By adaptive - April 27th, 2015

The Orange Chef is utilizing its software to cook up new partnerships with big brand appliances to try to make a smarter kitchen. The San Francisco-based startup is also blending the “whole foods” movement with wearables in a mashup that transforms the Crockpot into a connected cooking device

The company’s new Countertop Smart Kitchen System, set to ship this fall, aims to help people create healthier food with directions, or to assist them during improvised preparation. It replaces the Prep Pad, which does not offer connectivity with other cooking appliances.
The company’s co-founder and CEO Santiago Merea discussed the forthcoming system with Open Mobile Media’s Robert Gray.

OMM: How does the Orange Chef work?
Merea: There are recommendation engines that make the experience very personal and lead people to a path for a healthier life. We’re focused on how we can bridge the gap to healthier lifestyle.
The system helps you make decisions about eating better. It helps you with typical questions of what I should eat right now. The app will give you recommendation and you say yes or no, like Pandora.
It’s hands free cooking; you can substitute items while you cook.
Companies and brands are realizing that this is inevitable. These experiences are going to be desired by people so we need to adapt to it and move to be more responsive to these platforms because someone else is going to do it otherwise.

OMM: What are some examples of how Countertop works with these appliances?
Merea: Adapters help you retrofit your old Crockpot to make it smart.
When you put a Crockpot on Countertop, it gives you a notification on your device with suggestions of recipes for using Crockpot that are personal recommendations for you. For brands like Crockpot, it’s good because they’re a hardware company, not software. We’re giving customers an experience right now they can’t get anywhere else--you can use an adapter, it costs $5, and make the experience with Crockpot a smart experience.

After you run, you want a Vitamix smoothie and put it on the Countertop base and it tells you what kind of smoothie you should make now.
Maybe it tells you to put kale, then ice, grapes, and avocado into the smoothie and walks you through the process on your iPhone or your Apple Watch.
We’ll be releasing other brands as time goes by.
This will be a hub for the connected kitchen; it saves you from buying expensive new appliances by retrofitting your existing ones with an adapter.

OMM: How does the partnership work?
Merea: We are making the hardware ourselves and there will be potential bundles with partners’ products. They help us with content, distribution and advising us on what kind of meals people want.
(Countertop) is a black box for our partners; now they’re connected to customers in real time and can send information to them. They can learn from them and respond to them, it’s a relationship with the customer they can’t have right now (without The Orange Chef). It’s one of the main reasons they’re joining our platform.

OMM: How will it work with wearables?
Merea: We’re going to have a cool experience on the (Apple) Watch: cooking, putting ingredients on Countertop and you see on the Watch how much to keep adding, when to stop and get the recommendations on your Watch.
We already know a lot based on wearables and Apple Health, we know how much you slept, when you come from a run, with Apple Watch it’s better because we get that info and recommend it based on your activities. If you didn’t sleep much it will recommend more protein to give you energy for the day.
It works with any wearable that syncs with Apple Health, which is most of them. We’re not on Android (devices) yet—it’s coming after the launch.

OMM: Is this a shift in focus, or was this always the plan to take over the kitchen with your tech and not necessarily your own branded products?
Merea: It’s a combination; we realize that if we do new hardware it’s hard for people to get a comprehensive system in kitchen. We want it to be affordable and an experience that people can get their hands on. We realized that it’s a better strategy if we can make our hardware work with other (brands’) hardware. We’re not going to do blenders so we decided to work with those who are the best and give you a smart experience for very little money.

OMM:Are you expanding outside the US and your current retail partners?
Merea:Our pre-order campaign is only on our website. When we ship in fall, we’ll go to retail. Right now, I’d imagine we’ll be in Apple, Brookstone, Target, Williams-Sonoma, and our other existing partners.
When we go to retail, we’ll probably go to Canada as well. It’s too early to say about international right now. If we’re in the UK, we want to surface meals and things that are customized for the UK.

OMM: You’ve raised $4.8 million in seed funding, your products are in big box stores, have you entertained offers to buy the company or have you thought about going public?
Merea: You can imagine working with these partners, they have a big appetite for this stuff; it’s not out of the question. Right now we’re focused on making great product and getting people using it.
Future financing and going to be part of another company is not something we’re thinking of right now.
We are approached by a lot of people all the time, but right now it’s early to do this. It would be too early to think about any other major moves.

OMM: What’s next product-wise?
Merea: More accessories and experiences in the kitchen. How can we amplify the experience to more verticals and devices in the kitchen? We’re going for it hard. This is an exciting time for sure.
For all the latest mobile trends, check out The Open Mobile Summit 2015 on June 29-30 in London.
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