A couple years ago, one of the executives responsible for the Crockpot and Mr. Coffee brands admitted his company was unprepared for the transformative effects of making a product ‘smart.’

“There was so much data that we didn’t know what to do with it,” said Alejando Pena, President of Jarden North America, at the Smart Kitchen Summit in November 2015.

One could hardly blame Jarden and Pena for not knowing what to do with the flood of information that comes when a product becomes connected. After all, the company was one of the first big housewares brands to add connectivity their products – partnering up with Belkin to inject smarts into products like the Crockpot – and like others to that point, they’d done just fine without the spigot of real-time consumer usage data.

But that was then and this is now. Just a couple years later, it’s safe to say that nearly every major appliance and housewares brand is well aware of the transformative impact that data can have on their business.

One company that didn’t take any convincing is ChefSteps. The maker of the Joule sous vide cooking appliance sees usage data as critical to understanding their customers.

“It is the business,” said ChefSteps CEO Chris Young last month at the Smart Kitchen Summit. “All that data is just a way for us to understand our customers better. Understand what they’re looking to do, what they’re trying to do, and it drives every part of the business.”

Part of that understanding of the customer is knowing what they are doing and when, which allows the Seattle company to tailor content around specific days of the week.

Data about usage of cooking guides by day from ChefSteps. Source: ChefSteps

“On average we get one day a week out of every Joule owner,” said Young. “We’re starting to ask the question ‘what can we do to get a second day?’. The answer is only going to be found in the usage data from our customers.”

It’s not just startups. Companies from Whirlpool to Kenmore are looking at how data can change their business.

Chris McGugan, head of innovation for Sears and Kenmore, said that they are using the data to understand their consumers and convert that understanding to better products.

“I can look at how often you load your washer to capacity,” said McGugan. “What we’re looking at how we take the data component of what is happening in the field and make that a user benefit.”

And then there’s food brands, which are trying to extend their understand of what happens at point of sale to how consumers use their product once it’s in the kitchen.

“We are trying to understand better how people cook,” said Victoria Spadaro Grant, CTO of Barilla.

Last year Barilla worked with Carefourr to better understand consumption of fresh product through loyalty card usage. And while Spadaro Grant recognizes that was only the beginning and they’d yet to extend their data gathering into the kitchen itself, it’s something they plan to do.

“Being able to use that data is critical, we do that so we can market our products and work with retailers,” said Spadaro Grant. “The interconnectivity and the dialogues, and being part of that network is key for us.”

Whether you’re responsible for an iconic brand like Crockpot or Barilla or pioneering a new food and cooking company like ChefSteps, the lesson is clear: Realtime consumer data is fast the becoming the lifeblood when it comes to understanding your customers and charting the future course of your business.

You can watch my conversation with both Chris Young and Spadaro Grant from the Smart Kitchen Summit below.

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