Whirlpool's Brett Dibkey

Earlier this month, Whirlpool announced their intention to acquire Yummly.  It’s a fascinating deal to me in part because the idea of the country’s largest home appliance maker buying one of the Internet’s most popular recipe communities has so many potential strategic possibilities.

I wrote some of my thoughts about the deal here, but I also reached out to Brett Dibkey, the VP and GM of Integrated Business Units at Whirlpool to shed some further light on the deal and the company’s motivations. While Dibkey validated some of my early assumptions (Content integration with hardware is key for the smart kitchen) and told me where I missed the mark (the Orange Chef IP was not a motivation for the deal), the biggest takeaway from my Q&A with Dibkey was this one statement:

“We think the kitchen is headed for a transformation”

 

It’s a big statement, one which confirms much of my broader theory about the kitchen entering a new stage where new technologies such IoT, AI and precision heating methods combine with sweeping demographic and cultural shifts to set up a period of innovation and reinvention. Of course, it’s one thing for me to write it. It’s another for the guy who heads up Whirlpool’s appliance business to say it.

The good news is you’ll be able to see Dibkey speak about this change at the Smart Kitchen Summit in October where I’ll get to ask him on stage about this and other changes coming to the kitchen.

Here’s our interview:

In the press release, you described Yummly as a platform for you to build your ‘digital product offering’. Can you elaborate on what you mean by digital product offering?

Dibkey: We envision a number of digital products emerging in the kitchen that will help consumers remove steps and generally make their experience simpler and more enjoyable. Obviously, Yummly already provides an outstanding personalized recipe discovery experience – but we think that the convergence of digital and physical products can offer even more. While we’re not ready to talk specifics yet, we think the kitchen is headed for a transformation. Further, we believe that pairing Yummly with Whirlpool Corporation’s broad portfolio of brands (including Whirlpool, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, and Maytag) will help fuel this transformation.

When Yummly acquired Orange Chef, at the time Orange Chef was working on a kitchen OS type ‘platform’ for appliance companies to build around. Is this IP part of the rationale for acquiring Yummly and do you plan to use what they started here for your products?

Dibkey: The Orange Chef IP was not part of the rationale for buying Yummly. Our interest in Yummly centered mainly around three things – their industry-leading meal discovery experience, the quality of their team, and the relationship they have with millions of engaged users.

One obvious synergy is taking the cooking automation features Whirlpool unveiled at CES this year and connecting to Yummly’s large database of recipes. Is this in the plans?

Dibkey: Unfortunately, we don’t comment on our future development pipeline. Stay tuned!

I have said that appliance companies need to become content company. As hardware becomes connected, it will begin to automatically tap into content like that of Yummly’s to help people learn to cook, discover food and take over manual tasks. Is this vision of becoming more of content company part of the reason for the acquisition?

Dibkey: Connecting great content to great physical products to deliver great results for consumers is undoubtedly going to be central to unlocking the promise of the “smart kitchen”. Yummly certainly helps us establish a key content presence that we previously didn’t have.

With Yummly, Whirlpool also gets a community and a social platform. How can Whirlpool tap into the community and social platform aspect of Yummly in a way that grows the community yet also provides return on investment?

Dibkey: Above all else, we are going to empower the Yummly team and give them resources to continue providing content and features that inspire and engage their community of users. In our view, if we can do this successfully, a number of value creation opportunities will emerge. But for now, our primary focus will be on nurturing the Yummly community through continuing to provide engaging personalized content.