Here’s How Yummly, the Foodie’s Google, Could Conquer the Kitchen

Here’s How Yummly, the Foodie’s Google, Could Conquer the Kitchen

If you wanted to build a central information hub for the kitchen—connecting consumers with recipe ideas, ingredient lists, shopping assistance, and cooking instructions—you’d probably break the problem down into a few steps.

First you’d build the world’s most powerful recipe search engine. Then you’d add filters to help people discover dishes they like, and avoid those they don’t. You’d offer personalized recommendations, and you’d let users build recipe collections and share their favorites. You’d build a mobile app so that your users can find recipes while they’re at the grocery store. You’d extract the ingredient lists from these recipes and turn them into convenient shopping lists, and you’d group the items into categories so that shoppers could find them more easily as they move through the aisles of their favorite stores.

Then you’d open up your data infrastructure, in order to become the default recipe-search service powering other startups’ food apps and sites. And you’d start making money along the way by rounding up food companies who want to advertise on your search-result pages.

But you’d have to be crazy to go down this particular path, because there’s a food-tech startup that’s already done all that. It’s called Yummly, and it’s poised to become one of the central information brokers—if not the central broker—for consumers who use digital tools to plan their cooking and shopping. (And who doesn’t these days?)

It’s not hyperbole to call Yummly the Google of food. Already, the four-year-old company, which is based in the heart of Silicon Valley and backed by a host of marquee venture and angel investors, attracts 10 million unique visitors per month to its search site. It makes the top iPhone recipe search app in the iTunes App Store. Every day more than 40,000 items get added to Yummly shopping lists, and people add more recipes to their Yummly collections than they do to their Pinterest pinboards. And behind the scenes, Yummly powers recipe-search features for hundreds of partners, including three of the top 10 Web search engines and hot startups like grocery delivery service Instacart.

The company isn’t nearly as familiar to consumers as older recipe-search brands like Epicurious and AllRecipes, and only in the last few months have the full scope of its ambitions become clear. But the advanced search technology at its core, together with its ace team of product designers and developers, give Yummly a good shot at becoming the key data middleman in the growing market where content, food, and commerce meet—roughly the same role companies like Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, and Gracenote are trying to play in the digital music world.

“What we’re trying to do is create the digital kitchen platform,” says Brian Witlin, Yummly’s head of mobile and platform technologies. “I believe Yummly is on track to owning the food-tech space.”

Yummly CEO Dave Feller (left) and head of mobile and platform technology Brian Witlin (right)

Yummly CEO Dave Feller (left) and head of mobile and platform technology Brian Witlin (right)

If you enjoy cooking, you own an iPhone, and you aren’t yet a Yummly user, downloading the free Yummly app, which hit the App Store last month, is the best way to get introduced to the platform. The app’s home page shows you an endlessly scrolling sequence of mouthwatering food closeups drawn from top recipe sites. (Yummly doesn’t publish recipes of its own; it’s a “meta-search” site that aggregates recipes from hundreds of other recipe sites and food blogs.)

If you tap one of the orange “Yum” buttons, that recipe will be added to your personal recipe box. And if you tap on the photo itself, you can see an ingredient list, nutrition facts, and cooking directions. Witlin’s team found a clever and seamless way to bring up the original Web page where each recipe was found—at Epicurious or Chow or Food Republic, say—without forcing you to switch to a mobile browser.

But that’s just the surface. The real power of the Yummly app kicks in when you use the app’s search filters. Say you’re looking for dishes to cook at Thanksgiving (or, this year, Thanksgivingukkah), but you’ve got special dietary requirements—perhaps you’re vegetarian, or lactose-intolerant, or you’ve got celiac syndrome. You can search for “Thanksgiving dishes” and then use the Preferences option to restrict the results just to vegetarian, diary-free, or gluten-free recipes.

In a hurry? You can also narrow down recipe results based on prep time—less than 30 minutes, say. There are also filters for … Next Page »

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The Author

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy.

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