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2015 Starts Off With A Bang And Yummly Reimagines Food As A Platform

“What should I make for dinner?”

It is a deceptively simple question.

One that has a variety of answers – all of which are now much easier today, thanks to mobile devices, apps, data and the cloud. For instance, on one end of the spectrum, a consumer can just “make a reservation” and use the OpenTable app to do so, and the Uber app to get them there. Easy peasy.

And if consumers don’t already know the answer, then things get a bit more complicated. Sure, Instacart can bring you groceries and Blue Apron can bring you a meal kit. But Yummly COO Brian Witlin told Karen Webster in a recent podcast interview, that there’s a lot more that could be done.

“There’s a lot of different point solutions out there and more and more every day because companies like Instacart and Blue Apron are raising humongous rounds of funding, with massive valuations,” Witlin observed. “This, naturally, is attracting other players and similar offerings to the space, which is great for the consumer. That said, still managing what you’re going to eat for the week is a challenge because none of these services are really connected.”

And it’s being that connection point that Yummly is striving for, Witlin told Webster, as it pushes towards its modest goal of being the fastest growing food app in the world.

Which as it turns out, isn’t far from the range of possibility for Yummly. The app – which allows users to browse through recipes, set custom user profiles (so the site can make better tailored recommendations) and make recommendations to other digital foodies – was released on iPhone in 2013 and on iPad shortly thereafter in early 2014. It’s remained the top food app on the iPad ever since, and has spent a fair amount of time hovering near the top of food lists on the iPhone.

Yummly, like so many of the startups PYMNTS covers, grew from the pain point its CEO and founder ran across in 2009 – a difficulty using traditional methods online to find decent recipes.

“There were services like Netflix and Pandora that could understand your tastes, but nothing like that for food,” Witlin observed. By 2013 the company saw its audience shifting to mobile and quickly shifted with it to create “a really compelling service on mobile.”

One, as it turns out, appeals to a whole new generation of those with an interest in fine-tuning their cooking skills.

“Millennials are really driving a lot of the demand because this generation of millennials really came about on convenience food,” Witlin observed. “The art of cooking was sort of lost. Not completely, but it became more and more convenient to eat by other means. And so there’s this resurgence in interest in cooking and our app taps into that.”

And Yummly is expanding how it taps into that, with a new partnership with Instacart that will allow Yummly users to instantly order the ingredients they need for what they want to make – and have those delivered to their home by Instacart within the hour.

“We started by building a shopping list,” Witlin told Webster, “and the shopping list was doing fantastic – making it easier for consumers to keep track of what they need to buy at the store to make what strikes their fancy. But with the recent move to ordering groceries online, it made sense to partner with a leader in that space and Instacart, in our minds, is at the head of the pack when it comes to grocery delivery.”

Witlin further noted that, for Yummly, the choice is basically a no-brainer since the pair-up fits in so easily with Yummly’s overall goals.

“Now that Instacart connects to our shopping list, Yummly removes any friction associated with choosing a recipe and making a meal. Consumers hit a button and send their list over to Instacart – they can have their list fulfilled in under an hour.” And, Witlin added, “ it also makes cooking a lot more accessible for people because it’s so convenient.”

For now the service is limited to the 15 major metro areas already served by Instacart, though according to Witlin, they are already seeing scores of users attempting to use the service every day, giving them high hopes for the commerce tie-in’s expansion as the Instacart service itself expands.

“We’re very pleasantly surprised,” Witlin said. “We’re looking forward to seeing those numbers rise.”

The Instacart tie-in is just the first of what Witlin told Webster he hopes will be many for Yummly as the company expands past its original vision.

Going forward, Witlin says, Yummly thinks it can levarage their commerce functions toward lots of inspired actions. That could be ordering a meal kit from Blue Apron or making a dinner reservation or ordering take-out from a restaurant that seems to line up with a user’s taste profile.

“Whether that’s grocery transactions or meal kit transactions, we want people to be able to get inspired and be able to answer the question – ‘What’s for dinner?’” Witlin conjectured that Yummly could become the platform that would enable scenarios that make mealtime simple, easy and seamless, where the app knows enough about consumer preferences to actually know that a consumer orders in on Friday nights and can proactively make recommendations and have delivery set up. “Instead of just plugging into a bunch of disparate services to enable food commerce, we want to be able to make that really seamless to the user where they can have the commerce happening on Yummly and then we handle the referrals to those third parties,” Witlin said.

Today in America, 100 million people will ask themselves the following question: “What do I want to eat tonight?” Yummly thinks the wave of the future will not just be the company that can get it delivered, but a commerce-enabled platform that can almost answer the question before it is even asked.

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