We held the first Smart Kitchen Summit in an old cannery.
Part of the reason was it was affordable. Events are big investments, and we are in many ways a startup; when I founded SKS, it was just a crazy idea about getting the people who were working on the future of cooking and food together in the same place for a day and to start a conversation.
But to be honest, I also liked the idea of having an event about the future of cooking and the kitchen in a hundred-year-old building that had its roots in food. As nearly 300 people gathered between those exposed beams and brick walls to talk about the future back in November 2015, we were reminded it’s necessary to be mindful of the past behaviors, traditions and cultures that have shaped our food experiences as we discussed how innovation will impact every aspect of the meal journey.
And so when we began planning to take SKS across the Atlantic, I thought what better place to hold our first European event than at Guinness Storehouse? The idea of talking about the future of food and drink in an iconic 20th-century brewery was exciting, but I also like the inherent tension of a place steeped in history while modernizing to create a better experience for the consumer.
In a way, it’s that tension between old and new that’s at the heart of the food tech and what makes it such an exciting space to explore, something we were reminded of last week in Dublin as the day unfolded.
The conversations, discussions and demonstrations made it clear that the future of food and the kitchen is still being established in diverse regions across Europe. Below are some key takeaways from the day – you can also check out some of the pictures from SKS Europe here. And, if you’d like to connect with many of the same execs, make sure to attend our flagship event in Seattle on October 8-9th.
The Changing Meal Journey
“50 years ago, if you wanted to eat, you had to cook,” said the BBC’s LuLu Grimes on a panel discussing the reinvention of the recipe. “You don’t have to cook anymore.”
This is true. Whether it’s the abundance of food delivery options, more automated cooking technology or dining out, consumers today have many more options at their fingertips and will only have more in the future.
But what about using technology to get more of us into the kitchen? There was a general debate happening both on stage and over coffee on whether it was the job of technology to make cooking easier and more enjoyable or if tech could someday just take over the role of chef entirely. But the one question we kept revisiting was: how could innovation make cooking more approachable?
According to chef Angela Malik, it’s by thinking more inclusively – we need to be making anything used for cooking or preparing food that can work with diverse ingredients and foods. Particularly in a region as diverse and varied as Europe, with a long list of cultures and traditions around food. Audiences will feel compelled and connected to an appliance or product that feels like it could fit into their lifestyle.
Other speakers felt the development of guided cooking will make preparing food at home less intimidating. Jon Jenkins of Hestan Smart Cooking talked about how the arrival of software and precision heating technologies will make cooking outcomes better, which ultimately will make people want to cook.
Personalization Will Drive The Kitchen Of The Future
Another recurring theme we heard during the day is new ways to create more personalized meal experiences are fast approaching.
“Unearthing the right recipe for the right person at the right time is where technology is going,” said Kishan Vasani of Dishq. Convenience is the end game, said Vasani, but with personalization at the center of it. Groups like FoodPairing and FlavorWiki are trying to capitalize on these trends by capturing data points about taste and flavor and creating algorithms that leverage data combined with personal preferences to create meals that have the right nutrition and the right flavors for you.
Food, Kitchen and Cooking Are Platform Opportunities
While big companies like Amazon and Google are creating broad horizontal platforms around AI, conversational interfaces and IoT, a number of companies see the unique and multi-varied nature of our relationship with food as an opportunity to create vertically focused platforms. Drop’s Ben Harris spoke about how the kitchen is the “heart of the home” and how they’ve built a company around focusing on the food making journey. Innit’s Ankit Brahmbhatt spoke about how the beauty of the kitchen is it’s complicated and definitely not binary, which means there will never be just one solution to figure out the meal journey every day of the week.
Google’s Devvret Rishi, meanwhile, spoke about how Google has identified food as an important space and talked about how the company is working to find ways in which Google Assistant can be plugged into the meal journey.
Innovation Happening In Companies Big and Small
I always enjoy hearing about an entrepreneur’s journey, especially when it’s told with a little humor and lots of authenticity. Christian Lane recalled his roller coaster journey from the heady early days as the Dragon Den’s youngest-ever entrepreneur (19 years-old) to building the first prototype for what would eventually become Smarter with the last 90 pounds in his bank account after the crash of his first company.
We also heard from the eight early-stage companies in our Startup Showcase. From AI-driven meal personalization apps like PlantJammer to hardware/food delivery service offerings like Mealhero, to the Showcase winning effort of Mitte which was focused on healthier & more efficient mineral water usage at home, it was inspiring to hear the stories of these driven innovators trying to bring change to the kitchen.
Whether its in a certain category or trying to create an entire ecosystem for the kitchen, innovation is not just small companies. We heard from those responsible for driving change at Electrolux, BSH Appliances and V-Zug and how these companies are changing decades-old practices as they transition their business towards the digital kitchen. Mario Pieper who leads digital strategy at BSH Appliances (Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau brands) talked about the importance of external *and* internal changes that must be addressed while legacy enterprise organizations work to keep up with the pace of disruption and the new players looking for partners and often times competition.
Similar to our first SKS in the U.S., kitchen appliance brands in Europe are eager to lead the conversation in the space, understanding the key role they play in the consumer kitchen but also recognizing the increasing role of digital content, connected platforms and grocery and home commerce brands. One startup founder during a networking break questioned why the larger grocery and retail chains were not on stage looking at how they plan to keep up with the future of food and the kitchen. “They aren’t sure what it means for them yet,” he remarked.
My guess is in the future they will be. Much like in Seattle and SKS Japan, I expect SKS Europe will continue to grow and incorporate more perspectives as we explore how the interlocking pieces across the entire food system recreate the meal journey. I hope to continue the conversation in Seattle and Japan and I hope you will join me.