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Serve up a profit with food-sharing app

SCI & TECH
By Business Beat Reporter and Agencies | Jul 8th 2014 | 4 min read

Do you enjoy cooking? If so, why not consider starting a Kenyan version of a growing trend across Europe: food sharing.

If you enjoy home-cooked meals but have no time, or talent, to make them, imagine the possibilities you would have at your fingertips if there existed a mobile app where people in your neighbourhood could post photos of what they were cooking for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

What if you could see Mama John two estates over was making crepes with whipped cream and strawberries for dessert and you could ask her to make six extra for you to buy? What if you were the said Mama John?

Request portion

This food-share concept is proving popular and creating welcome income streams for cooks with a little extra time.

In Hungary, for instance, 26-year-old university student Judit Szilagyi spends her evenings roasting spicy vegetables, mashing creamy potatoes or making pancakes. She posts photos of her food on Piqniq, a Budapest-based app, which allows her followers to request a portion for themselves.

“My biggest hobby in the world is to cook,” she says.

In the UK, Casserole Club encourages people to share meals with neighbours who are unable to cook for themselves.

Greek company Cookisto began as a community to connect family cooks hoping to make some extra money with busy businesspeople looking for an affordable hot dinner. In just 12 months, it has attracted 40,000 members in Greece and the UK.

Other similar sites include Shareyourmeal.net, which has 62,000 home cooks in the Netherlands and 20,000 in the rest of Europe, and Leftoverswap, which started in the US last year and now has an expanding base in Europe.

Being social

Piqniq was co-founded by Mr Tamas Kiss who used to travel a lot through his previous job as a consultant and missed Hungarian home cooking when he was on the road.

“I wanted to build an app to allow me to peek into my neighbours’ kitchens and see what they are eating, what they are making, what’s in their fridge and then somehow connect with them,” he says.

The start-up currently asks users to share meals free, although there are plans to allow cooks to sell their food to strangers in the future.

“Our data shows that early adopters seem to be engaging either because they don’t want to eat the same food every day or because they feel proud and want to show off about what they make. For others, it is just about being social and having fun,” adds Mr Kiss.

And in the not-for-profit sector, German-language sites lead the way, with a focus on stopping people throwing away leftovers at a time when a third of all food ends up going to waste. Foodsharing.de claims to have saved at least 35,000 tonnes of food that would otherwise have ended up in the bin.

“We find a wide range of users, from those struggling with everyday food needs [to] those who are just happy to offer and share and end up getting nice things back,” says co-founder and web developer Jean Wichert.

The sharing economy is currently strongest in Asia-Pacific and Latin America. From a recent global survey, Nielsen interviewed more than 30,000 Internet users and found that 68 per cent of them embraced the idea of selling or exchanging items online.

“For years, people have swapped food informally and done things like car pooling or finding a lodger for a spare room. And now mobile technology is helping us take things a step further,” Mr Wichert says.

Locally, with more than 30 million Kenyans subscribed to a mobile phone service, the potential to make money from a love for cooking is enormous. But would you find a market?

“I would definitely order food from a mobile app as long as I’m sure the cooks are vetted and there is a way to register my concerns if I’m not satisfied with a delivery. And the price needs to be fair,” said Ms Malkia Rugut, 30, a single woman who holds a demanding job.

“I like the idea of being able to select home-cooked meals, not restaurant-style fry ups, and having them delivered to me.”

Rose, 43 and a mother of two, said: “I would order the food, especially if I’m home alone and have no energy to cook. It’d be nice to have someone else cook something fancy for you. If I know the company is efficient and reliable and the food is good, why not?”

Varying tastes

A mobile app would allow you to feature a wide range of foods, and you could incorporate a community of cooks to cater to varying tastes. The more interesting you make your app and the greater the variety you offer, the better the reception is likely to be.

Food-sharing sites, however, have attracted criticism from those worried about health standards. To get around this, Casserole Club has had its 4,000 members complete an online hygiene course and get a criminal record check before they prepare their first meal.

Think about how you would put concerns around food safety standards to rest. One idea would be to start your business with colleagues and neighbours who can vouch for the quality of your food, and hope their word of mouth increases the scope of your clientelle.

— Additional content from BBC

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