By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Growing up eating frozen foods from Costco and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos wasn’t the lifestyle Ryan Waliany and his wife Serena Wu wanted to continue. So they decided they wanted to put their tech experience to use by creating an app that would encourage healthier eating.
Tech entrepreneurs and co-founders of recipe startup and app Kitchenbowl, Waliany and Wu have launched their new app, Fork It, a cooking app where users can check into the app by uploading a photo of what they’ve cooked. These check-ins and photos are shared with their friends to motivate others to cook more.
Though Kitchenbowl and Fork It are two different applications, they explained that Kitchenbowl works well for food bloggers, and Fork It is more geared towards the everyday person.
“People want to spend more time cooking normal dishes. Fork It allows you to check into a topic or something you make,” Waliany said.
The Kitchenbowl team recently embarked on a 21-day cooking challenge, and the most popular dish was breakfast. In fact, one of the trending topics or dishes on the Fork It app is avocado toast.
“Everyone completed the challenge because of social pressure and people felt great about themselves afterwards,” he said.
Waliany explained how there was incredible engagement with the concept of different diets like paleo and sugar-free diets. People are looking for ways to stay accountable.
When a user checks in, they upload a photo of the dish like they would on Instagram. But instead of tagging a location, the user tags the dish or web recipe.
Users are prompted to set a weekly goal, e.g. I want to cook 5 times a week, and then the app will send reminders in the form of push notifications saying, “You’re only 2 dishes away.”
Wu explained that people aren’t necessarily cooking from recipes unless they are ambitious or want to try and make something new. People are usually cooking simple dishes like scrambled eggs.
Waliany said that when users check into recipes, they are competing against others and the performance is tracked by leaderboards. There’s also different levels of difficulty and point scores associated with each level.
He also likened the Fork It experience to a game. The more dishes you make, the more badges and levels you can unlock. It can be a fun way to build a healthier habit.
The app will also recommend healthier dishes like quinoa salads, and users will get more points for that by checking into those recipes.
Waliany explained that they are targeting millennials who grew up on processed foods, but the product can be applied to almost anyone who wants to cook more.
“For millennials, it is similar to going to the gym. Everyone wants to do it, but very few people actually succeed. We’re trying to get people to think about cooking and engage with their food more, make it a fun and creative outlet or hobby that they love,” Waliany explained.
In the near future, the couple says a key to monetization is to create more exposure to brand recipes on the app. For example, with certified Angus Beef, they could promote a beef recipe, which is also an opportunity to connect the brand with the user.
Waliany said that users change their behavior when using the app, and they can be a part of that transaction leading them to make the purchase; change in commerce.
Waliany said there is a lot of web traffic for Kitchenbowl, and the team is working to bridge that traffic with the Fork It app.
“Kids will grow up on worse diets than us if the pattern continues. It’s scary and it will happen if people don’t learn how to cook for their kids, and this is a big problem in America,” Waliany said.
Waliany explained that they wanted cooks and the average person consuming recipes in the same application. But because there are two different types of people, and in order to solve the consumer and producer issue, there has to be two experiences.
“We wish it wasn’t the case and wish we could solve the problem with one silver bullet, but you have to have two different apps,” he said.
Wu chimed in stating that they had received push back about creating two apps, but Waliany said that the data so far shows that they made the right decision.
“One thing I really like about our community is that all the recipes are user generated, and there are a lot of ethnic recipes that may be harder to find online,” Wu said.
Wu listed recipes including xiao long baos, Chinese dumplings, Hong Kong egg tarts, and Taiwanese salt and pepper chicken.
“These days, I’m inspired by what people are cooking on Fork It. Now we’re sold on it because we saw other people making it,” he said.
The next iteration of the app would be to combine both Kitchenbowl and Fork It apps so that Fork It would pull in recipes from Kitchenbowl.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.