbot. Kroger's Chefbot recognises an impressive 2,000 ingredients right now. Improving the experience and reliability for users relies on fine-tuning its image analysis capabilities and increasing the number of recognisable ingredients as it learns more about what home cooks are searching for. The additional step of typing in the ingredients is helpful in achieving accurate results, but might be off-putting to those who are searching for a more efficient meal planning experience.
Building awareness takes time
Flicking through a cookbook or searching a recipe website for inspiration is second nature to home cooks, but recipe chatbots don't yet have mainstream appeal. Building awareness takes time and relies on creating an experience that not only gives users a reason to come back for more but also a positive reason to share the experience with others. If instant success and widespread adoption are what you're looking for, recipe chatbots won't provide either of those things. Recipe chatbots can be more effectively used as part of a long-term strategy to offer genuine value for consumers.
Should I invest in a recipe chatbot right now?
It's early days for recipe chatbots and their widespread appeal has yet to be tested. Right now, consumers are beginning to jump on board with shoppable recipes which are native to grocery and food brand websites and provide a more intuitive meal planning experience than recipe chatbots. It has taken significant time, effort and investment to get to this point with shoppable recipes. Recipe chatbots are where shoppable recipes were a number of years ago. The early adopters of this strategy may dominate it in years to come, or they might simply pave the way for others to build on their efforts when creating their own recipe chatbots. Rather than jumping on board the recipe chatbot bandwagon right now, take a step back, assess the success of others and use that knowledge to create a recipe chatbot that genuinely disrupts the meal planning journey.