Jane Freiman spends much of her time in the Campbell’s Soup Test Kitchen diving into the minds of consumers in their own kitchens. “We go shopping with them, we go into their home, we watch them cook, we eat with them, we talk to them about food,” she explained to an audience at the 2016 Smart Kitchen Summit.

The head of the test kitchen, Freiman explains their mantra – one that they had written on the kitchen walls that speak to this deep commitment to staying true to what their customers want and need.

“It starts and ends with the consumer in mind.”

After all, Freiman asks, “Who wants to develop a product that no one wants?”

The team at the Campbell’s Soup Test Kitchen look across generations to find commonalities and trends, even as technology and the sharing economy change old behaviors and patterns. And they’ve found interesting generational patterns; millennials and empty nesters, for example, have a lot in common in terms of what they’re looking for in the kitchen.

They’re both likely cooking for one or two people and struggling with how to do that easily. The empty nester is thinking – I only know how to cook these bigger meals for my family, how can I reduce waste and cook the right amount whereas younger cooks are unsure about how to get started and how to meal plan. Both generations include cooks that have passion for food, but the Millenials are the ones fueling the sharing economy. Where sharing recipes used to be between family and friends, it is now done through apps and online. It’s now possible to share recipes between strangers, across cultures and continents.

By studying trends in cooking and eating, companies can better understand not only if their product is serving the right need for the right audience, also find out if it’s the right time. Freiman emphasizes the importance of this in her work.

“As a test kitchen of a major brand – we have to look, watch and know – when is the right time for us to act? When is the right time for us to use that new technology?”

And Freiman is quick to point out that just because a consumer is tech savvy doesn’t just mean they’re necessarily younger. The explosion of Wi-Fi/Bluetooth enabled cooking instruments and the use of your smartphone to get recipes wherever you are is transforming consumer behavior across demographics.

“Our survey of consumers 18-65 showed that everything from the high-tech (connected devices) – to low-tech (spiralizers, microwave friendly pasta cooker) are considered kitchen tech. They don’t differentiate.”

The test kitchen survey also found the key things consumers are looking for in a tech product for the kitchen, including:

  • The equipment should assist them with accuracy in their cooking; i.e. tell me when the food is done, tell me how I can cook perfectly every time and make it quicker so I can spend more time elsewhere.
  • The devices should enable them to find ways to cook healthier; whether through methods, ingredients or recipe discovery, tech should focus on helping consumers source healthier meals.
  • The gadget should be sturdy and easy to clean – and of course, easy to use.

Freiman cautioned the crowd not to deliver connectivity for its own sake, or to be too gimmicky with innovation. She stressed the importance for food tech and smart kitchen companies to be grounded in consumer insights and focus on what type of person they’re looking to assist in the kitchen.

“Know what tools they use, what they read, where they shop and where do they find recipes…” and make sure your product finds a path to making one or more of those easier and better.

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