I went to the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago this past week to see what trends are emerging in the food tech and connected kitchen spaces. The Housewares show is the leading trade industry event for the cookware and small home appliance markets, so I figured I could get a good snapshot of what is coming over the next 12-18 months in these categories as well as what may be on the longer term time horizon.
Not surprisingly, there were more connected devices than ever. Products like Nespresso's connected coffee maker are fairly common at this stage in the evolution of smart home, but I'm more interested at this point in breakthroughs where technology is truly helping to reinvent or create entirely new cooking product categories.
Here is some of what I found:
The Connected Multicooker
There was certainly some momentum in newer categories like multicookers, and the most interesting one I saw was the Gourmia Wi-Fi 'IoT cooking device'. I wouldn't quite call this device a "cooking robot" like the OneCook, but it's on the cooking automation continuum to be sure. The Gourmia rep told me the product, which CNET classified as a Wi-Fi multcooker, is going to put under a new "IoT cooking category" that the company is launching later this year when it makes it to market in Q3 for an expected price of $599. The device uses Android and has Wi-Fi, and currently the company is working to build out its recipe library.
If you're not familiar with Gourmia, that's because they're fairly new. Their first public showing was at CES in January, and they started selling products on Amazon in late 2015. They're backed by a company called Fesco Distributors, an electronics distributor based in New York.
Panasonic Breaks Ground With Induction Oven
One of the more intriguing new product introductions at Housewares was the new Panasonic countertop induction oven. Induction cooking has been around for decades, typically making its way into consumer markets through ranges or standalone cooking surfaces. We've also seen momentum in the past six months for induction cooking systems with products like the Oliso Smart Hub induction burner.
However, this is the first induction oven we've seen. Others, such as Freescale with its RF cooking technology, are hoping to introduce new core cooking technologies into the market, but this move by Panasonic to create a fast-cooking alternative to traditional gas, microwave and traditional electric ovens will get to market first. The Countertop Induction Oven is expected to hit the market by October and CNET reports the price will be around $600.
Here Come The Intelligent Guided Cooking Systems
One of the trends I've been writing about for some time is the arrival of augmented expertise into the kitchen, where IoT, apps and other technologies combine in some form to help novice cooks produce expert results in the kitchen.
This theme was touched on at the Smart Kitchen Summit in November, where a couple of speakers suggested that new technology can act as a form of 'GPS for the cook', helping them get from a cold stop to finished meal while keeping them "on the road" during the process.
I think this is an apt metaphor, but I would offer that there is a range of technology assisted cooking technologies, going all the way from basic instructional videos and cooking apps up to more elaborate systems that utilize automation, sensing technology, apps and consumer inputs to create a cooking experience that produces expert results, without requiring any sort of expertise from the cook her or himself.
Assisted cooking devices can be the aforementioned Gourmia multicooker, an app-connected sous vide device like the Anova or Chefsteps Joule, but the differentiating factor for what I would call a Guided Cooking System (let's call it a 'GCS' for short) is a high degree of modularity and intelligent, automated control through embedded processing, sensors and connected apps.
The devices that I saw at Housewares that I would put into this category include:
The Oliso Smart Hub
The Oliso Smart Hub is a guided cooking system that launched on Kickstarter last fall and was on display at the Smart Kitchen Summit. The device uses an induction cooking base and has a modular precision "smart tops" like the Precision Smart Top which acts as a sous vide cooker or a cooking pot for broth, soups and more, orSmart Top Griddle top which can be used to cook and sear food like steak, sandwiches and more
The system sells today with the induction base and Precision SmartTop for $499.
The Cuciniale Intelligent Cooktop
Cuciniale is a German based company that has been shipping a cooking sensor called the Gourmet Sensor and app in Europe, but at Housewares the company introduced the Intelligent Cooktop. The system includes an app controlled cooking surface and a probe sensor that can guide the cook through a variety of recipes. CEO Holger Henke, who made some risotto for me and other onlookers while he explained the device, told me the Intelligent Cooktop will retail for $250-$400 depending on the configuration. He also indicated they are looking at a sensor enabled pan for a future product release.
The Hestan Cue
The third and perhaps most promising product I saw in this category is the Hestan Cue. The company invited me to come and cook some salmon with the system, which is composed of an induction burner, a Bluetooth connected pan packed with heat sensors, as well as cooking guidance app that is highly visual and interactive.
Thirty minutes later I had cooked some amazingly tasty salmon with the Cue, as the app steered me through the cooking process with the induction cooking burner and pan. What I liked about the experience was it essentially let me do all the cooking - meaning it wasn't simply putting premixed or prepped ingredients in a box and hitting a button - but it combined automated temperature control (maybe the hardest part and what becomes a big part of a chef's intuition built over thousands of hours of cooking), together with burner/pan and app together sensing where I was in the cooking process.
It was this combination of the pan, burner and app and the guidance system they had built that really led me to see the possibilities around this new category. I am not a great cook by any stretch of the imagination, but I cooked one of the tastiest pieces of salmon I've ever had in about 20 minutes. The experience was enabled through technology, but the technology didn't take me out of the experience of cooking. Further, I can see as I gain more confidence using a system like this, I can choose to "dial down" the guidance needed from the system to the point I am largely doing most of the cooking by myself (though I don't know if I'd ever get rid of the automated temperature control, mostly because I'm lazy and it gives me instant "chef intuition).
Some call the the broader category that I term guided cooking systems "precision cooking", mainly because temperature control is automated through an app and sometimes embedded sensors. I think this is too narrow a definition. While I think precision temperature control is an important part of the overall value, it's the broader system, with as little or as much guidance needed for the cook to create chef-like food, is the central defining characteristic and benefit of this new category.