Food innovation not only involves creating new products, but also changing business models like Hellofresh, Magnum Experience store or Nespresso.

Giant Italian food manufacturer Barilla have launched a new and unique food-based subscription model: CucinaBarilla. We interviewed ‘We were inspired by the Back to the Future food’, says the brand’s managing director Matteo Gori. ‘A mini pizza disc transformed in 5 minutes into a freshly cooked pizza through a futuristic oven.’

Closed systems have been a classic innovation model from printers and razors to coffee machines with capsules. It delivers a unique experience through the interaction of a machine (sold at a subsidised cost) and accompanying refills (the profit generator). In 2015, the same model was used to launch CucinaBarilla.

 

So what is CucinaBarilla?

‘Raw, high-quality ingredients, ready to be mixed and cooked in a specially designed oven’

CucinaBarilla consists of a specialised oven and a subscription order of ready-to-cook kits delivered to your home. The kits contain high-quality ambient ingredients (for example, risotto rice used in Michelin star restaurants) in the right portions to prepare a delicious meal for 2 to 4 people with minimal intervention. The concept uses a specific RFID oven, co-developed with Whirlpool, that captures instructions from a tag attached to the pack. The oven automatically mixes and cooks the ingredients, using a water tank included at the base of the oven. The recipes range from risotto to pasta, pizza to focaccia and even cakes. In some exceptional cases, consumers add fresh ingredients such as mozzarella and eggs. The whole process is considered slow cooking (up to 30 minutes) but it requires very limited involvement.

 

‘Emergency food to stock in your cupboard with the taste and feel of freshly, home-cooked food’

This insight stems from Italian consumers, whose time available for making fresh, home-cooked food is shrinking, yet who have less interest than ever before in ready/frozen meals.

 

‘We quickly pivoted and transformed our business model to a subscription model’

At the beginning, consumers had to pay full price for the oven then buy the kits. It didn’t work. The idea quickly moved to the ‘subsidised rental’ model as commonly used for the mobile phone. Customers receive their kits at home and this funds the oven rental over time. Home delivery is a key element of the service.

CucinaBarilla works on a subscription model similar to fresh meal kits but originating from a different insight and with a very different benefit. CucinaBarilla is much cheaper than a Hello Fresh meal kit (3 euros for 2 portions). Fresh meal kits remove the burden of having to plan your meals, and also help the consumer to experiment with new recipes and put more fresh food into their daily life. That’s why it works so well in the USA, Germany and the UK. CucinaBarilla is the best answer to having a meal freshly cooked without being present, and without the planning (because everything is already in your cupboard). Just came back from work and don’t even have 30 minutes? CucinaBarilla is your answer.

Two years after launch, CucinaBarilla has quickly grown, going from 13 recipes to 31 including the addition of some gluten-free alternatives. The brand is now offering a new recipe every month.

 

‘Everybody will want to have an Italian chef in their kitchen’

The next challenge is obviously international expansion. There is clearly big potential for the European market, where Italian food is very much loved. Italians, however, are still very much attached to cooking from scratch and, for them, it may feel still feel like a ready meal, limiting its local appeal.

What’s interesting is the transformation and change of mindset that such an innovation brings into a large organization, more akin to the Start-up mindset learning fast and using a lean approach. ‘It’s real revolution in how we do Innovation within Barilla,’ confirms Matteo. ‘Right at the start, we knew we were trying something totally new within Barilla. We were allowed to make mistakes as long as we learned from them and improved. Our management is not in the blaming game. We are a start up – a lab within an established business’.

CucinaBarilla is a very small team and they do everything themselves – marketing, supply chain and recipe development. The team doesn’t use market research agencies with questionnaires. They test live with their customers and interact directly through their Facebook page with users – even if that means answering requests about an oven that doesn’t work. Importantly, there is 24-hour customer service.

 

‘It’s food – but not as Barilla has ever done it – it’s a new business model, which is direct to consumer whilst being 95% outsourced’

The value proposition goes far beyond the product – it’s a service. It’s not the classic food sold through a supermarket that Barilla is used to managing. This explains why they
outsource. Barilla is a proud food manufacturer, but they didn’t know how to make a microwave or design a supply chain for thousands of online buyers. ‘When I want my team to be inspired, I send them to conferences on diverse subjects ‘from product to services’ even if it’s a car industry show,’ says Matteo.

 


 

The Plan View:
It is likely that in the future customers will require more flexibility to allow consumers to customize their meals by adding fresh ingredients. Currently CucinaBarilla only sells ambient products and mixing them with fresh ingredients can be complex. Matteo confirms that recipes can’t really be customized beyond adding eggs or cheese otherwise it will impact the cooking time ‘We want the final result to be perfect.’ The big trend today is about healthier, fresher food. Probably the next challenge for the team will be in terms of business model reinvention.