#8 - Home cooking, consumer food brands and Jamie Oliver

Or the business case for consumer cooking brands in 2019

Everyone knows that home cooking is on the decline in most Western countries. We’re spending more and more $ on food outside of the home, and more and more of our meals are eaten outside of the home.

Image result for decline of home cooking

What’s worrying about this development is that, many studies show that home cooking (and eating) is associated with better health and life outcomes.

In a large population-based cohort study, eating home cooked meals more frequently was associated with better dietary quality and lower adiposity. 

Studies have also shown the importance of home-cooking-and-eating for children. One study found that “that American teenagers who had five or more dinners per week with a parent had higher rates of academic success, better psychological adjustment, lower rates of alcohol and drug use, and lower suicidal risk”.

Cooking and eating at home it seems, is what one might call a “Keystone Habit”, a habit that “leads to the development of multiple good habits. They start a chain effect in your life that produces a number of positive outcomes”.

In simple terms: cooking at home likely leads to a bunch of other great things: spending time with family, engaging mealtime conversations, more mindful eating etc.

What’s driving the eating-out trend?

The first thought that pops into my mind is of course price. The McDonalds $1 menu. The proliferation of cheap alternatives must be the driver behind this trend. What’s curious though, is that it seems to be something else at play.

Over the period 1980 to 2000 the price of ingredients for home cooking has actually decreased relative to that of ready-to-eat alternatives.

Perhaps then that food choices are impacted less be price than we might think.

Of course, there are a bunch of fairly obvious factors, that most of us already know about:

  • More families with two full time working parents (less time)

  • Eating out as the new social activity (less interest)

  • People don’t actually know how to cook (less knowledge/skills)

The great irony of course is that we seem to be more engaged in cooking culture than ever. Just look at the ever-increasing number of Netflix shows that focus solely on cooking and food culture - Chefs Table, Ugly Delicious and Masterchef just to name a few examples. So many of us love watching cooking… but don’t want to cook ourselves?

This disconnect is puzzling, to say the least. Herein lies the opportunity, perhaps.

Jamie Oliver & The Opportunity in Consumer Cooking Brands

Given how important that home cooking seems to be, it presents a huge opportunity to entrepreneurs willing to try attack these problems => a lack of knowledge, time, and/or interest in cooking.

There are plenty of food/cooking startups that are enabled by this lack of interest/time/knowledge. Food delivery, new snack brands, “healthy fast-food”, ready-made-meal kits are just a few examples.

I wonder though, who is going to build the opposite of UberEats?

Thinking about the potential next wave of cooking brands got me thinking about Jamie Oliver. It’s hard to overstate the importance and relevance of Jamie Oliver throughout the 90s and 00’s.

Whilst there may have been TV chefs before him, Jamie Oliver made it cool to cook. His youthful, laid back approach was an instant success. He has sold millions of books and his TV shows are still widely popular today. In addition, he’s probably almost more well known today for his campaigning around school food and yes, home cooking. Despite some financial challenges with his one of his restaurant chains in the UK, he remains one of the most recognisable and influential people in consumer cooking today.

One upcoming cooking/lifestyle brand that caught my attention was Equal Parts, a new Direct-To-Consumer business. They have an interesting model. The sell both cookware (pots, pans etc), but pair it with a digital “coaching” product. As they put it themselves on their website - “one part cookware, one part guidance”. The basic idea is they’ll pair you up with a real cooking expert, who you can text with anytime.

You’ve burnt the dish and guests arriving in 15 minutes? Text the expert. No idea how to break down a chicken? Text your expert?

Equal Parts is I guess a sort of digital Jamie Oliver. A consumer cooking brand for the smartphone generation.

Whilst I think Equal Parts will face plenty of challenges with their guidance product (novelty factor wearing off, retention over time, delivering true value via text) - I do think the play is interesting, and absolutely worth exploring. Perhaps TV chefs aren’t enough to get us cooking in 2019.

Perhaps it’s precisely these new types of brands that are needed. Digital-first products focused on changing behaviour and inspiring us.

I think Equal Parts is just the first of many we’ll see enter this space.

Summary

I think we may look back on this cultural shift away from cooking and regret it. Home cooking is of course so much more than just food. It’s a cultural ritual that unlocks so many other things => health, life skills, culture, history, family, connection etc.

Newton told us that every action has an opposite reaction. In this UberEats world we’re living in, I’m certainly looking forward to the reaction.

Until next time,

James.