Managing a kitchen is not easy work — it’s a leading cause of stress for the people (mostly women, mostly mothers) who do it. The pressure is high to get a nutritionally-balanced, home-cooked meal on the table every day. According to a study out of the University of North Carolina, when it comes to living up to that standard, the struggle is real.
Sinikka Elliott, associate professor of sociology at North Carolina State University, told Today, “I was very surprised at the consistency across all social classes. It didn’t matter if they were poor, working class, or middle class, there are added burdens being placed on mothers and on families today. The expectations are getting ramped up and are increasingly getting harder to meet.”
According to the sociologists who conducted the study, the demand on the talents of kitchen operators in America is at an all time high — when preparing food that is both healthy and edible — while the amount of time to cook is at an all time low.
“I barely have time to shop, let alone cook,” one 37-year-old mother from Cleveland, Ohio told Today a few years ago. “And yes, do I feel guilty sometimes? Sure. When everybody is telling you to cook fresh, you feel like a failure when you can’t always do that or even cook at all.”
In 2014, the researchers didn’t have any solutions to offer, noting that the solution was likely going to talk “creativity” — and iterated technological advancements as one place to find relief.
Beyond Food Delivery
Flash forward four years: Technologists and entrepreneurs have spent a good deal of time trying to help consumers through the horror of figuring out what to make for dinner. A lot of the focus has been spent on helping consumers get the food home to their kitchen with prepared-meal delivery, meal-kit delivery, grocery delivery, and grocery pick-up.
But actually managing the kitchen once all the food is there was a problem that a group of students at Northwestern University decided hadn't quite been resolved. After watching the rise of voice activation in an already mobile-enabled environment, they decided that a flexible, virtual assistant could help users navigate their kitchens a bit better.
“Our team wanted to build the ultimate solution for the smart kitchen that would deliver cost-savings, convenience and a personalized assistant,” Chefling’s representatives told PYMNTS in an interview. “We noticed that there were voice-assistant devices for the bedroom and living room, but not really in the kitchen.”
There were various voice services that touch on offering personal kitchen-assistant services — apps that help customers search recipes or let them build a custom shopping list. But Chefling wanted the experience to be less fragmented and more unified so that customers might find all that they might intuitively expect in a digital kitchen-helper — incorporated inventory organization, intuitive recipe suggestion, shopping-list management, and voice-assistant integration into one platform to simplify the total experience.
As of this month, the startup — with what it calls its “ultimate solution for the smart kitchen” — has a bit of money to pursue its path, having snatched up $1 million in funding from XVVC, LLC for the next stage of the company’s growth.
And, according to Chefling, the company has been growing.
Everyone Needs A Little Help From A Friend
Despite its relative newness on the market, the app has been picking up users at a consistent clip for the last 12 months, having added 100,000 downloads in the span of a year.
The special sauce, so to speak, for the Chefling app is its patent-pending Consumable Goods Inventory Management System — a system and method that manages the inventory of pantries and refrigerators via a mobile application. According to the firm, that matters because its kitchen assistant can actually assist the actual operator as opposed to a generic home cook.
For example, using the app to ask Alexa or the Google Assistant — the system is compatible with both, as well as Siri, though to lesser degree — “what’s for lunch or dinner?” will cause it to scan the user's pantry inventory to determine what foods they have that can be combined into a meal.
As the app leverages machine learning, it can also tailor those recommendations to the types of food the user normally likes. Users can also employ more traditional requests by asking their voice assistant how to make a specific type of food — chicken salad, for example.
Though using voice assistants is still in its early adoption phase, Chefling is betting this phase will end soon and that the kitchen will ultimately be a place where users want to interact with their smart devices a lot.
“The kitchen is going to become even smarter with more and more consumers using voice assistant devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Devices and apps are already thinking ahead of consumers and providing recommendations/suggestions because of machine learning.”
The goal for Chefling is to stay ahead of that trend with artificial intelligence (AI) and to get in on the ground floor of learning the consumer in the kitchen.
According to Chefling, staying ahead — now with a $1 million to work with — is about adding functionality for users. The firm told PYMNTS that, by Q3 2018, users will have the ability to import recipes from existing websites and add their own personal recipes for storage. They will also be able to share recipes directly from the app.
Will it be the little digital-helper in the kitchen that will turn the tide in the losing dinner-time war it seems most American mothers are feeling? Probably not. And Chefling certainly isn't the only runner in the race to be the mother's best digital-helper in the kitchen.
But, by keeping it curated and helping customers stay ahead of the full logistical problem — within even a small household — Chefling can offer something that customers need enough to turn to often. Unless, of course, it can find a way for the AI to cook the food as well. In that case, Chefling will have won the race already, and everyone else can go home.